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TRIAL BY MEDIA: AN INDIAN PROSPECTIVE

“The demi-world of journalism is like the fun house of mirrors that one finds in carnivals. In one reflection you are too fat; in another you are absurdly thin; in another reflection you appear to have an elongated neck; in another, a flat head,- in still another you have next to nobody. Yet there you are, standing in front of these bizarre reflections, fully formed and hearing little resemblance to any of the images before you. The difference is, however, that unlike the fun house of mirrors, the distortions of the media are rarely a joke.”[1]


INTRODUCTION

As we all known that India is a democratic country and media is known to be the fourth pillar of the democracy with legislature, executive and judiciary. Media plays an important role in the today’s world as it is an essential medium of information attempt to form public opinion and belief. It creates awareness about political and economic events around the world. As it is rightly stated that a bullet loaded from a gun cannot change a human mind but anything from the ink of the writer can change the whole world that is an ink from a journalist pen is more potent.

In the present scenario, it is mostly seen that media is acting as public court and has started to intervene with the court proceedings which completely fails to notice the essential gap between an accused and a convict keeping at risk the “innocent until proven guilty” principle.

Whether media is exercising their freedom to such an extent that it is harming people and society at large?

What is Trial by Media?

It is defined as that procedure wherein the media take a case in his own hand and proclaims an individual either guilty or not guilty. In simple words, it means a media taking a case in their own hand and proclaiming who is guilty, even before the court has decided on that case.

Whenever there is any controversial or sensitive case before the court, then among people there is an anticipated increase in curiosity. Always looking for sensational news, Media including newspapers, news channels, online news websites, etc. start publishing their own facts based on their own interpretation. It is known as investigative journalism and is not prohibited in India. The influence of media coverage via newspapers and TV on an individual by creating an opinion of innocence or guilt even before the Court of law declares its judgment; it is called as Trial by Media.


The power of media trial in India was observed and noted in some popular cases like Ruchika Girhotra case, a 15 year old girl who was molested by a police officer of a high rank and soon after the incident that girl committed suicide and got justice after 19 years of the incident. Another case is Priyadarshini Matto case, a girl who was a law student at Delhi University murdered at her house and even after evidence produced before the Court the accused was acquitted on an appeal to the Delhi High Court, the accused was sentenced as per the statutes of the IPC. Last one is Jessica Lal murder case, where a woman was shot by a gun in her head as she refused to serve alcohol to the accused and his friends where the Delhi Trial court acquitted all the of them who were suspected. However, later on, they were convicted by the Delhi High Court. [2]


But now the legal basic principle of “innocent until proven guilty” is being wholly ignored in the case of media trials.

In the year 2008, the media proclaimed the parents to be involved in a double murder case popularly known as Aarushi Talwar murder case [3] and the public had an emotional reaction on the fact that her parents were involved in the murder even before the trial begun. The media aggressively played up different parts like honour killing, an alleged extra-marital affair of her father, all fake news that Aarushi was an adopted child. Though on 2017 the parents got acquitted as the CBI could not prove that her parents were guilty as all the evidence given by them were circumstantial, the sufferings from the harassment by the public and the media, the degradation of their public image cannot be repaired.


Constitutionality of media trial

The word media trial is not defined anywhere. But indirectly, this authority is being given to the media under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India.

Freedom of speech and expression of press: Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian Constitution, which ensures freedom of speech and expression includes freedom of press in its ambit. The existence of a fair, independent and powerful media is the foundation of a democracy, especially in India. Media is not only a source to express one’s views, but it is also responsible for constructing opinions on various topics of regional, national and global agenda.



Brij Bhushan v. State of Delhi [4]

Facts: Brij Bhushan was its printer and publisher and KR Halkani was its editor in a right-wing group. On 2 March 1950, the chief commissioner of Delhi imposed an order on the Organiser under Section 7(1) (c) of the Hindu East Punjab Public Safety Act, 1949 which extended to Delhi as well. According to this provision, a provincial government was authorised, for protecting “public safety” and “public order”, to require a newspaper to submit the newspaper for critically observed before publication. The petitioner’s holds that the order infringes the fundamental right of speech and expression and the order passed by the respondent does not come under the reasonable restrictions enshrined under Article 19 (2) of the Indian Constitution.

Issue: Whether Section 7(1) (c) of the impugned Act is constitutionally validity?

Held: The Court stated that pre-censorship of press infringes the liberty given to them and also infringes the freedom of speech and expression. Section 7(1) (c) of the impugned Act was not a law relating to matters which undermine the security of, or tends to overthrow the State. Therefore, it cannot come under the ambit of Article 19(2) of the Constitution.


Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) (P) Ltd. v. Union of India (1985) 1 SCC 641 [5]

In this case, it was mentioned that though power has been given to the media. But a duty too has been imposed upon them not to misguide the public through any news.

Everyone is aware of the fact that the media has a huge power to manipulate the public mind. We easily believe whatever is shown by the media. A person should also differentiate between what is morally right and what is wrong.

Several Public Interest Litigations were filed in the Bombay High Court against the media trials regarding the same. It was contended that press houses have crossed the ‘Lakshman Rekha’.

Media trial and the judiciary

There has been no legal system where the media is given the power to try a case. Every coin has its two sides so is the case with media trials and journalism, at certain cases journalist depicts a pre- declared image of an accused thereby destroying his/her reputation that can affect the trial and the judgment, henceforth trial by media. In India, media trials have assumed significance. There have been several cases where the media had taken the case into their own hands and declared judgment against an accused opposite to fair trials in court. The media can even influence the thinking-procedure of any individual.

In connection to the case the court asked if the current mechanism for self regulation of the E-media was enough to maintain a balance between rights to freedom of speech and expression and the right of the accused to a fair trial and his reputation.

  • In the judgment declared by the Bombay High Court on 18th January 2021 has explained the position of media trials in India in the case of Sushant singh Rajput.

The court observed the consequences and effects of media trial. The judgment pronounced by Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G.S. Kulkarni as they navigated the line between the “freedom of speech and expression of the press” guaranteed under Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian constitution and the risk of media trials running opposite to the same Indian constitution.

The judgment marked by Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G.S. Kulkarni has touched upon several issues in relation to media trials mainly dealing with: directions to well known television networks to restrain reporting that could hinder the investigation, re-interpretation of contempt of law, and directions for the regulation of the print or broadcast media without violating the freedom of the press. Trial by media intervenes with the criminal investigation by Police and order was issued to the media to be followed while reporting incidents involving suicide and death of persons. [6]

Is Trial by Media a fail trial?

Prior trial publicity is harmful to the fair trial. The media trials have also stressed the lawyers not to take cases where the public regard certain individuals as guilty, without actually being declared due to the media trials, thereby coercing the accused to draw out his entitlement to have an advocate. But, it also discourages the advocates who actually take up such cases. The media has again come in limelight in the trial of Jessica lal murder case. The notion of media trial is not a new notion. The role of media was argued in the Priyadarsini Mattoo case and various other high profile cases like the Mattoo case. Here have been numerous cases in which media has been accused of organising the trial of the accused person and declaring the judgement even before the court passes its decision.

In the case of Dr. Shashi Tharoor v. Arnab Goswami and Anr, the court stated that it is the role and right of the media to collect and convey information to public and to speak on the administration of justice, including cases before and during and after trial, without infringing the presumption of innocence. In fact, prior assumption of innocence and a fair trial are at the heart of criminal jurisprudence and in way important angles of a democratic polity that is managed by the rule of law.

Journalists have freedom to investigate but they cannot articulate anyone guilty and pre decide the issue and preconceive the trial. The grant of the fairest of the opportunity to the accused to prove his innocence is the main purpose of every fair trial. Conducting a fair trial is important both to the accused as well as to the society. A conviction resulting from the trial which is not fair and is opposite to the idea and concept of justice.


CONCLUSION

Media which is the fourth important pillar of the democracy is the essential part of our system. So, it’s everyone’s obligation to correct its limitations. The public should not trust and go all blind on the news by media. An individual’s entitlement to privacy should not be intervened because of any issue of the media. In a country like India, people have been given ensured few fundamental rights under Indian Constitution. So, we can’t completely refuse the rights of the media because it would probably be against our basic principle of the Constitution of India. Constitution of India has provided us the freedom of speech and expression as our fundamental right. And for that to maintain harmony in our country, the law makers have also imposing restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression. Media should understand that its function and main role is to raise issues which the public is facing to help public. Media can be a voice for those who are not able to express for themselves. Media should not be decisive prior to the judgement because in India we have a judiciary for justice.


REFERENCES

  • Nimisha Jha, Constitutionality of Media Trials in India: A Detailed Analysis, LAWCTOPUS, (November 13, 2015)

https://www.lawctopus.com/academike/media-trials-india/


SUBMITTED BY:

Shivani Kharai

BBA LL.B (HONS)

VIII Sem, 4th Year

CMR University, School of Legal Studies

Bangalore




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