Media plays a very crucial role in the working of a democratic system. Press is very important as it keeps a check on the governmental powers and ensures that they do not misuse their powers. It should be understood that the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression carries with it the right to publish and circulate one’s ideas, opinions, and other views with complete freedom. However, the freedom entrusted with the press is not absolute, just like the Freedom of Expression is not. Reasonable restrictions are laid down on Freedom of Expression by Article 19(2). Such freedom comes with a certain degree of responsibility. The ethics and professionalism of the media are bought into question constantly when the media pronounces a person guilty by taking sides even before the court begins the trial. The media pries on the personal life and character of the accused which often tend to have no relation with the investigation of the case legally. A grave threat to the presumption of innocence is posed by such sensationalized news stories by media taking away the right to a fair trial of the accused. What is more terrible is that such news cannot be defended easily under the right to freedom of expression. This phenomenon by the press is popularly called a media trial. Trial by media is the creation of widespread guilt on the accused regardless of the court’s verdict and causing an impact on the reputation of the accused person by the coverage of the television. This practice has been interfering dangerously with the justice delivery system and calls for the enormous need for “responsible journalism”. The article aims to address and analyze the basic underlying principle i.e., media has to publish information that is in the public interest and not the information that “the public is interested in”. In a sense, this freedom has to be understood as a right conferred with responsibility. The article concludes by suggesting ways in which the media trails can be controlled to an extent.
This method of separation isn’t general among Muslims over the world, the same number of other Islamic schools of thought favors the separation procedure to be conceded, by and large over a time of a quarter of a year. The legislature has referred to the case of numerous prevalent Muslim nations, including Pakistan that has restricted triple talaq.
It can be said that balance should be maintained between the fundamental Right to Speech & Expression under Article 19(2) and the Right to Privacy. The recent practice of media trial has infringed the Right to Privacy and created an imbalance between the Right to Speech & Expression and the Right to Privacy. Media Trial is creating a widespread perception of guilt or innocence even before a Court of Law announces its verdict through television and newspaper coverage on a person’s reputation. The media trials were initially started to show the truth about cases to the public which later resulted in interference with the justice delivery system. The concept of media trial has come into light when the media using its Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19(1)(a) to reach out to the masses, criticize a topic, and at times pre-judge a case which could at times amount to Defamation or Contempt of Court. Like in the ‘Aarushi Murder Case’, ‘Sushant Singh Rajput Case’ the media had virtually convicted the accused. Especially in cases where big celebrities have been involved the influence of media could be drastically changed due to the influence of the fans of such celebrities. Various such events in recent times have made the Law Commission of India to suggest recommendations in its 200th report on this issue.
Does media trial constitute Contempt of Court?
The Supreme Court also upheld the Contempt of Court Act, 1952 because restrictions imposed on the right to freedom of the press are not unreasonable and are not inconsistent with Article 19 (2) of the constitution. Courts have repeatedly warned the media on commenting upon the pending cases. The Punjab High Court stated that ‘the liberty of the press is subordinate to the proper administration of justice. Also, it was held that the journalist must report and not adjudicate the cases. But today, the law in India is such that the truth is no defense to an act of contempt. The trial by media falls under the scope of contempt of court. The right to have a fair trial by the accused should be uninfluenced by the media. But the media continuously is going against the ethical code of contempt and is sabotaging the career of the accused even before his/she is proven guilty. The principle of “guilty until proven innocent” rather than “innocent until proven guilty” is being followed in India by the media. By such an act the concept of democracy is being put at stake by the media. Thus, it must be held as contempt if the media trial is an attempt to sabotage the other pillars of democracy.
The media in the very famous case of Aarushi Talwar in 2013 had declared who was guilty even before the actual trial had taken place. Even in the recent case of Sushant Singh Rajput, the media has been making its judgment as to who is guilty even before the court began its proceedings. The accused in this case has been proven to be guilty until proven innocent. Such publications of the media are known to be gone unchecked without the inference of the legislature. Thus, when a journalist publishes anything which goes against the “fair trial” of the accused or which may affect the impartiality of the court in providing justice he/she may be liable for “contempt of court”.
Media Trials Vs Fair Trials
A thug of war is usually created when a problem arises with media trials which are between the free trial of the accused and free press. The kind of justification that is given to investigative journalism is that freedom of the press is a part of any country’s democracy and that it cannot be taken away. At the same time, the basic right which is given to an accused is the right to have a fair trial and to have a trial that is free of any external influence that is recognized as a basic tenant to justice. Under Article 14, article-19, article-20, article-21 and article 22 of the Constitution of India, the right to a fair trial is an absolute right which is provided to every individual within the territory of India and the media cannot go beyond their rights to assert their rights. At times, the media publishes its content in such a manner that if a judge passes a judgement which is against the media verdict, the judge may appear to be either biased or corrupt as there is always a chance that the judges might get influenced by the flowing remarks made by a particular controversy.
Media trial vs The right to be represented
The media trials also pressure lawyers to take up the cases where the public deems a person as guilty by the public by forcing the other person to withdraw his/her right to have a lawyer. It also dissuades the advocates who take up the case of the accused. Both, the right to have a fair trial and the right to have a good advocate is taken away from the accused to the unfair media trials. The media trials lead to pressure on the advocated representing the accused forcing the accused to go to trial without any defence. This goes against the principle of natural justice. The accused cannot be debarred from the right to get himself a lawyer.
Constitutionality of Media Trials
- Freedom of Press
This freedom of the press is guaranteed under the right to speech and expression of Article 19(1)(a) Constitution of India as an umbrella right although it is not separately guaranteed right in India. Nevertheless, this freedom comes with restrictions, special responsibilities, and duties and is subject to the reputation and the rights of others.
The supreme court described the anti-thesis of rule of law to be trial by press, electronic media, or by way of public agitation as they can lead to a miscarriage of justice. The judge has to guard himself in such a situation.
- Public’s Right to Know
It has been stated by the Supreme Court that people’s right to know is the fundamental principle behind the freedom of the press. However, it had been remarked by the Chief justice of India that the newspapers must have sensationalism, entertainment, and anxiety and must not read like an official gazette. He stated that freedom of the press means to the right of the people to know correct news.
- Public Participation
Trial by media is justified by some scholars that the media merely voices out those opinions which the public already has. Transparency is integral to democracy. When the judicial proceedings are conducted secretively, without freedom of the press we will regress into dark ages. A platform for the public is provided to express its views through the omnipresent SMS campaigns and public polls. Public dialogue regarding public importance is generated by these platforms. Stifling this voice will lead to the stifling of democracy.
Different individuals carry different views about the freedom of the press or media. However, the rights conferred to the media are not completely absolute and therefore, some sort of restrictions or boundaries need to be held on the freedom given to the media. The media has a more negative influence rather than a positive one, except for a few exceptions. The courts should regulate the media and its activity in a proper manner. The media shouldn’t be provided with too much flexibility in the proceeding of the court. A lot of intensive scrutiny and tensions are being generated due to the confrontation between free media and free trial. To regulate the media, those media houses which violate the basic code of conduct should be punished by exercising contempt jurisdiction. The supreme court has approved to use the contempt powers again media channels which violate the basic code of conduct as the media cannot be allowed to prejudice the case trial by itself. The competition for TRP ratings is turning into fierce and ruthless competition making it aggressive journalism. We are at present seeing the different roles of media which are self-acquired in form of ‘trial by media’. There is a need for the government to take immediate steps to prevent media trials from eroding the rights of the citizens. While extreme government regulations can be unhealthy for the media and democracy, the media’s continued unaccountability can be more damaging.
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