Our Indian democracy consists of four pillars, i.e., legislative, executive, judiciary, and media. The fourth pillar, media, has played a very crucial role in shaping citizen’s opinions on a certain issue. As an aware citizen, it is our duty to differentiate between opinions publicized and to not believe in everything. It has become an important aspect to act against partiality, good deeds, or any happenings in our society. In this article, the author will give a brief explanation about each and every such aspect, whether positive or negative, of the media trial. The article will let the readers get all the unknown and known facts, justice, or injustice done by the media. The article specially focuses on the media trials in cases concerning celebrities and how they are affected by it.
The word “media” is a plural form of the Latin word “medium” meaning “middle ground or intermediate. In simple terms, a media trial means declaring someone as guilty in front of the public even before the court has given the judgement. The media shapes the opinion of the public and the court in such a way that the judgement is easily affected. Examples of medial trial cases are- Bijal Lal Joshi case, Jessica Lal murder, and many YouTubers, gamers, and many more who have lost their reputation and job regardless of being acquitted by the Court but being defamed by the media.
The most recent and burning case in which media has taken the lead to shape people’s views and establishing facts and secrets even before CBI or police finds out the same in India is the Sushant Singh Rajput’s murder case. Justice D.Y Chandrachud, in the case of Romila Thapar & Ors. v. UOI, noted that the way police misuse the media, it impacts the reputation of the people involved in the case. He then stated that “the use of electronic media by the investigating arm of the State to influence public opinion during the pendency of an investigation subverts the fairness of the investigation. The police are not adjudicators nor do they pronounce upon guilt.”
The media sensationalize a certain case maybe because it involves some celebrity or some children and can be anything, which moulds the view of their fans, and accordingly, the media gets support out of it.
History of Media Trial
The term “media trial” has been coined in the 20th century, in the famous case of, Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle, 1921. In this case, Arbuckle was the defendant in three widely publicized trials between November 1921 and April 1922 for the rape and manslaughter of actress Virginia Rappe. The actress had fallen ill at Arbuckle’s party at a hotel in San Francisco in 1921, and she died four days later. A friend of Rappe accused Arbuckle of raping and accidentally killing her. The first two trials resulted in hung juries, but Buster Keaton defended him in the third trial, which acquitted him, and the jury gave him a formal written statement of apology. After being acquitted by the court, Arbuckle lost his job and his further movies were all banned.
Its origin was by the phrase “trial by television” in the year 1967. It all started on a television broadcast of the programme “The Frost programme” whose host was Mr. David Frost. He started questioning an insurance fraud Mr. Emil Savundra. The interview affected Savundra’s right to free trial and further his life. Media trial is a recently coined phrase, it has a strong impact on the court’s decisions.
Constitutionality of Media
The Constitution establishes the rule of law on the basis of media influenced thinking of the society. Freedom of the press and independence of the judiciary are very crucial.
Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, talks about the right to freedom of speech, that is, “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and the “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
The Supreme Court has clearly said that these kinds of trials by the media, the press are examples of the antithesis of the rule of law that leads to injustice. In Anukul Chandra Pradhan v. Union of India, the Supreme Court observed that “No occasion should arise for an impression that the publicity attached to these matters (the hawala transactions) has tended to dilute the emphasis on the essentials of a fair trial and the basic principles of jurisprudence including the presumption of innocence of the accused unless found guilty at the end of the trial”.
Under the Contempt of Court Act, 1971, media trial is regarded as a contempt of court. It is so regarded because of the facts which are published much before the judgement given by the Court. It affects and mislead the public’s opinion and affect the rights of a free trial. It leads to the character assassination of the accused. The media trials somewhat influence lawyers to take up these high profile and media influenced cases. In the case of Jessica Lal, upon taking Ram Jethmalani as the defence lawyer, the media said: “defence of the indefensible” indicating that the accused is guilty already even though it has not been proved.
