This article has been written by Rishabh. This article has been edited by Ruchika Mohapatra (Associate, Lawsikho)
Media is regarded as one of the pillars of democracy. The freedom of the press is regarded as “the mother of all liberties in a democratic society. Free speech and Expression are perhaps the most significant and helpful rights accessible in our Constitution. The opportunity of articulation fused in the Indian Constitution in Article 19(1) stays a significant facilitator for far and wide commitment of the media inside a majority rule environment. It is by utilizing this opportunity that the media can work.
Media has played wide-going parts and assumes a crucial part in molding the assessment of the general public, however like each and every other freedom and liberty, this freedom of speech and articulation is additionally seen to be abused by the media. Every institution is liable to be abused, and every liberty, if left unbridled, has the tendency to become a license that would lead to disorder and anarchy.
‘Trial by media’ is a recently coined term and is used to denote a facet of ‘media activism.’ It means “the impact of television and newspaper coverage on a person’s reputation by creating a widespread perception of guilt regardless of any verdict in a Court of law. “Particularly during high publicity Court cases, the media often provoke an ambiance of public hysteria akin to a lynch mob which not only makes a fair trial impossible but means that, regardless of the result of the trial, according to public insight the condemned is now held liable and isn’t have the option to carry on with the remainder of his existence without serious public scrutiny”. The media playing the job of a foe and utilizing the masses as judges to lead their own preliminaries is the way a media preliminary comes to be. The media is regularly inhumane towards the psychological condition of the parties involved especially the accused and the victims. They invade their privacy which causes a breach of the Right to Privacy guaranteed under Article 21. This article seeks to shed light on media trials with a special focus on the role of media trials in today’s age on various judicial proceedings.
Influence of media trials
Media has certainly played a great role in bringing justice to many people. One cannot gag the press due to the brave role it played in cases which are commonly known as ‘Billa Ranga case’, ‘Baba Nirankar case’, ‘Sudha Gupta case’ and of ‘Shalini Malhotra case’.Without active media, the cries of the victims of the brutal khap killings of Haryana would have gone unheard. The fear of khap and the backing of police and politicians allowed this barbarous tradition to continue for a long time until they turned out in front of the world through the media. Many different cases like the Arushi Murder Case, Jessica Lal Murder Case, Ruchika Girhotra Case, and even the games played in IPL row were brought out into the broad daylight because of the praiseworthy attempts of media personnel.
But the need to compete for commercialization and more views has transformed the media today into a full-fledged game for viewership. The name of the game is ratings, viewership, eyeballs, and commercials. Under this new scheme, the news is whatever sells the best. The recent example of prioritisation and extreme coverage of a superstar’s son over alleged drug abuse as opposed to covering the death of protesting farmers is one of the many instances where media has shown that it seeks to cover sensational news more than any other. This means, whatever catches and grasps the attention of the public. Or, in other words, ‘sensationalism’.
The current day trend in news broadcasting manifestly points out that journalists and media people should be unmistakable facilitators for the democratic process to function without interference. The morals that the media should embrace include values like efficiency, justice, truth, objectivity, integrity, fair reporting, respect, and autonomy. These values are very much part and parcel of the democratic process. Tragically, nowadays the media individuals are more often than not accused of being overwhelmed by materialistic contemplations instead of professional ethics and honesty towards the profession
The pressure on judges in high-publicity trials
It is true that every holder of legal office does his utmost not to let his mind be affected by what has been seen or heard or read outside the court and he will not intentionally let himself be influenced in any way by the media. Similarly, it is to be remembered that judges being people are not liberated from faults. A man may not be capable to put what he has seen, heard, or read completely out of his mind; and he may be influenced by it.
In the Nanavati case, for example, there was a huge hue and cry from the media and there was extensive reporting which was later claimed to have influenced the minds of the jurors. A weekly tabloid Blitz that was owned and run by R. K. Karanjia, a Parsi publicized the story and openly supported Nanavati and portrayed him as a wronged husband whose gullible wife had been swayed by a rich playboy.
If one carefully analyses the judgment in Reliance Petrochemicals v. Proprietor of Indian Express in the light of the judgment of P.C. Sen, it tends to show that the Supreme Court has believed that Judges are likely to be “subconsciously affected” by media publicity. Parties have a constitutional right to have a fair trial in the court of law, by an unbiased tribunal, uninfluenced by newspaper dictation or popular cry. Fairness and equity are two primary basements on which the whole democratic structure rests. The biased distribution against the blamed amounts to a denial of a fair trial. Media is so ubiquitous in our everyday lives that judges also can’t stay away from its pervasiveness.
Need to regulate unhealthy media involvement
There must be regulations with respect to journals and news programs while a trial is going on. It is just as significant to protect the public perception of judges’ fairness as to protect the risk of bias. After all, we cannot forget the Common rule Law laid down in R v. Sussex Justices: Exparte McCarthy that “Justice should not only be done, it should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done”.
The limitations to be forced on the media must be sensible and reasonable. Where Article 19 of the Constitution enables the media to communicate its thoughts through the freedom of discourse, note that this article likewise gives reasonable restrictions, for example, the reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech given under Article 19(2). In this manner, it is the established liability of the courts to guarantee that such limitations don’t go past the ambit of the sensible limitations as referenced in the Constitution of India.
International jurisprudence in media trials
The international jurisprudence on media preliminaries has a strong inclination towards free and fair trial. A few excerpts can be taken from international treaties and cases that help this contention. Article 6 of the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary states that the Judiciary should guarantee that “legal procedures were conducted honestly and the rights of parties were respected.”
The 200th Law Commission Report on Media Trials put forth the association between the media and jurisdictional independence by examining the basic principles set down in the Madrid Standards 1994 which conceives provisions under ICCPR and 1985 UN principles on the Independence of Judiciary. The freedom of media is fundamental in any democratic country administered by the Rule of Law. It is the responsibility of judges to observe and give effect to freedom of media by applying only such restrictions as approved by ICCPR. The particular provision according to ICCPR is, “The media have a responsibility to respect the rights of people, protected by the International Covenant and the independence of the judiciary.” Moreover, under the fundamental standard, the freedom of media has been interpreted to convey information and commentary on the administration of equity including cases before, during, and after trial without disregarding the presumption of blamelessness.
It must be remembered that freedom of expression isn’t outright, limitless, or free. The judiciary is populated by judges who are human, and being human they are occasionally driven by considerations other than an unbiased view of law and justice. No judge is totally invulnerable to the influence of the hype generated by the media.
The media should practice better self-regulation. It is anticipated from persons at the helm of the affairs in the field of media to assure that the trial by media does not hamper the fair investigation by the investigative agencies, and more importantly, does not prejudice the defense of the accused in any manner whatsoever. It will amount to a mockery of justice if either of these causes delays in the accepted judicious and fair examination and trial.
If the government starts regulating the media, the complete purpose would be defeated. Instead, the more desirable option would be robust and civic engagement by the people with their polity and political class. In another word, an engagement that is both adversarial and cooperative in nature. An informed, cultivated, and interested civil society can be the best watchdog over politics and the media. This would re-establish and balance the polity and harmony a semblance of normalcy among the institutions of the nation.
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