Media trials dismantling the reliance on Judiciary?

Media trials dismantling the reliance on Judiciary?

This post is written by Pratikshya Priyadarshini, Symbiosis Law School, Nagpur

Indian Democracy gives the confidence and power to Indians to be vocal and voice up their opinions against the foul play of authorities or any institution, for that matter; to be able to criticise etc. The power is further attributed to them through the wide interpretations of articles prescribed under the Indian Constitution, which is known as the “grundnorm” of the land.

The essence of democracy is commonly defined as a government; of the people, by the people and for the people. The pivotal aspect for the concrete foundation of democracy lies in its three strong pillars; the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. But along with the freedom, envisaged to the people which walks parallelly with the democratic feature of the country, the media is also considered to be playing a crucial role in the sustenance of democracy in the society.

The media is viewed as the fourth pillar of democracy, as the existence of a free, independent and powerful medium of expression strengthens and acts as the cornerstone for democratic norms. The importance of the media is well recognized and the freedom of the press is included within the ambit of freedom of speech and expression given under Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian constitution.

It is undeniable that the media has played the role of conscious keeper and watchdog for the functionaries of the society and attempted to a great deal in bringing out the wrongs happening in our society to our knowledge. Indeed, all such actions have been revolutionary in itself in the history of democracy and have resulted in great gains for both the general public and certain wings of governmental and judicial institutions.

Eventually, with time the role and responsibility of the media were increased and with the increased importance, the need for its responsibility and competence in coverage cannot be underscored enough. As media is immensely capable to mould public’s opinion and change the whole viewpoint through various events in a different way, the freedom of it, just like any other freedom recognized under the constitution, has to exercise within reasonable boundaries.

However, in today’s time of immense competition, the exceptional power given to media is seen to abuse for their gain. In pursuit of commercial interest and larger views, media reports are distorting the facts and sensationalising the evidence and information which eventually is posing an intense risk to the speculation of the innocence of the accused in many cases. 

What is known to be a media trial where a trial by media is done by creating an angle of a pre-empted verdict of the people involved in cases, before any verdict of the court and hence impacting the reputation through its coverage on television, newspapers and now on social media. 

Shedding light on the current fumes of media trials happening around, in the case of Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide case, the accused Rhea Chakraborty and her family have fallen victim to the vicious trap of media trial. And this aspect of the case is not a follow up to the intricacies of the charges involved in the case but rather an indication to the insensibility & non-accountability of the press in India and how it is affecting the judicial procedures and the fair trial of the individuals involved. 

In this case, particularly, the media deliberately have broken all the ethical and moral rules of the press. The press yet again by abusing its liberty has transgressed its boundaries. Not only restricting itself to the violation of ethical and moral rules, but it violated the legal norms too. 

The press council guidelines do not have any penal actions aligned to it. According to section. 43 (a) of Norms of Journalistic conduct, a fair trial is going to prevail in every way possible as any compromise of a fair trial for an accused would dismantle the justice delivery system. Thus, the media people are expected to be duly trained and imparted basic knowledge functioning of the courts and processes of law. 

The media should not induce the general public to believe on information or facts that are not established by the concerned authority as it brings an undue pressure on the fair investigation by the people or police or any other recognised statutory body. It is not advisable for the media to vigorously report crime-related cases on day to day basis but time again we have seen cases where this rule is sullied. 

The adjudication by media is criticised by various judicial institutions as there is a manipulation of perceptions that prevails. The reputation of the accused is tarnished to a great deal even before the verdict of her innocence or guilt is announced by the court. 

Indeed, there have been plentiful cases in which media has led the trial of an accused and has passed the verdict even before the court passes its judgment.

In the landmark cases like Sushil Sharma v. The State (Delhi Administration and Ors.),1996 CriLJ 3944, there was little evidence that the accused had murdered his partner. However, while the case was still pending in the court, the media had started portraying the accused as a murderer and was capable of changing the views of the public even before the decision of the case. It held by the High Court of Delhi that the conviction of any person would solely be based on the facts of the case and not because the media wanted the person to be declared as guilty. The charges also have to be framed against the person accused based on the evidence available on record and not based on what the media portrays the person to be. 

In Aarushi Talwar case, the media drew aggravated in the reporting of the murder of Aarushi Talwar, when it anticipated and reported that her father Dr Rajesh Talwar, and possibly her mother Nupur Talwar were involved in her murder, the CBI later declared that Rajesh was not the killer.

No wonder some well-known criminal cases would have gone unpunished but for the intervention of media, are Jessica Lal case, Priyadarshini Mattoo case, Nitish Katara murder case and Bijal Joshi rape case. It is unlawful due to the restrictions mentioned to the freedom of speech and expression in the Indian Constitution but media has helped the common man getting justice.

It becomes clear that the media’s influence streamlines into a negative effect than that of positive. The media has to be properly controlled by the courts and cannot be granted a free hand in the court proceedings. There must be a reasonable self-restriction and regulations. Due prominence should be given to the fair trial and court procedures must be respected with an adequate sense of responsibility. It should recognise the fact that whatever they circulate has a great influence over the viewer. Therefore, it is the moral obligation on part of media to show the truth and that too at the accurate time. 

The most appropriate way to regulate the media will be to exercise the contempt jurisdiction of the court to punish those who violate the basic code of conduct. The media cannot be allowed freedom of speech and expression to an extent as to prejudice the trial itself. 

Hence, if the media does not hold itself accountable for the unjustified influence that it is imposing on the society or if the court fails to regulate the actions of media people, then there is more probability for the people to lose their reliance on the judiciary.



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