How Media Trial is a threat to Free Trial?

It is said that there are four pillars of democracy – Legislature, Executive, Judiciary and Media. The role of Legislature is to make laws and that of Executive is to work on the implementation of those laws. Judiciary helps in delivering justice and Media ensures that public interest is safeguarded and there is transparency to a certain extent among the other three pillars and the citizens of India.

Media plays a vital role in shaping public opinion and can change the overall way people view different events. It deeply influences the views of public. Now it is to be noted that media has not being bestowed with any power to try a case. There have been certain cases where the reporter showed a predictable picture of the defendant, which damaged his reputation and ultimately affected the trial and verdict, thus the term “media trial” was coined.

Media Trial can be defined as the process by which the media takes matters into its own hands and declares a person’s guilt or innocence, even before the court gave its verdict. A media trial would jeopardize the principles of fair trial and the defendant’s right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

When court cases are widely reported, the media sometimes creates panic among the audience, making it almost impossible for a fair trial, which is a right every citizen enjoys, to play a key role. There are reasons for the media’s high attention to certain cases. These reasons are:

  1. These cases may involve children, or they may be so brutal or terrifying that the media feel it necessary to raise awareness of such cases.
  2. The case may concern a celeb either as a sufferer or as an accused.

In the attempt to increase their ratings, the Indian media is gradually moving away from fact-finding to imitating court hearings, rather than improving people’s understanding of the judicial system and cases. Thus, hampering free trials. Even, in the Bhima-Koregaon case, the court said, “The use of electronic media by the investigating arm of the state which did the task of influencing public opinion during the pendency of the investigation completely subverts the fairness of the investigation.”

For an instance, in the Arushi Talwar murder case, media exceeded its power. The case held a lot of media attention the girl’s parents were accused of double homicide. The case was full of speculation and rumours, and the media tried every means to take advantage of it. Most Indian media have not only conducted legal proceedings, but also played the role of investigators who undermined girls’ privacy. The media also circulated a story in which parents saw the girl and the housekeeper in a “compromise position.” Information about the deceased, slander the defendant and the victim. Although the court released the couple on grounds of insufficient evidence, the media has declared them to be the murderers.

Many people questioned the sensational media reports, which contained allegations of obscenity against Arusha and the perpetrators as media judgments.

When it comes to rape and sexual assault, the media almost always become violent and often reveal the identity and information of survivors. This generally adds to the mental trauma, the victims and their family passes through. Section 228 of IPC prohibits the disclosure of the identity of survivors, which is precisely what the media does in most cases. In Nirbhaya rape case, ‘Nirbhaya’s’ real name and photo were made public.

Media is responsible for introducing the matter to the public and helping them to form opinions. Sometimes, it  makes the subject sensational through one-sided debates and evaluation discussions, which creates prejudice among the public and can create public disorder. This can also be extended to influence and pressure on current judges.

Under Indian Laws, freedom of press is not an absolute power and gives no freedom to interfere and manipulate legal procedures, and to incite public opinion with unproven arguments. However, this doesn’t mean that there should be strikes on media coverage, especially if such coverage pertains to judicial or legislative criticism. Since the Contempt of Courts Act itself states that any publication that does not interfere with ongoing legal proceedings and is based on fair criticism of the judgement of the case does not amount to contempt.

In certain cases, like the Jessica Lal murder case or Nirbhaya rape case, the fourth pillar of democracy showed immense power and undoubtedly, performed a remarkable job but when this power violates the administration of justice, the court needs to intervene. The Judiciary should set certain unbiased rules and guidelines. These rules should not jeopardize the quality of reporting, but they should also set key limits for sensitive cases to avoid complaints from the Indian media.

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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