Trial by the Media and its impact on Judicial Proceedings in India

The power of Media is something that cannot be underestimated. It has the ability to influence people in both positive as well negative ways. It connects the society and keeps people informed at all times and also over-informed at times. After the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary, Media is considered to be the fourth pillar of our Democracy. It plays an essential role in moulding the opinion of numerous people and therefore it has to be unbiased while imparting any sort of information.

Recently, in the case of late actor Sushant Singh Rajput, the media played the role of an adjudicator by pronouncing judgement and making statements that led to prejudice in the mind of the viewers and readers even before the court passed its final verdict. Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution encompass the right to fair trial and investigation which is available to everyone and this right can be negatively impacted if media takes matters in its own hands even when we have the judiciary to do so. Despite being aware of the basic principle of jurisprudence that every accused is presumed to be innocent unless the guilt is proved, the way in which people accused of crimes are portrayed in media and the consequences that they have to deal with thereafter, notwithstanding the ultimate verdict of the court of law, is a matter of growing concern.

The validation of evidence becomes questionable once the evidence forming the crux of a case, whether civil or criminal, is meddled with by media’s trial procedure. For example, in the Bhima-Koregaon case, few activists were arrested by the Maharashtra Police with an allegation of sharing links with Maoists. In this case, the leads found for the case were leaked as a result of media trial. The Honourable Court said that 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 subverted the fairness of the investigation.

The epitome of media trial was established in the infamous Jessica Lal murder case. In a high- profile party, the bar-maid, Jessica Lal was shot by a party leader’s son when she refused to serve alcohol again. The media started digging up on the matter in order to find evidence and also picked up the case from where the police left off. The Supreme Court accepted that there had been an element of ‘trial by media’ but was of the opinion that it did not hamper the decision of the Honourable Court. The Division Bench of the Supreme Court stated that the presumption of innocence of an accused is a legal presumption and it should not be destroyed at the very threshold through the process of media trial and that too when the investigation is pending. In that event, it will be opposed to the very basic rule of law and would impinge upon the protection granted to an accused under Article 21. The Bench cautioned that every effort should be made by the print and electronic media to ensure that the distinction between trial by media and informative media is always maintained.

Apart from this, there are various cases which revolve around trial by media. One of those is Jasleen Kaur Harassment Controversy Case. In August 2015, Jasleen Kaur posted a picture of a man, Sarvjeet Singh, on social media platform and accused him of harassment. The post received widespread support and people came to her rescue. This led to Sarvjeet’s arrest which was followed by a trial by media in which he was tagged with terms like ‘National Pervert’ and ‘Delhi’s predator’ on national news channels. In 2019, the court acquitted him of all the charges and he was declared innocent. In the meantime, he lost his job and his financial stability was severely impacted due to his negative image that was portrayed by the media. It can clearly be understood from the above-mentioned cases that media has immense power to drive people’s opinions in any direction it wants because of the large audience that is actually dependent on it.

At times, media trials create pressure on the lawyers to not take the case of a particular party, thereby leaving the accused party with no other option than to go through the trials without having any proper defence. Even though media’s rights of freedom and expression have been protected by the Constitution under Article 19(1), they’re not absolute and are subject to certain restrictions which are in place only for the good of the society. Judiciary is comprised of judges who are humans at the end of the day and are not completely impermeable from the influence of the hype created my media which sometimes creates hindrances and hampers the efficient justice delivery system and can also prolong delivery of justice in certain cases. Media, being such an indispensable and vital element of the society, should be used cautiously while coming to any conclusions or making judgements as even a single word that is misjudged can mislead people as well as courts and can prove to be a deal maker or deal breaker for someone else.

Aishwarya Says:

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