The fourth pillar of democracy which is regarded as the mirror of society is Media. It brings out only what is happening around. It can affect and remould the belief of society. It works like magic on the minds of the people as they believe in everything that the media says, shows, and writes. Society assumes everything shown by the media to be true. It also acts as a facilitator on many matters including those affecting the common moral sense of the society. To name a few, like Priyadarshini Matto case, the Jessica Lal case, and Tehelka case.
The media plays both negative and positive roles. Negative role in the sense that, there are many incidents where Media is conducting the trial of an accused and gives their own decisions even before the court passes any judgment, they even go to the extent of ignoring the crucial gaps between the word “convict” and “ accused”. It plays a Positive role in a manner that the people believe the justice which the court cannot provide or for instance justice which will be delayed by the court will be secured by Media through Media Trial.
Media trials can be understood as a trial by Media through their intellect. Like in present times we can see that Media does a separate investigation on any high-profile cases outside the court’s scope and build their assumptions or prejudice against the accused before the court comes up to any judgment. Media has manifested itself into a “Public Court” which is popularly known as “Janta Adalat”. There is No doubt that media trials prevent the miscarriage of justice. In Priyadarshini Matto’s case, the rapist and killer of Priyadarshini, Santosh Singh, the son of an IPS officer who was posted with Delhi Police when the case was being investigated, was acquitted. Even the appeal against it kept hanging in the Delhi High Court for six years, the reason being the document could not be translated from Hindi to English. As soon as the case was taken up by the media, within a record of 41 days Santosh Singh was convicted.
The Press and Media enjoy the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, which is a primary right of every citizen of India. The right is wide in scope as it incorporates in it the freedom of the press and freedom of free flow and free spread with no past restriction on distribution and publication. But the rights are not absolute, it has reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2) in light of legitimate concern for the supremacy, integrity, and uprightness of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with far-flung states, public order, decency, or morality or in connection to disrespect of court, defaming or instigation to an offence.
The reason behind imposing some restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression is that media to grab the attention of the viewers and the readers, to get high TRPs they usually propagandize subjective opinion and spread prejudice in the name of the news. There are many incidents where the Media is conducting the trial of an accused and gives their own decision even before the court passes any judgment as a result of which the reputation of the accused is affected and the verdict of the court gets affected too.
In Arushi Talwar’s case, where it was predicted in the court and reported that possibly her father or mother(Rajesh and Nupur Talwar) was involved in her murder, the media house accused and declared them as the murderer of their daughter, which resulted in even court declaring them so as murderers. But on 12 October 2017, the court acquitted them, saying they could not be held guilty on the basis of the evidence on record. After nearly one year when they were set free by the Allahabad High Court, the CBI filed an appeal against the acquittal of dentist couple Rajesh and Nupur Talwar in the Supreme Court which was admitted by the supreme court, and the case remains unsolved.
Implications of Media trial
The excessive publicity about the case and the suspect involved in the case by the media prejudices a fair trial or result in characterizing the accused as a person who had indeed committed the crime, it amounts to undue interference with the “administration of justice”, which calls for proceedings for contempt of court against the media. The media in fact has no authority to pronounce based on its understanding of the innocence or guilt of the persons involved in the case once the trial has started.
Fair trial v. Media trial
A trial is actually a process to be administered by the courts, it’s a word which is related to the method of justice. It’s an important component of any judiciary that the accused should receive a just trial. The trial by media is certainly an undue interference within the process of justice delivery.
There’s a golden principle within the criminal proceedings, “presumption of innocence until proven guilty” and “guilty beyond any reasonable doubt” which suggests that the accused will always assume to be innocent until it’s proven by the court of law. Nobody has the authority to announce a person criminal unless and until the court declares him to be so. Yet, time and again, Media has infringed these principles and proclaimed to be a judge. It’s a constitutional right of every and each person or a party in a court to have a good Trial by an unbiased or a fair-minded tribunal that is unswayed by the biased media house.
Within the ambit of Articles 14, 20, 21, and 22 of the Indian constitution, every individual has an absolute right to a fair trial. One’s life with dignity is in any case given more priority as compared to one’s right to freedom of speech and expression. The media should also consider these facts. The right to a fair trial is more important because it is an absolute right. This right is at the heart of the Indian criminal justice system. With it comes several other rights which incorporate the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, right to not be compelled to be a witness against oneself, right to representation, right to a speedy trial, right to be present during the trial, and examine witnesses, etc.
