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Media Trial v/s Constitutional Rights Of Accused

Media is the fourth pillar of democracy. Indian Media has grown drastically in the last few years and it never fails to keep the public aware of the happenings in the country. But media has now taken the place of a public court. With their prejudicial views, they have completely overlooked the concept of "innocent until proven guilty" and "guilty beyond reasonable doubt". They paint the picture of the accused as a criminal and if then he is proven innocent there is no place for someone like him in our judgmental society since he has been termed a "convict" by the Indian Media and the judgment passed by them holds higher regard compared to the highly educated judges sitting in the esteemed courts.

The harsh truth is that the public forms an opinion either for or against it before the accused is even presented before the court. This blasphemous act which is committed by the media is overlooked because Indian laws do not have any restrictions or limitations to curb them. [1]The media is considered an indispensable facet of democracy but has transgressed the boundaries of its domain in India. It has usurped the working of the judiciary by conducting trials that run parallel to that of the courts.

The press is considered a handmaiden for an effective judicial system. In addition to reporting on cases and trials, the press makes the judicial procedures and the complete structure of the justice system (police, prosecutors, lawyers, judges, and courts) open to public scrutiny. Public understanding of the rule of law and a greater understanding of the complete justice system is facilitated by free and robust news, criticism, and debate. By exposing it to the purging effects of exposure and government oversight, it also contributes to improving the standard of that structure.

History of Media and Press

[2]Knowledge and information are the building blocks of a sensible individual, and this desire to learn in India gave rise to the media and press. From the prehistoric era, when knowledge was transmitted verbally, to the pre-and post-independence periods, media has occupied a significant place in our past. The long-term struggle against the British ruler's pervasive repressive measures has resulted in the expansion and advancement of the press in India.

The Portuguese brought the press to India during the European immigration that gave rise to the Indian media. The Indian government established a "Press Laws Investigation Committee" in 1947 not long after achieving independence, with Sri Ganga Nath Jha serving as its chairman.

The committee was mandated to:
  1. Investigate and report to the government on laws governing the press in major nations, including India;
  2. Evaluate the Press Laws of India to determine whether they were in line with the basic rights established by the constituent Assembly of India;
  3. Suggest to the government any initiatives of press law reform it deemed necessary after conducting such a review. Under the advice of the initial Press Commission, the Indian Parliament originally founded the Press Council of India in 1966. The goal was to protect the freedom of the press as well as to uphold and raise the standards of journalism in India.
The Press Council Act of 1978 currently governs the council's operation. It is a legally mandated, quasi-judicial organization that preserves the press. It makes decisions about complaints made by or against the press for, respectively, violating journalistic ethics and press freedom.

The Right to Information Act, which was recently passed and put into effect in 2005, has expanded press freedom and helped to make India a more open republic overall. In India, many rules govern and control how the press operates. Although there are no distinct provisions for freedom of the press in the Constitution of India, 1950, the right to free expression and speech for all Indian citizens is guaranteed in Article 19(1)(a) of that document.

Constitutionality of media trials

Trial by media has become the new norm. Media holds an accused accountable for the offense even before the trial by the court has commenced. The media creates a scene of hysteria in the mind of the public who then view the alleged criminal as a convict and treat him as one before he is declared innocent or guilty.

"Every accused has the right to a fair trial" and "Justice may not only be done it must also be seen to be done." These are two strong belief systems that are a part of our criminal jurisprudence and the trial by the media staunchly goes against them. They end up prejudicing the trial and this is commonly seen in high-profile cases or cases in which celebrities are involved. The media assume the role of the police, investigators, lawyers, and judges and pronounce a judgment that could be entirely false. Their high involvement deprives the accused of a fair and just trial.

[3]The due course of justice has been stated by Justice Gopal Rao Ekkbote of Andhra Pradesh High Court in the case of Y.V. Hanumantha Rao v. K.R. Pattabhiram and Anr. It was observed that:
"When litigation is pending before a Court, no one shall comment on it in such a way there is a real and substantial danger of prejudice to the trial of the action, as for instance by influence on the Judge, the witnesses or by prejudicing mankind in general against a party to the cause. Even if the person making the comment honestly believes it to be true, still it is a contempt of Court if he prejudices the truth before it is ascertained in the proceedings.

To this general rule of fair trial one may add a further rule and that is that none shall, by misrepresentation or otherwise, bring unfair pressure to bear on one of the parties to a cause so as to force him to drop his complaint or defence. It is always regarded as of the first importance that the law which we have just stated should be maintained in its full integrity. But in so stating the law we must bear in mind that there must appear to be 'a real and substantial danger of prejudice."

