Media is the fourth pillar of our democracy. Media through its immense work and the groundbreaking role has acquired that status. When the judiciary, legislature, and executive fail to look out for their citizens, free media is the one to become the voice of the masses. But, media trials are now the norm, people think whatever is shown in media is right. But, is it fair? Does it make sense or causes a hindrance in the administration of justice? Well, let’s find more.
WHAT IS MEDIA TRIAL
Media Trials can be traced back to the twentieth century. The expression, however, has been introduced recently. It got its importance from the instance of Roscoe “Greasy” Arbuckle (1921) who was released by the courtroom. But, after the media announced him “liable”. he lost all his standing and eminence alongside his work. In another eminent case of O.J. Simpson (1995), the media advanced the case and profoundly impacted the spectators even over the status of the court. Clearly, media profoundly empowers or impacts the perspectives overtly.
Media trials can be described as the impact of television and newspaper coverage on a person’s reputation by creating a widespread perception of guilt or innocence before, or after, a verdict in a court of law.
In R.K Anand v. Registrar, Delhi High Court (2009) 8 SCC 106 the Supreme Court explained media trial in the following manner-
“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. During high
publicity court cases, the media are often accused of provoking an atmosphere of public
hysteria akin to a lynch mob which not only makes a fair trial nearly impossible but means
that, regardless of the result of the trial, in public perception the accused is already held
guilty and would not be able to live the rest of their life without intense public scrutiny.”
IMPACT OF MEDIA TRIAL
a. Media trial and free speech
As per numerous judicial interpretations and precedents, Freedom of the press (article 19) is a fundamental right. The concept of a free press is an implied one. In Indian Express Newspapers v/s Union of India, (1985) 1 SCC 641supreme court held that the press assumes an exceptionally important standing in a democratic apparatus. The courts have obligation to maintain the freedom of the press and negate all laws and managerial activities that abbreviate that opportunity. Freedom of the press has three fundamental components. They are:
1. Freedom of access to all sources of information,
2. Freedom of publication, and
3. Freedom of circulation.
However, no right is absolute. Article (19)(2) of the Indian Constitution imposes some reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech and expression vis-a-vis freedom of the press. With this expanded job and significance joined to the media, the requirement for its responsibility and demonstrable skill in reportage can’t be accentuated enough. In common society, no right to freedom is supreme, limitless, or unfit in all conditions. However, the opportunity of the media, similar to some other opportunity perceived under the constitution must be worked out inside sensible limits.
b. Fair trial
Innocent until proven guilty and proof beyond a reasonable doubt are two major principles of the Indian criminal justice system. Every accused in our country has a right to a fair trial.
A fair trial involves a public hearing, independent judges, the right to counsel, the presumption of innocence, and many other factors. And, the procedures of a case with unprejudiced, free and able Judges guarantee a fair trial.
But in media trials no such procedure is advanced and rule of law gets violated. In Anukul Chandra Pradhan v. Union of India,1996(6) SCC 354. The Supreme Court observed that “No occasion should arise for an impression that the publicity attached to these matters 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.”
Trial by media, electronic press and public opinion sabotages the very essence of rule of law. It straightaway hinders the administration of justice.
c. Right to privacy
Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) defines privacy in the
“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
Constitution through wider interpretation of article 21 by Supreme Court has instituted right to privacy.
Often, media houses in the role to attract public eyes do things that are off-limits. In cases with celebrities or some high profile cases, news channels broadcast private information (no consideration given to consent). Not only the accused but the victims also suffer due to excessive publicity. We ought to protect The right to privacy unless it threatens the public interest.
Publishing popular opinions as to the final verdict even before the verdict of the court is nothing but a direct hindrance in the administration of justice. Producing a verdict requires a huge amount of wisdom and interpreting skills only by highly qualifies individuals as sitting judges. The sheer audacity of the media persons to conduct these illegitimate trials is beyond their power. This ultra vires conduct scandalizes the function of the courts and the prevalence of the rule of law.
e. Influence on judges
Judges undoubtedly make sure not to be influenced by the media and majority opinion. But as rightly observed by Justice Frankfurter in the case of John D. Pennekamp v. State of Florida (1946) 328 US 33- “however, judges are also human and we know better than did not forbear how powerful is the pull of the unconscious and how treacherous the rational process…and since Judges, however stalwart, are human, the delicate task of administering justice ought not to be made unduly difficult by irresponsible print.”
The media presents the case in such a way to the public that if an adjudicator passes an order against the “media decision”, the person then considered the same token as bad or one-sided.
Media trial has been in action for a long time now. In cases like the Nitish Katara murder case Jessica Lal case, the Priyadarshini Mattoo case, and Bijal Joshi rape case, media activism was at par with justice. However in a very recent case Rhea Chakraborty v. State of Bihar, 2020 (Sushant Singh Rajput Death Case) media trial went out of control. Commentaries over the accused and the victim were brutal and defamatory. It would be suitable to label the whole scenario as a character assassination for both parties. Media channels in the race of TRP ratings forgot every ethical and professional code of conduct.
Photographs, videos, unsolicited statements are intangible in this age of technology. Furthermore, it harms the reputation of a person for life. The thing to be remembered, the person is still not a convict before the court’s judgment. therefore, he is rightful of integrity same as any other person.
The media needs to draw a line as being a mere corporate institution or democratic pillar. It is the functioning of the judiciary to pronounce verdicts, not the media trials. It is high time our legislature recognizes this problem. However, eradication of media trial completely is not reasonable but statutory regulation of it is the demand of our Constitution.