Right to be legally represented
Besides the right to a fair trial, the right to be legally represented is also violated as the trial by media creates pressure on the lawyers to not take up the case of an accused, forcing the accused to go to trial without any defense. This is clearly against the principle of natural justice as every person has a right to get himself represented, put his points before the adjudicating court and no one has the right to debar him from doing so. To give an example, when distinguished lawyer Ram Jethmalani decided to defend Manu Sharma, a prime accused in Jessica Lal murder case, a senior editor of the television news channel CNN-IBN called the decision to represent Manu Sharma an attempt to “defend the indefensible”. The media even went to the extent of picturing Ram Jethmalani as a villain. But it is important for the media to understand that each person has an equal opportunity to the defense to prove its case.
Prejudice or interference with the judicial process
Every accused has a right to a fair trial clubbed with the principle that ‘Justice may not only be done it must also seem to be done’. There are multiple ways through which attempts are made by the media to prejudice the trial. If such attempts are allowed to achieve success, the person will be convicted of offenses that they have not committed. By no means the editor has the authority to assume the role of an investigator to undertake to prejudice the court against a person. so as to stop such unjust and unfair trial Contempt of court has been introduced. Abuse of party or commenting on pending cases may amount to contempt only if a case is triable by a judge. The idea for this is often that such acts on the part of media tend to interfere with the course of justice. The law, on interference with the due process of law of justice, has been well stated by the judge Gopal Rao of Andhra Pradesh supreme court within the case of Y.V. Hanumantha Rao v. K.R. Pattabhiram and Anr wherein it had been observed by the learned judge that
“When litigation is pending before a Court, no one shall comment on it in such a way there is a real and substantial danger of prejudice to the trial of the action, as for instance by influence on the Judge, the witnesses or by prejudicing mankind in general against a party to the cause. Even if the person making the comment honestly believes it to be true, still it is a contempt of Court if he prejudices the truth before it is ascertained in the proceedings.”
200th Law Commission Report on ‘Media Trial’
The 200th Law commission in its report unproved by Media: Free Speech versus Fair Trial under Criminal Procedure (Amendments to the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971) has stated that “in view of the vast use of the tv and cable services, the whole pattern of publication of stories has changed and a number of other such publications are likely to possess a prejudicial impact on the suspects, accused, witnesses and even Judges and generally, on the administration of justice. Consistent with our law, a suspect/accused is entitled to a just procedure and is presumed to be innocent till proved guilty in a Court of law. None are allowed to prejudge or prejudice his case by the time it goes to trial”.
As per the commission, this is often contempt of the court, if sensible or reasonable limitations on the right to talk freely are imposed by the provisions of this act, such confinements would be valid.
Trial by media isn’t in the least legal. No system is there which has given the authority to media to undertake a case. It’s quite evident that the media features a more negative impact instead of a positive one(with the exceptions of a few instances here and there). The media is usually seen presenting a pre-decided picture of an accused and begins spreading hatred among the overall public which may ultimately affect the trial and therefore the judgment. It’s important that the media should be accurately regulated by the courts. The media while exercising its right to talk and express freely can’t be permitted to a degree of prejudice on the trial itself. It’s important to know that trial gets considerably suffering from the media sensation. It’s the moral duty of media to point out the reality, which too at the proper time. the foremost sensible approach to media is going to be to exercise the contempt jurisdiction of the court to punish the individuals who abuse the fundamental set of recognized rules of conduct. The law commission has similarly made a report regarding “Trial by Media: Free Speech versus Fair Trial under Criminal Procedure” (Amendments to the Contempt of Court Act,1971), [Report number 200 arranged in 2006].
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
- What is a media trial?
Ans: Media trial can be defined as a phenomenon of declaring the accused as a convict even before the court had given its judgement.
- How does the media prejudice or interfere with the judicial process?
Ans: There have been various instances where media is conducting the trial of an accused and gives their own judgement and gives their own decision even before the court passes any judgement as a result of which the reputation of the accused is affected and the verdict of the court get affected too.
- How does the media violates the right to be legally represented?
Ans: The media creates pressure on the lawyers to not take up the cases of the accused, forcing the accused to go to trial without any defence.