Media, the Fourth Estate

The media is a very important institution in India that provides discursive interactions in a democratic country. Being the fourth pillar, it is a central part of democracy in India. But, due to current situation of media overreach, questions related to freedom and accountability of media has arisen. The courts have been particularly instructive in defining the contours of freedom of speech and fair trial to avoid the circumvention of justice. 

A number of precedents have been set by the courts while delving into questions of law related to the fundamentality of the freedom of press and its inherent capacity to democratize information regimes. In two prominent judgments — Express Newspapers (Private) Ltd. and others vs Union of India and The Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting vs Cricket Association of Bengal and Anr, the Supreme Court reiterated that the liberty of press is an essential part of the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1

The idea of ‘reasonable restriction’ is important for ensuring free and fair trial. There have been instances where the media has been accused of advocating spurious and parallel justice systems jeopardizing the due process of law. Can freedom of press be bypassed for the larger interest of a fair trial, a free and fair trial being the sine qua non for constitutional trust to be reposed in our democratic system?

The courts have echoed constitutional dependability in the idea of natural justice. The basic principles of natural justice — Nemo debet esse judex in propria causa (the doctrine of bias) and Audi alteram partem (to hear the other side) — have been upheld. In the 2004 Best Bakery case, the Supreme Court reprised fair trial as the foundational principle in the administration of criminal law. There cannot be any scope for prejudicial bias for or against the accused, the witnesses, or the cause, which is being tried. The premature discernment of guilt or innocence in a media trial would amount to a denial of free and fair trial.

The danger lies in the media donning the role of a ‘kangaroo court’ and sensationalizing issues to meet the market-driven TRP logic. Not only has the media overstepped its line and infringed upon an individual’s right to privacy but it has also coerced public opinion to influence adjudication. In the Naveen Jindal vs. M/S Zee Media Corporation Ltd and Anr the court stated that both print and electronic media should maintain the distinction between a media trial and an informative media.

In the Sunanda Pushkar death case, Justice Mukta Gupta of the Delhi High Court questioned and disliked the conduct of the media for challenging the sanctity of an ongoing investigation and ordered the exercise of restraint in making charges without evidence and provoking defamatory statements. The issue of the absence of a regulatory mechanism to control the electronic media also came up during the Bombay High Court’s hearing of a petition filed by former IPS officers concerning separate investigations by three Central agencies into the death of Sushant Singh Rajput. A balance of interest must be struck between the freedom of speech and the postulates of fair trial for a just society.  

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

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