Libertatem Magazine

Libertatem: Navigating Legal Perspectives

 Media Trial : A Threat

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 INTRODUCTION

Whoever controls the media, controls the minds” – Jim Morrison

Media is considered as the fourth pillar of our democratic country, it has been the voice of thousands and a common platform for all of us. Media plays an important role in changing someone’s viewpoint towards any event or crime. In a democratic country it plays a role in educating people about rights and duties and maintains peace and order in a society. The growth of media can be seen from the last two decades. We live in a society where realities are manufactured by the media, government, big corporations, etc.

Today, in view of the extensive use of television and cable services, the whole pattern of publication of news has changed and several such publications are likely to have a prejudicial impact on the suspects, accused witnesses, and even Judges and in general, on the administration of justice.

Indian Media is one of the most powerful media in the world even in terms of legal constraints; it has now converted itself into a public court and interferes into court proceedings. Article 19 of the constitution guarantees the right to freedom of expression. The expression means freedom from interference in the mane of public interest. The expression freedom of press has not been used in article 19 but is comprehended in art 19(1)(a). The purpose of the press is to advance public opinion by publishing facts and opinions without which a democratic electorate cannot make responsible judgment

MEDIA TRIALS VS FAIR TRIALS

The right to a fair trial is a basic right that is given to every individual under Articles 14, 19, 20, and 21. It is the soul of the criminal justice system, in order to ensure that the accused gets the free, fair just, and reasonable trial, the right to be defended by a legal practitioner directive principles of state policies embodied in article 39(A) inserted into the constitution through 42nd Amendment act of 1976.

Media trial can be defined as any incident or crime which is going on in the country and that comes to the media, and the media gives out judgment. They have the power to make any innocent guilty and any guilty innocent. It has derived its meaning from the famous case of Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle, [1] where he was acquitted by the court but lost his job, reputation after the media had declared him guilty. There are many cases where media had taken the cases into their hand and had played an important role in providing justice to victims like in Jessica Lal murder case[2], Priyadarshini matto case[3], the media had played an important role in highlighting the case.

But great power comes with great responsibilities and one should be accountable for their own act, In the case of R vs. Stephen Downing [4], in Derbyshire , the campaign by a local newspaper editor had reopened the case and had been a successful appeal and release of the convict after 27 years of his conviction.

News networks are taking new initiatives for the public at large but the role of media in investigative journalism of matters pending in court is still in question. In the infamous case of Khurshid Anwar, one of the news agencies labeled him as a rapist based on the victim’s account which resulted in him committing suicide. In the Aarushi Talwar case [5], the media covered this sensational case with indecent allegations against the victim and suspects, and this act of media was heavily criticized by many people as a trial by media did not only distorted the reputation of the deceased but also interfered in the ongoing investigation of the police and before court’s decision media gave their own decision and created their own facts and figures for TRPs.

In Sushant Singh Rajput’s case, the media has targeted one of the suspects, Rhea Chakraborty, and held her liable and guilty before any CBI’s report or court’s decision. These media trials are not only limited to newspapers or television but have also been carried on Social Medias as well; social media platforms are misused for harassing and defaming someone without having knowledge of reality which not only affect the career but also mental health. We are aware of the #metoo movement which was started for women who were assaulted but many people misused this movement and used this movement to defame someone

We are all aware of how investigative reports of the media result in causing more harm than benefit and how it affects the suspects as well as victims.

  1. Breach of personal privacy: Media trial is based on leaked information many times from anonymous sources, like in case of Tehelka case an email of the complaint was leaked in media which due to the sensationalism took suo motto cognizance of the incident, that email was for the purpose of an internal complaint case, but due to widespread coverage of the incident in media, police took suo motto cognizance and registered an FIR against Mr. Tarun Tejpal for sexual assault, in this case, victim’s personal choice has been violated.
  2. Mental Trauma: The media reports which bring sexual offense cases into public Sometimes to give a face to a story, additional details are added in the report which reveals the identity of the victim which also violates the freedom of both victim and accused to live with dignity. There are chances where the victim may not be willing to discuss the incident again and again due to physical and mental trauma.  
  3. Biasness: Media and journalism both are very powerful which affects and molds public opinion. Sometimes for the sake of sensationalism and TRPs, the media produces inadmissible evidence in public opinion which influences instant denunciation of the alleged accused.
  4. Violation of article 21: We all know that media channels work according to the demand of the public in order to gain TRPs and publicity, media infringes the privacy of people involved in the case along with their family or friends, and sometimes they are attacked by the public.

MEDIA TRIAL AS CONTEMPT OF COURT  

Sometimes media trials have some positive effects but it has also negative influences too, the media itself conducts an investigation and builds a public opinion against the suspects, even before the court or other authorities takes cognizance.  It includes the dignity of the court and fairness of the trial, this implies that once a case has reached court, no one is allowed to publish his own self-made facts, and violation of this rule would amount to contempt of court. A journalist may be held liable for publication which might go against the right of the accused or which may question the justice during proceedings.

LAWS ON MEDIA TRIAL IN USA AND UK

USA: In the USA, under the 1st amendment of the bill of rights 1971, freedom of press is expressed in the American constitution as an absolute right and is not subject to reasonable justification, and therefore any interference with the media freedom to access, report and comment upon ongoing trials is prima facie unlawful. If an irresponsible piece of journalism results in prejudice to the proceedings, the legal system does not provide for sanctions against the parties responsible for the wrongdoings. And thus restrictive contempt of court laws are generally considered incompatible with the constitutional guarantee of free speech, whereas

United Kingdom: In United Kingdom, under sec 4(2) contempt of courts act 1981, states that courts are expressly empowered to postpone publication of any report of the proceedings or any part of the proceedings for such period as the court thinks fir for avoiding a substantial risk of prejudice to the administration of justice in those proceedings.

CONCLUSION

Media is the cornerstone of our democracy which operates for the greater interest of society but nowadays the media is busy gaining more audiences for their benefit and to increase TRPs. The media should not violate any rights provided under the constitution and should not misuse the right to free speech. Responsible media is what we need for a better future and proper functioning. The Supreme Court explains that the fundamental principle behind the freedom of speech is only people’s right to know but there is a procedure established by the law governing the conduct of the trial. A trial by media is against the essence of rule of law which will lead to miscarriage of justice. There were cases where the media ensured that the guilty were punished like the Nirbhaya case[6] Jessica Lal, Priyadarshini Mattoo but now the media has taken such discoveries of facts as a way of earning, they try to sensationalize the event. Media should work in such a way that it will not infringe any rights, media should not be allowed to deliver judgments at the stage of investigation and hence a line should be drawn which media should not cross, suspects of any case should not be accountable to any questions asked by media, The Press Council of India should also make strict rules and regulations in order to prevent someone’s basic fundamental and human rights and at last the rule of law should prevail which means no one is above the law.

Endnotes

[1] Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle 1921

[2] Manu Sharma vs. the State of Delhi (2010) 6 SCC 1

[3] Santosh Kumar Singh vs. State, (2010)9SCC 747

[4] R vs. Stephen Downing [4],[2002] EWCA Crim 263

[5] 2013 (82) ACC 303

[6] Mukesh vs. State( NCT of Delhi)  (2017) 6 SCC 1


 

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