ALL ABOUT MEDIA TRIAL
Author: Sanjana Wason, IV year of B.A.,LL.B.(Hons.) from MDU CPAS Sector 40, Gurugram
In this era of digitisation, where every news is just a click away. The role of media has expanded and so has the scope of media trials.
WHAT IS A MEDIA TRIAL?
Trial by media can be described as the impact of media coverage on a case before or after the verdict in a court of law.
HISTORY OF MEDIA TRIAL
The old days of media trials on the court cases go back to the emergency of the printing press.
Roscoe Arbuckle was the first celebrity in the 20th century, who was acquitted by the courts but due to strong media influence, he had to lose his career as well as his reputation. Even the case of O.J Simpson, 1995 and Stephen Downing, 2002 also have witnessed the huge impact of the trial by the media.
DOES MEDIA TRIAL COME UNDER THE FREEDOM OF THE PRESS?
Before coming back to the above question let's discuss "Freedom of Press" first.
Freedom of the Press is an indirect right mentioned under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. Even in the Constituent Assembly debates Dr B R Amebedkar, Chairman of the Drafting Committee had cleared that there is no special need of mentioning the freedom of the press, as According to him the press and an individual or citizen were the same. And if we talk about media trials, then the Indian Courts have not declared them unconstitutional.
This freedom allows the media to help people in building opinion on various issues of national interest, however, its excess can be a reason for concern. Even According Article 19(1)(2)o of the Indian Constitution has made it apparent that every right can have reasonable restrictions so, the same can be applied to freedom of speech and expression. But can the privacy of an individual be considered as a ground of reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech and expression? So, the answer is NO. Privacy can not be figured as the ground of reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech and expression. Along with the fact that there is no particular legislation in India that give protection against excessive publicity by the press including media trial.
Not long ago, social activists filed a petition before the High Court of Bombay. Where they claimed the agencies investigating Rajput's Case, death leaked personal information to the media, which was then shared with the general public. Here, the Court directed the Central Government to indicate the extent of state control exercised concerning telecasting news having serious results.
TRIAL BY MEDIA AND MEDIA VICTIMIZATION
After witnessing the increasing impact of media trials on the general public, The PRESS COUNCIL OF INDIA (PCI) norms formulate the regulations for reporting cases and avoiding media trials. It warns journalists not to give excessive publicity to an individual may it be victims, witnesses, suspects and accused such that it amounts to an infringement of privacy.
The disclosure of the identity of witnesses may endanger his life or sometimes even his life or sometimes even his loved ones as they may be forced to change their statement in court by coercion or any other methods. Accordingly, The right of privacy of the suspects or accused is being recognised by the PCI to guard against the trial by media.
Swati Deshpande, a senior assistant editor (law) at The Times of India, Mumbai admitted that"Media reporting often gives the impression that the accused has committed the crime or the media through a particular fact. When in fact, it has fallen to the question or verify the fact by an independent source. The result is the information received from the police is rarely questioned."
The 200th Report of the Law Commission (www.lawcommisionofIndia.nic.in/reports) dealt with the issue of Trial by Media: Free speech V. Fair Trial under Criminal Procedure. Where the reports focused on the prejudicial coverage of crime, accused and suspect and how it impacts the administration of justice. As the report emphasises, the pre-trial stage publication by the media could affect the right of the accused. The media has now considered itself, PUBLIC COURT or JANTA ADALAT where it announces its verdict even before the court final judgment.
It keeps the Golden principles of "Presuption of innocence until proven guilty" and "Guilt beyond reasonable doubt"at stake. ( Urvashi Singh, "Trial by Media a threat to the administration of justice"http://www.lexology.com)
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of Independent India said -"I would rather have a completely free press with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of that freedom than a suppression of the regulated press ". But he did not expect that the media would go beyond its limit and ultimately hinder the process of administration of justice.
IMPACT OF MEDIA TRIAL ON JUDICIAL PROCEEDING
Media Trials create a huge impact on court proceedings or sometimes even verdicts as well. As evidence can be questionable after the intervention of the media in the investigation of the case.
The influence of media trials not only creates an image in the minds of the general public but also in the mind of Judges as well. So, it becomes the Judge's duty to not let the blind item published in a certain high profile case, affect the case verdict. And since every individual has a right to a free trial, their prejudice can also be considered as contempt of court.
In the end, it can be certainly stated that the Media has a right to present facts and figures regarding the National interest of the public but within reasonable restrictions.