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Media Trials And Their Legal Consequences

The term "trial by media," which became popular in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, refers to how television and newspaper coverage affects a person's reputation by spreading ideas of guilt or innocence before or after a court of law judgement. In recent years, there have been several cases when the media has tried an accused person and rendered a verdict before the court renders one.

The Supreme Court reaffirmed that the court and the media are distinct organizations with distinct domains of influence and that their roles do not cross. One cannot and should not utilize the other to carry out their respective responsibilities.

What is meant by media trial?

When multiple newspapers, journals, television channels, and social media websites interpret facts from a specific case and present them to the wider public, this is known as a media trial.

In many situations in India, before the judgement of the Indian judiciary, the media outlets construct an accused in such a way that the general public believes he is the person guilty of such actions.

Although media trials are not illegal in India, they do have an impact on the public's perceptions as well as that of judges and attorneys.

Article 19 of the Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of expression to all citizens.

Despite the fact that the term "media trial" is not defined anywhere. However, under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, the media is allowed this authority indirectly.

Media Trial's Constitutionality In India

Freedom Of The Press:

Press freedom is critical to the survival of democracy, which is why the press is regarded as the fourth pillar of democracy. Despite the fact that the press is expected to work as an informant between government organs and the people, the main purpose of the press is to convey information to the masses.

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 declares that "everyone should have the right to have opinions without interference" and the "freedom to seek, receive, and transmit information and ideas of all sorts, independent of frontiers, either verbally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or by any other means of his choice."

Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution provides the right to free speech and expression as a fundamental right (a). Unlike in the United States, freedom of the press is not explicitly addressed, yet the Supreme Court of India has acknowledged that freedom of the press falls within the scope of freedom of speech and expression.
  • The Supreme Court stated in Anukul Chandra Pradhan v. Union of India that:
    "no occasion should arise for the impression that the publicity attached to these matters (the hawala transactions) has tended to dilute the emphasis on the essentials of a fair trial and the basic principles of jurisprudence, including the accused's presumption of innocence unless found guilty at the end of the trial."
     
  • The Supreme Court stated in LIC v. Manubbai Shah that freedom of speech and expression must be liberally defined to involve the ability to distribute one's opinions orally, in writing, or through audiovisual media. This includes the freedom to express oneself through paper or other media. According to the Supreme Court, "freedom to voice one's views is the lifeline of any democratic institution, and any attempt to choke, suffocate, or gag this right would sound the death knell for democracy and bring in authoritarianism or tyranny."
     
  • A trial by press has a risky position because the judge must not only exercise his or her usual due diligence by hearing the case, reviewing the evidence, and simply relying on that evidence without biasness, but also must shield themselves from media attention and avoid being persuaded by the public's opinion.

    Under these conditions, it is very challenging for the judge or judges to render an accurate judgement. Additionally, they must ensure that the public's pressure does not result in an injustice being committed. They are referred to as the "opposite of the rule of law.

Legal Consequences

Freedom Of Speech And Expression v/s Fair Trial

We have seen numerous instances where the media has overstepped its boundaries by interfering with judicial functions in a media trial by publishing information that could s change public opinion and court proceedings. Additionally, a media trial puts tremendous pressure on the judiciary to act in accordance with public opinion, which can sometimes prevent a fair trial because the lines between "innocent until proven guilty" and "guilty until proven innocent" are blurred. In addition, the courts are pressured by the public and media for a speedy verdict, which delays the process. In addition, the media frequently overlooks the fact that the law is guided by senses, by considering the available data, and not by feelings.

Sections 14, 20, 21, and 22 of the Indian Constitution declare the right to a fair trial to be a basic right. Article 21 of the Constitution should be interpreted in combination with article 14 since the right is an unalienable right. The only limitations on the freedom of speech and expression, on the other hand, are those related to "interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with Foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

Right To Reputation v/s Media Trial

The right to reputation is a component of the right to life, as established in State of Bihar v. Lal Krishna Advani. Each person has a right to their reputation. However, all of the accused's rights are nullified in a media trial. By exposing every single aspect of the accused to the public, including minute facts, the media tarnishes the accused past, present, and future. His or her prior behaviour is publicly contested, and once the media has determined that someone is guilty, they sensationalize the crime so that the public believes the person is guilty-even if the court finds the person innocent.

Conclusion
Thus, the press has been appropriately referred to as the Fourth Pillar of Democracy and press freedom has always been a valued privilege in all democratic countries. As long as there is transparency, the media may be called the fourth pillar of democracy. In today's world, the media is viewed as a daily requirement because we begin and finish our days with it, whether it be social media, print media, or electronic media. It is obvious that the risk they pose is serious after a collective analysis of the Supreme Court of India's rulings on the subject of media trials.

The legislative branch has a responsibility to defend the judiciary and prevent the hostile press from undermining the integrity of the legal system. The law cannot permit the media to persuade the populace to oppose the government; furthermore, the media cannot decide a man's fate; it is not in the media's purview to determine whether an accused is innocent or guilty, nor should it convince the public that the legal system is biased and unfair. Any such viewing should be severely punished and should not be permitted to fall under the protection of free speech and expression.

References:
  • https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1203995
  • https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/GPO-CONAN-1992/pdf/GPO-CONAN-1992-10-2.pdf
  • https://indiankanoon.org/doc/493243

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