Media Trial

Miss. Stuti Ladia, Mumbai University.

Media has been regarded as one of the four pillars of democracy. It has a crucial role in molding and shaping the opinion of the society. It has the ability to change the opinions and points of view of the masses.

Media Trials take place when the media takes cases into their own hands by declaring the accused as convicts even before the constitutional courts have given their decision. There have been cases where, due to the wrath of the media, the decision of the court has been affected.  A few examples if this being Jessica lal case, the Priyadarshini Mattoo case, the Bijal Joshi rape case, etc. It is the widespread coverage of guilt of the accused and imposing a certain perception about him regardless of any verdict given by the court. Wherever there has been high publicity, the media has involved itself and used hysteria to create an undue importance among the viewers, making it difficult for the trial to be fair and just. There have however been reasons as to why the attention of the media around certain cases is sensationally high. The reasons are:

  1. Cases that involve children or they could be so horrific or gruesome that the media considers it necessary to sensationalize such cases. 
  2. The case could be of a leading celebrity; either as a victim or as an accused. Cases where celebrities are involved involuntarily attract media thereby influencing their fans.

The history of media trials goes back to the 20th Century. This term was coined recently; however, its meaning was derived from the case of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, 1921. In this case the accused was acquitted by the court but he had lost his reputation and job after the media had declared him guilty. Another famous case of media trial is the Trial of O.J. Simpson, 1995. In this particular case, the media had promoted the case and influenced the mind of the viewers. K. M. Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra also falls under the same umbrella. In this case as well, the media had played a crucial role in portraying its opinion and guiding people’s minds in a direction it sought fit. It is mostly the media’s coverage and its opinion of a case which  reflects the views of a commoner- people on the street. This is because the media acts as a bridge between the cases and the people.

Media Trials – Constitutional rights: 

Freedom of press and independence of judiciary are essential in a democracy. The question of how constitutional a media trial is depends on the effect it has on the society and public at large. 

Freedom of Speech and Expression.

As per Article 19 of the Constitution of India we have a right to freedom. Freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed under Article 19(1). It gives people the right to have their opinion however it also has a set of restrictions and boundaries.

Even though the Supreme Court of India has covered and given the status of freedom under Article 19 there have been cases where the Supreme court has restricted them of the same if the rights have been misused or it has hampered the public at large and has gone against the Rule of Law.

These are a few landmark cases on trial by Media.

  1. In the case of In re P.C. Sen v. Unknown, 1968 an appeal had been filed against the order of the High Court of Calcutta declaring that a speech broadcast on the night of November 25, 1965, on the Calcutta Station of the All India Radio by Mr. P. C. Sen- the then Chief Minister of West Bengal, was calculated to obstruct the course of justice and on that account amounted to contempt of court and the conduct of Mr. Sen merited disapproval. It was then concluded by Justice Shah that any act that is done to bring down the authority of court or any other act which is committed to bring down the proceeding of law would be termed as contempt of court.
  1. In Sushil Sharma v. The State (Delhi Administration and Ors.) there was hardly any evidence against the accused for murdering his partner; even then the media took the case in its hands and even before the court could pass any judgment, it portrayed the accused guilty; changing the opinion of the public. It was then declared by the High Court of Delhi that the person who had been accused, his fate would solely depend on the evidence and facts presented before the court and not due to the influence of the media and its portrayal of the accused.

Restrictions imposed on Media.

Restrictions on media is a dicey concept as the restriction should not be rigid which would curtail the powers of the media in a significant amount nor should it be lenient that it can be misused conveniently. In accordance with the Constitution of India, where Article 19 provides freedom on the other hand in Article 19(2) the Constitution also has reasonable restrictions. Thus, it is the constitutional responsibility of the courts to ensure that such restrictions do not go beyond the ambit of the reasonable restrictions as mentioned in the Constitution of India.     

To regulate the powers of the press, the Press Council of India was established. It has had an effective role in regulating the powers of the press to prevent it from publishing defamatory and  prejudiced content. Through this way when the content is presented in front of the viewers it does not go against the law and does not influence the society negatively.   

Conclusion.

From the article above, it can be concluded that media trial has more of a negative impact than positive. The content published by them needs to be strictly monitored and the courts need to regulate media in a way that democracy and freedom are neither hampered, nor misused. It should be kept in consideration that the media is a voice which is the fourth pillar for the sole purpose that it can benefit the society and not hamper an innocent’s reputation and misguide the public.  

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