[4]In Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, the right to free speech and expression is guaranteed. The Constitution does not include trial by media or any of its principles. A free press is a part of freedom of speech and expression. The entire concept of free speech is centered on the expression or sharing of ideas, regardless of the media employed.

Freedom of Press

Prof Dicey describes the freedom of the press as "a person's liberty to publish whatever he wants in books or newspapers" and India follows three fundamental aspects of the press which are freedom of publication, freedom of access to all sources, and freedom of circulation.

The Supreme Court believed that "freedom of speech and expression" included, among other things, freedom of the press in Ramesh Thapar v. State of Madras. A distinct case was Sakal Paper v. Union of India. Press freedom is a species, while freedom of expression is the genus, according to the Supreme Court. The architects of our Constitution believed the phrase to be disparaging.

The phrase "freedom of speech" has a broader definition that includes not just the right to spread one's opinion but also any form of mental expression. The right to disseminate knowledge has been recognised alongside the right to freedom, or Article 19 a, in the case of S.P. Gupta v. President of India.

The 1971 Contempt of Court Act

Publications issued during unrestricted trials are exempt from contempt penalties under the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971. Any publication that interacts with, obstructs, or threatens to obstruct any ongoing matter, whether civil or criminal, is considered to be in contempt of court. Since any Acts made public before the court's ruling can deceive the public and endanger the accused's right to a fair trial, it is deemed to be a form of contempt. A past conviction, a confession made in front of the police, or a simple character assassination could all be connected to this kind of publication.

[5] Report of the 200th Law Commission
Under the direction of Justice M. Jagannath a Rao, the following recommendations were made in this report in August 2006:
  1. To forbid the circulation of any information that tarnishes an accused person's reputation as a result of their arrest.
  2. The criminal case should not begin with the filing of the charge sheet; rather, the accused should be arrested first. Such an amendment aims to keep the case from being negatively affected.
  3. The ability of the Supreme Court to halt or delay the dissemination of sensationalized media reports is essential for preserving the fairness of the legal process and defending the rights of those charged.
  4. The High Court has the prestigious jurisdiction to order the postponement of broadcasts or writings in criminal law cases and to prevent the media from resuming their distribution of those broadcasts or publications. Such a directive is a strong legal tool that can protect the fairness of court proceedings and guarantee that the rules of justice are maintained with the highest attention and objectivity.
[6]In the pursuit of higher viewership, the media often resorts to unfairly maligning and tarnishing the image of individuals who are mere suspects, branding them as guilty even before the courts have had a chance to pass a verdict. This is particularly concerning because the media tends to focus on one-sided allegations, stoking public outrage without attempting to uncover the truth. Unfortunately, the media often fails to acknowledge the potential harm caused by their actions. Given the significant influence wielded by the media over the public, they must exercise caution and responsibility in their reporting.

Media, in their quest for sensational news and higher ratings, has forgotten the fundamental gap between an accused and a guilty person. This pernicious ideology is detrimental to the accused's image and reputation. The constant broadcasting of false information also severely affects the victim and their family. They have become puppets in the hands of this footage and TRP-mongering media outlets.

Every coin has two sides and this is also seen in trials by media. The media highlights the stories for the public and keeps them updated. Their work in the Jessica Lal Murder case and the Nitish Katara case was exemplary. But they fail to differentiate between reporting news and meddling with the judiciary's long haul. Their meddling in Aarushi Talwar's murder case was catastrophic and brought nothing but sadness to her family.

Media trial indirectly puts a lot of pressure on the judiciary to pass a verdict. Their biased, prejudicial views end up hampering the case and create a plethora of doubts about the credibility of the judiciary. Many times, lawyers and judges need ample time to figure out a case due to the severity of the crime or the sensitivity of the case but the media houses hover around the courts and if the courts don't pass a judgment soon, they accept the role of the judge and pass the verdict which is counterproductive to providing justice.

Analysis of Media Intervention in Some Prominent Cases & Gaps in the Existing System:

Sushant Singh Rajput's death

As covid 19 was taking over the world, India saw a huge uproar and concern over the Late Actor Sushant Singh Rajput's death. Sushant Singh Rajput who took his own life left the media with another opportunity to take the role of the judiciary and pass the verdict. They delved so much into the case that they ended up accusing many famous personalities of his death.

