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THE GROWING INFLUENCE OF MEDIA TRIALS IN INDIA

Author: Adv. Siddhi Gokuldas Naik, II year of LL.M. from V.M.Salgaocar College of Law, Miramar, Panaji, Goa


“Digital media has destroyed much of the magic and mystery of the medium!”

-John Dyer


Traditionally India has three pillars of democracy namely the Legislature, Executive, and the Judiciary. However, with the advent of transformation, there is a fourth pillar joining the list, that is the Media. Media has been regarded as the watchdog for democracy due to its ability to expedite public inquiry over the other three components. Media has always been useful in enlightening the public on the affairs of the world. Bold journalism has always reduced the gap between the public and the government. In the past, it has been successful in unleashing controversies through sting operations, undercover missions, and investigative journalism. It has brought into light many social, economic, environmental, legal, and cultural issues.


However, lately, the media is criticized for excessively interfering in the judicial procedure. It has gradually transformed itself into a public Court’ or a ‘Janta Adalat’.When a person is suspected of an offence, the cardinal principle of criminal law assumes him to be innocent until proven guilty. However, the media has completely ignored the difference between a suspect and a guilty person, and even before the Court takes cognizance a public opinion is formed against the suspect and he is already declared as guilty. This behaviour of the media is termed as “Media Trial”.


MEDIA TRIALS IN INDIA

A trial is an essential procedure of the Judiciary for delivering justice to the affected parties and punishing the offenders. Both, the Complainant and the Accused are given a fair opportunity to put forth their contentions before a judgment is passed. In a Court of Justice, an accused is only proven guilty after all the facts against him are proved beyond reasonable doubts. Till then he is presumed to be innocent.


Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution provides the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression to its citizens. The Freedom of the Press is a vital part enshrined under this Article. A significant aspect of this right is that news channels as a whole cannot claim it as they are artificial persons and not citizens of India. However, the press editors, managers, journalists are all citizens and when they write, publish, or speak in the media they hide behind the shield of their freedom of speech and expression. That’s how the media actively gets involved in trials known as Media Trials.


WHAT DOES IT INVOLVE?

A media trial includes investigation and reporting to unleash the truth behind a particular case. However, it always ends up creating an impression that it has independently carried out an investigation and concludes that the suspect is guilty. Where in reality everything is one-sided, relying on varied information, the sources of which are rarely questioned. This often transmits fake news and negativity thereby largely affecting the judicial proceedings of the case. In the process, the personal life of the accused and the victim is also flashed in the public domain.


DEMERITS OF MEDIA TRIALS

“The problem begins when the media becomes a parallel system of rule of noise and the rule of noise starts displacing the rule of law!”

-Harish Salve, Senior Advocate

They are heavily criticized on the following grounds

  1. Today all the ethics of journalism are overlooked and violated by the media.

  2. Media trials are entangled in the poisonous web of ratings, viewership, revenue, political glamour, ambitious anchor, and public baying for blood.

  3. It is an attempt to replace a Court Trial with a Trial by embarrassment thereby violating the right of the accused to a fair trial.

  4. It oversteps the sanctity of the Judiciary.

  5. If a suspect is innocent but is already proclaimed guilty by the media, it can amount to prejudice against him and his family members.

  6. Often when the identity of a witness is revealed in public, it leads to a lot of pressure and threat on him to change statements or turn hostile.

  7. Also, the personal details of the Accused and victims are brought under the public lens of scrutiny, violating the right to privacy.

  8. Media can unconsciously or subconsciously influence the judges while making judgments.

  9. Social media and electronic media are a deadly combination as any piece of information can be circulated within a span of a moment and is regarded as the gospel truth without any knowledge about its relevance.


FAMOUS CASES TRIED BY MEDIA

There have been multiple cases tried by the media in the past. Some of the popular cases include:

  1. Arushi Talwar’s Murder Case: The case of a 13-year-old’s murder was limitlessly interfered with by the media. The teenage girl’s privacy was breached as a lot of false information about her character was spread across the world.

  2. Pradhyuman Thakur Murder Case: The body of a class 2 boy was found in a school washroom in Delhi. Initially, a driver was suspected on grounds of sexual assault but later it was revealed that the act was committed by a class 9 boy to postpone exams. The driver was already defamed by the media.

  3. Sunanda Pushkar Murder Case: The wife of former Union Minister Mr. Shashi Tharoor was found dead. The media had already claimed that Mr. Tharoor had committed the murder even before the trial was complete.

  4. Neeraj Grover Murder Case: The body of Neeraj Grover was chopped into pieces and set on fire by the Accused. This case received a lot of public outcries and a sentence was awarded to the Accused. However, one of the news channels criticized the judgment and claimed that the Accused was under stress.

  5. Sheena Bohra Murder Case: Mrs. Indrani Mukherjee, mother of the deceased was suspected of the crime. Her character and personal life which had no relevance with the case were brought to the public through the media.


CONCLUSION

Media is a powerful sword of democracy. However, today Indian media has plummeted in the wrong direction because of its grave mishandling and unhealthy rivalry in the field of news coverage. It has equated sense with sensationalism, chaos with civility, and balance with extremism. If we continue with the same pace, offences like verbal terrorism, visual extremism, and content fundamentalism will mark their places real soon. It’s time there are laws for penalizing the ones meddling with the judicial proceedings. Media has to be substantially authentic. “No doubt it is a watchdog for the public but it should not become a guard dog for the blind leading the public as if they are blind!”