The media in India is one of the freest in the world in terms of legal constraints. Freedom of expression incorporated in her Constitution in Article 19(1) remains an important facilitator for widespread engagement within a democratic atmosphere. As beautifully remarked by the first Prime Minister of independent India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru – “I would rather have a completely free press with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of that freedom than a suppressed or regulated press.”
But that great man could not foresee the danger involved in the ‘administration of justice’ which is the very essence of the natural justice and the rule of law or rather he would not have expected the press to get involved into something which is beyond its limit and ethics too. To realize the vision of Mr. Nehru, the media has been provided with many freedoms and immunities so that this fourth pillar of democracy stands tall and strong. But what Lord Atkin relates with power is also well placed with the notion of liberty.
Liberty does corrupt into license and is prone to be abused. Every institution is liable to be abused, and every liberty, if left unbridled, has the tendency to become a license which would lead to disorder and anarchy1. It has to be remembered that freedom of expression is not absolute, unlimited or unfettered and in all circumstances, as giving on an unrestricted freedom of the speech and Media has now reincarnated itself into a ‘public court’ (Janta Adalat) and has started interfering into court proceedings. It completely overlooks the vital gap between an accused and a convict keeping at stake the golden principles of ‘presumption of innocence until proven guilty’ and ‘guilt beyond reasonable doubt’.
Now, what we observe is media trial where the media itself does a separate investigation, builds a public opinion against the accused even before the court takes cognizance of the case. By this way, it prejudices the public and sometimes even judges and as a result the accused, that should be assumed innocent, is presumed as a criminal leaving all his rights and liberty unredressed. If excessive publicity in the media about a suspect or an accused before trial prejudices a fair trial or civil rights.
Free Speech vs Fair Trial
In the criminal justice system, which we have been following, the guilt is to be suspect beyond reasonable doubt and the law is governed by senses and not by emotions. While displaying our emotions, the media and the masses forget that it puts tremendous pressure on the judge presiding over the case. How can we expect a fair judgment from a judge who is under such tremendous pressure from all sections of the society? A person is presumed to be innocent unless he is held guilty by the competent court, but here the trend is to declare on person guilty right at the time of arrest. The media is there to report facts or news and raise public issues; it is not there to pass judgments. The print and electronic media have gone into fierce and ruthless competition, as we call them ‘aggressive journalism’ that a multitude of cameras are flashed at the suspects .
Right to a Fair Trial
Right to a fair trial is absolute right of every individual within the territorial limits of india vide articles 14 and 20, 21 and 22 of the Constitution. Needless to say right to a fair trial is more important as it is an absolute right which flows from Article 21 of the constitution to be read with Article 14. Freedom of speech and expression incorporated under Article 19 (1)(a) has been put under ‘reasonable restriction’ subject to Article 19 (2) and Section 2 (c) of the Contempt of Court Act. One’s life with dignity is always given a priority in comparison to one’s right to freedom of speech and expression.
Media should also ponder upon these facts. Fair trial is not purely private benefit for an accused – the publics’ confidence in the integrity of the justice system is crucial.The right to a fair trial is at the heart of the Indian criminal justice system.
*Zahira Habibullah Sheikh v. State of Gujarat,4the Supreme Court explained that a “fair trial obviously would mean a trial before an impartial Judge, a fair prosecutor and atmosphere of judicial calm. Fair trial means a trial in which bias or prejudice for or against the accused, the witnesses, or the cause which is being tried is eliminated.”
Subconscious Effect on the Judges
Another worrying factor and one of the major allegations upon ‘media trial’ is prejudicing the judges presiding over a particular case. The American view appears to be that Jurors and Judges are not liable to be influenced by media publication, while the Anglo-Saxon view is that Judges, at any rate may still be subconsciously (though not consciously) influenced and members of the public may think that Judges are influenced by such publications under such a situation.
Therefore, Lord Denning stated in the Court of Appeal that Judges will not be influenced by the media publicity, a view which was not accepted in the House of Lords.7Cardozo, one of the greatest Judges of the American Supreme Court, referring to the “forces which enter into the conclusions of Judges” observed that “the great tides and currents which engulf the rest of men, do not turn aside in their curse and pass the Judges by”.8Hon’ble Justice D. M. Dharmadhikari, Chairman, M. P. Human Rights Commission asserted that there is always a chance that judges get influenced by the flowing air of remarks made upon a particular controversy. The media presents the case in such a manner to the public that if a judge passes an order against the“media verdict”, he or she is deemed either as corrupt or biased.
Justification by Media
There is increasing and intense public focus on Courts and the cases filed therein. Whether reported in daily newspaper or in electronic media, Indians avidly devour this information, since they are curious about what happens in Court. Now that the Courts have come under the media’s microscope, they are likely to remain there forever. As with most changes both positive and negative consequences have flowed from this. A Positive by-product of changes spurred by the media and addressed by the Courts is that more Indians are aware of their constitutional rights than ever before.
Law Commissions 200th Report
The most reckoning research on the positive and negative aspects of media trial has been elaborated in 200th report of the Law Commission entitled Trial by Media: Free Speech vs. Fair Trial Under Criminal Procedure (Amendments to the Contempt of Court Act, 1971).
Any institution, be it legislature, executive, judiciary or bureaucracy, is liable to be abused if it exceeds its legitimate jurisdiction and functions. But sometimes these ultra vires activities are blessing in disguise as is the case of judicial activism. Media trial is also an appreciable effort along with the revolutionary sting operations as it keeps a close watch over the investigations and activities of police administration and executive.
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.
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