The judiciary and the investigators were under a lot of pressure to conclude because of the media's intervention. Eight former senior police officers from Maharashtra, as well as activists, attorneys, and non-governmental organizations, filed a PIL asking for a restraining order against Media Trial in the actor Sushant Singh Rajput's death case. The PIL was being heard by a division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta and Justice Girish S. Kulkarni.

The court said that in the present case, [7]'Substantial damage has been caused to the reputations of the persons so-called involved'. It takes an immense amount of hard work to build a reputation only for the media to callously dismantle it and put charges against the person who might just be innocent. This callous disregard in the name of justice and truth just tarnishes the innocent person's reputation to an irretrievable extent.

Sridevi's Death

Sridevi, a remarkable and talented actress who had captured the hearts of millions through her captivating performances in over 300 movies, passed away unexpectedly due to accidental drowning. Her sudden demise was a great loss to the Indian film industry, and her fans around the world were left in shock and disbelief. However, the Indian media covered her death as a cause for concern, as it lacked sensitivity and respect for the departed.

Many media houses sensationalized her death, treating it as a means to gain TRP, rather than showing empathy and compassion toward the grieving family. Her family members were subjected to baseless accusations, with her husband, Boney Kapoor, being among those accused of plotting and conspiring against her. The media's insensitive portrayal of Sridevi's death hurt her family, who were unable to mourn her loss in peace.

The media's insensitive approach toward her death was a shameful display of the state of journalism in India. It is important for media houses to remember their ethical responsibilities and to show sensitivity towards those affected by a tragedy, especially in the case of a beloved public figure like Sridevi.

ISRO Espionage Case:

The ISRO espionage case is one of the most controversial cases in the history of India's space agency. The case began in 1994 when a Maldivian woman named Mariam Rasheeda was arrested in Thiruvananthapuram for overstaying her visa. During her interrogation, Rasheeda allegedly revealed that she had been in contact with two scientists, D Sasikumaran and Nambi Narayanan, and had received sensitive documents related to India's space program from them. The Kerala police, in collaboration with the Intelligence Bureau (IB), launched an investigation into the matter.

Sasikumaran and Narayanan were subsequently arrested and charged with leaking sensitive information to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). However, it later emerged that the case was based on a false narrative. The Kerala police and IB had no concrete evidence against Sasikumaran and Narayanan, and the case was built entirely on hearsay and speculation. Moreover, the documents the scientists were accused of leaking were not classified and eely available in the public domain.

In 1996, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) took over the case and found no evidence of espionage against the scientists. The CBI concluded that the case was built on false charges and that the two scientists were innocent. In 1998, the charges against them were dropped, and they w and Nambi Narayanan, in particular, suffered greatly during the ordeal. He was arrested and held in custody for 50 days, during which he was subjected to brutal torture by the police.

The media, particularly in Kerala, played a significant role in demonizing him and portraying him as a traitor. He was ostracized by society and faced constant ridicule and harassment. The ISRO espionage case is a prime example of how the media can amplify a false narrative and damage innocent people's lives. The case is also a reminder of the importance of fact-checking and the need to hold authorities accountable for their actions.

In 2018, the Supreme Court of India awarded Narayanan compensation of Rs 50 lakh for the mental agony he suffered during the ordeal. In conclusion, the ISRO espionage case was a shameful episode in India's history, but it also serves as a cautionary tale of the dangers of jumping to conclusions without proper evidence. The media has a crucial role to play in upholding the principles of journalism and reporting the truth, even when it is uncomfortable or inconvenient.

Hathras Gang Rape:

Journalism in India is on the brink of collapsing with the politically influenced and sensational news they are publishing. This is also seen in the hathras Gang rape. The facts of this case are, a 19-year Dalit Valmaki girl was brutally raped by four upper-caste men in the district of Hathras in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The court took cognisance of the case only after the death of the victim because the media outlets were too busy spinning conspiracies and stories in the Sushant Singh death case just to see their views skyrocket.

Media which is supposed to be the voice of the victims and the accused acts as a barrier to providing justice. The girl was termed as another nirbhya case or humari beti instead of recognising the brutality she faced just because she was a dalit girl. Her identity has completely been erased and she is termed as yet another victim of rape. Generalising her identity as just another rape victim instead of highlighting the caste prejudice which is still predominant in India.

Her family members were being forced into taking back the statements they had made. Instead of taking cognisance of the rape that took place, media houses were busy conducting male-dominant debates and men were chosen to be the voice of women. This incident turned into yet another political maneuver. The media houses were staunchly blaming different political parties instead of covering the brutality and sensitivity of the case. There were a lot of people who believed the rape didn't take place because the rape kit was administered nearly after 8 days after the incident and the forensics experts didn't find semen, completely negating the chances of rape being committed.