Media and celebrities
Media people and channels publicise for Target Rating Point (“TRP”) and viewership. The most recent media trial is the SSR case, in which the actress Rhea Chakraborty along with some others, has been declared as guilty, although they haven’t proven the same. They get millions of views for the same. The media also covers which dress the celebrity wore on that particular date, which car they used, which road they took to go and come back, which side they sat in the car. Is it relevant, in the journey of publicizing facts about a serious case? Today the media has sometimes made a case or an issue as a way to earn TRP.
We all are aware of the famous case of the star Salman khan, the hit and run case. He was acquitted of all the charges for the same. But the media, so-called paid, depicted him as a noble and a person who believes in charity work. His initiatives of various charity helped him get out of the court proceedings, after 12 years. His negative image in front of the public was diverted to a noble person, thus not letting the person who died and the other four who got injured, get justice. First, justice was delayed and then denied.
The media is sometimes misused by people to defame someone, which results in the destruction of the person and his whole life. Or even sometimes, people with no job and goal become famous. Talking about the famous YouTuber, stand-up comedian, Tanmay Bhat. He along with his partner Kambha had allegations of harassment made against them, following allegations on Utsav Chakraborty. They both are the founding partners of AIB. After such allegations of the #Metoo movement, they both stepped down from the AIB platform.
Many people from the Industry have been accused and branded as rapists during the #Metoo movement and many more. Not every allegation is true and not every allegation is false. But as a member of this society, it is our duty to differentiate between what information is correct and which is not.
Here are some of the cases which shows how media influences the justice system. The list involves, many celebrities and people from various fields who got acquitted or hanged because of media being so positive or being negative:
- In the very famous Arushi Talwar case, the media has convicted her parents much before the original judgement. There were protests only on the basis that her own parents killed her merely because the news said so and not the Court.
- Miss Jasleen Kaur in the year 2015, posted a post on her Facebook account alleging a man name Sarvjeet Singh of sexual harassment. The Facebook post got viral which affected the media trial which identified the man though terms such as “pervert” and the “the predator of Delhi” but after 4 years the man was held as not guilty by the Delhi court. But his job and his life were the worst affected.
- During US president Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial and the investigation done by the prosecutor, there was a great influence on the public’s opinion because the media handled the trial by showing commentaries form lawyers.
- Jessica Lal murder case: a celebrity barmaid in New Delhi, on 30th April 1999, at a socialite party was shot dead. According to the witnesses, Manu Sharma, the son of a minister was the murderer. However, the accused was acquitted by the court. There was intense pressure from the media and public performing protest, so the High Court, Delhi had to conduct the trial on a fast track basis. The judgement was then changed and finally Manu Sharma, the accused was declared guilty and was punished for a lifetime.
- In the case of Stephen Downing, 2002, in Derbyshire, UK, in which Downing, seventeen years old then, was convicted of the murder of a girl. The campaign by a local newspaper editor had reopened the case and had been a successful appeal and release of the convict after twenty-seven years of his conviction.
From the article, it is clear that the media has more negative influence on people than a positive approach. The only solution is that there has to be some laws and regulations for the media by the Courts, otherwise it will easily sway away from the essence of democracy and judiciary. It will easily ruin anyone’s reputation and their careers. Therefore, it is very essential to impose some restrictions on it. According to Fali Nariman, “ a responsible media is the handmaiden of effective judicial administration.”
Frequently Asked Questions
- Why does the media interfere so much in people’s matters?
The media is not interfering or so, the matter is the media does its work by getting you each and every information about the issue. By doing the same, they forget their limits or get paid for the same, for interfering.
- When will SSR get justice?
This is a question that no one can answer now. The procedure is being carried out by the CBI, the media and specially Mr. Arnab is so patiently and is working hard for getting SSR, justice even before the Courts and the police. Yeah, so let’s hope that he may get justice as soon as possible. Maybe the pressure from the media only helps the CBI and others to get evidence for the same.
- Is the media always negative or it sometimes helps people?
Yes, certainly. The media is the fourth pillar of democracy and in many cases, it has helped people to get justice and help people against it. It is the only place which can make you a star in a day or a defamed person on another day.