Media, in a democratic nation, is regarded as a watchdog of the society as well as of political affairs. Also, it is the fourth pillar of an independent democratic nation; which makes it easier and much more transparent for the people to be aware of dynamic scenarios, whether internal or external. It plays a vital role in making the people acquainted with daily affairs of the government; and instills different viewpoints of the people on the information or facts furnished to them via different mechanisms.
However, such instances are very less where a media strictly plays the role of a watchdog of the society; because the thirst for having exaggerated news is more rather than relying on a piece of truthful information and facts. As with the passage of time, mass media incorporated a parallel judiciary role; and began investigating the truthfulness and veracity of the information they get by their sources regarding several cases that led to the establishment of a serious issue called ‘media trial’.
This elucidation will reflect the stigma of media trials on Indian judiciary as well as on its society, and will cynosure on the effects that are caused through false propagation and unjust explanation of the facts by media which results in a contradiction between the justice delivered by the court of law and justice anticipated by the people.
The media is often accused of either dismantling the facts or providing fragmented reports regarding high-publicity cases; which establishes an atmosphere of public hysteria which not only makes it arduous for court proceedings to be fair; but also inculcates the potentiality of character assassination of a party to the case; regardless of the judgment of a trial as the convict or accused will always be the subject of acute public scrutiny. The impact of such media coverage on a person’s or convict’s reputation; by constructing a widespread estimation of guilt or innocence before the final verdict of the court is known as “Media Trial”.
Whenever a sensational or high-publicity case, civil or criminal, is to be tried by the court of law; there is an upsurge peculiarity among the people regarding the verdict of such cases. The media takes advantage of this curiosity among the people and publishes the facts of the cases according to their perspective; and understanding, this is also known as “Investigative Journalism”.
Press Council of India- Toothless Tiger
It is an unavoidable fact that the press or media can have a strong influence on legal proceedings; as it operates through its own mechanism and is generally not liable to be accountable. The bodies governing the print media; as well as electronic media are insufficient to regulate the media as per the norms and ethics of serious journalism. The Press Council of India is more often known as a “toothless tiger”; because regardless of an apex regulatory body; the maneuver of media and press is very much contradicting and unethical.
The Judges too, also sometimes face societal pressure due to prior feeding of the crooked facts; and information related to a particular case; which makes it more inexpedient for a legal proceeding to be fair and just; according to the procedures laid down; and with respect to the rights that a defendant has to have a fair trial in front of the court.
TRIAL BY MEDIA – INFRINGING THE RIGHT TO HAVE A FAIR TRIAL
It is an indispensable fact that media in this modern era has remolded itself into a “People’s Court”. There have been many instances where media has played a vital role in transforming the perspective of the society; and the judiciary as well regarding some famous criminal trials; however maybe the latter transmuted its perspective unwillingly; or due to the societal and political pressure. An independent judiciary is the foremost and utmost necessity for the smooth functioning of a democratic nation.
It’s even violating Right to Life, Liberty, and Privacy
Media trial is also responsible for the violation of “Right to Life, Liberty, and Privacy”; which is guaranteed to every citizen of the country under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Not only the accused or convict but also the victims; and witnesses do suffer from the extra prying done by the press and media; which results in exaggerated publicity and sometimes even worse as it invades the privacy of the person involved; or associated with a particular case.
The ‘right to information’ is a fundamental right of the people and press which ensures transparency. However, there is also an exception under the RTI Act under the section. 8 (1) (j), which prohibits media from disclosing any personal information which may not be of public interest and causes privacy invasion.
Secondly, Article 21 emanates “The Right to Reputation”; and prohibits any publication which tends to have a capability of ‘character assassination’ of a person undergoing a trial; or has been convicted for an offense. For instance, in 2015, a woman in Delhi (Jasleen Kaur) uploaded a photo of a man and accused him of sexual harassment. The post went viral which was later followed by the media and labeled him a ‘pervert’. Four years later, he was found innocent and was respectfully discharged from all the accusations; however, he lost his reputation, dignity, job, and house due to such media coverage.
Lastly, the most important is the “Right to have Fair Trial” embodied in Article 21 of Indian Constitution; which states that assurance of a fair trial is the first imperative of the dispensation of justice; which gets breached when such tainted and enhanced reporting of facts is done by the media; and makes the life of an accused/convict more difficult and uncertain in future even after his/her acquittal.
MEDIA TRIAL UNDER THE AMBIT OF CONTEMPT OF COURT
The Constitution of India states the right to freedom of speech and expression as a fundamental right under Article 19 (1) which cannot be compromised at any cost, provided with some reasonable restrictions under the same article in sub-clause (2). One such restriction is “Contempt of Court”; which does not espouse the freedom contained in the aforesaid article to be exercised in a manner that deranges the proceedings of the court; as it may portray a complete opposite or different perspective related to the facts of a particular case.
In Saibal Kumar v. B.K. Sen, the Supreme Court tried to discourage the tendency of media trial and remarked; “No doubt, it would be mischievous for a newspaper to systematically conduct an independent investigation into a crime for which a man has been arrested; and to publish the results of the investigation. This is because trial by newspapers; when a trial by one of the regular tribunals of the country is going on, must be prevented. The basis for this view is that such action on the part of a newspaper tends to interfere with the course of justice; whether the investigation tends to prejudice the accused or the prosecution.”
In M.P Lohia v. State of West Bengal, the Supreme Court condemned media for interfering with the administration of justice and stated; “We deprecate this practice and caution the Publisher, Editor, and the journalist; who is responsible for the said articles against indulging in such trial by media when the issue is sub-judice. Others concerned in journalism would take note of this displeasure expressed by us for interfering with the administration of justice.”
In the United Kingdom, strict contempt of court restricts the media’s reporting of legal proceedings after a person is formally arrested. These regulations were imposed on the media and press as it protects the fundamental principle of natural justice; “To have a fair trial” by conferring the accused/convict or defendant a fair trial in front of the jury; that has not been tainted by prior media coverage.
As this elucidation reflects the impact of media trial on justice administration and on an individual’s privacy; the need to restrict media trial is ineludibly very necessary; so that people may not have a wrong perception of the justice administration system.
The major concern is the need to check the prejudicial effect caused by dramatized reporting of media of a sub-judice matter; specifically regarding high-publicity criminal trials. The best alternative for procuring the impact precipitated by media trials is regulating it via reforming the law of contempt. However, it would be much appropriate to have a self-regulated and disciplined media for the interest of democratic freedom of the press rather than to have a media controlled by the judiciary.
This Article is Written by Sahil Mishra, Legal Researcher, and Content Writer at LegalThirst.com. He is a 2nd year Law Student at Llyod Law College, India.
Disclaimer: The opinions and views in the articles and research papers published on this website; are personal and independent opinions of the author. The website is not responsible for them.
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