It is really disturbing to see the terrible position in which Indian journalism and media have found themselves. The broadcasting of sensational and poorly researched news without regard for journalistic ethics has resulted from the constant quest for greater TRP rates at any cost. India's democratic structure has been severely impacted by this, and the nation now swings back and forth between chaos and order.

To regain the trust of the Indian public in the media, it is crucial for outlets to recover their moral compass and emphasise the broadcast of accurate and impartial news. Only thus can the country advance in security and confidence.

Sheena Bora Murder Case:

This case is yet another victim of trial by the media. Indrani Mukherji the mother of Sheena Bora was charged with the murder of her daughter who she claimed was her sister. Sheena Bora was kidnapped, strangulated, and murdered and her poor mother was blamed for it. The police extracted the information from the driver who claimed that Indrani Mukherjee was the murderer. Along with her, her husband Sanjeev Khanna and her driver were also arrested who claimed to be complicit in the crime.

The CBI held Indrani responsible for the murder because she didn't approve of the illicit relationship that Sheena had with Indrani's stepson, Rahul. As the case progressed, Peter Mukherjee was also charged with the murder of Sheena Bora.

The media decided to play judge and called her a murderer and defamed her beyond comparison. Her case is still going on but the media has already rejected her innocence and termed her as a psychotic, sociopathic criminal. They investigated her relationship with her husband Peter Mukherjee and they dug into her private life just to prove her as a barbaric killer. Her privacy was completely stripped away and she was left in the hands of the judgmental society to term her as a criminal.

Indrani Mukherjee was bailed out recently because she spent the last six and a half years in jail as an alleged murderer and there wasn't enough substantial evidence to prove her guilty. Her innocence or crime is yet to be proven but that doesn't give the right to media to perform a speedy trial and term her as an atrocious killer.

Conclusion and Suggestions:
I would like to conclude by saying that the judiciary does have the curb the actions of the media. It is the need of the hour to have some restrictions for the media houses since media has more of a negative effect than a positive one. The law commission has also come up with the 200th report on "Trial by Media: Free Speech vs. Fair Trial under Criminal Procedure" (Amendments to the Contempt of Court Act, 1971)'

It is essential to contact the appropriate court with the necessary jurisdiction to resolve this matter and request punishment for those who disobey the set code of behaviour. To prevent further infractions and maintain the honesty of moral standards, justice must be administered swiftly and fairly. The media trial has now moved on to media verdict and media punishment which is no doubt an illegitimate use of freedom and transgressing the prudent demarcation of legal boundaries. They have crossed the line of freedom of speech and have violated the criminal jurisprudence of every accused having the right to a fair trial.

The best approach to eliminate it is to order the appropriate court to penalise anyone who violates the code of conduct. There is no question that the media trial violates the sensible delineation of legal bounds and is an unlawful use of freedom. They went beyond the bounds of free speech and broke the rule of criminal procedure that every accused person has a right to a fair trial. Instead of tipping the scales in favour of one side or the other, the media must serve as a mediator. Still, the media cannot supplant the judiciary's role and stray from neutral, objective reporting.

I would like to suggest that the system should come out with laws that curb this disaster as these media houses use freedom of speech to publish blasphemous, sensational, and defaming news. They don't respect the victims or the accused and use it as their next "story" to get views. So there should be a system to neutralize their views and opinions and laws which restrict them to publish sensational news in the guise of awareness and freedom to do so.

  1. Manupatra, A.D. (2021) Manupatra, Articles. Available at: (Accessed: March 10, 2023).
  2. Raja, K. (2019) Constitutionality of the media trials........ Yash Singh, Scribd. Scribd. Available at: (Accessed: March 10, 2023).
  3. kafaltiya, D.R.a.B. et al. (2015) Constitutionality of Media Trials in India: A detailed analysis, Academike. Available at: (Accessed: March 10, 2023).
  4. Manupatra, A.D. (2021) Manupatra, Articles. Available at: (Accessed: March 10, 2023).
  5. Sharma, N. (2022). Unit 6 media laws and constitutional framework - Constitutionality of Media Trials. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from
  6. Prakash, B. (no date) Trial by media - a threat to our judicial system?, Legal Service India - Law, Lawyers and Legal Resources. Available at:
  7. Prakash, B. (no date) Trial by media - a threat to our judicial system?, Legal Service India - Law, Lawyers and Legal Resources. Available at:

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