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Convergence Of Media Trial With Freedom Of Speech And Expression: A Threat To Judicial System?

Media Trial Or Kalyug: Isn't it one and the same thing when we take a look around us. Being abreast of has gradually taken course of being a pre requisite in this era of yug we live in now wherein comes the role taken up by our beloved media to strive for that goal but what goes wrong herein is the injustice which becomes blur getting covered up within the ambit of popular opinion in media trials.

Freedom of Media is perceived as Freedom of People in a larger perspective thereby equating it to the Freedom of Speech and Expression guaranteed under Article 19(1) of our Indian Constitution. Being a fourth pillar of our democratic nation, the media platform assumes certain roles, responsibilities and powers which have proven effective in moulding the perception of people by the way they want to.

It has however turned into a misuse in the recent contemporaneous era wherein the principle of our Criminal Jurisprudence relies upon the popular adage which goes by " Innocent until proven guilty" - a seemingly impossible aim evident from the path we are currently treading upon.

A long way ahead is yet to be explored with respect to this new arena which has come to rule the minds of majority populace.

Understanding the subject matter:
"Fair is foul and foul is fair"- by Macbeth has come to rule Journalism which is no less than a fun house of mirrors at a carnival.[1] What originally began as a publicity stunt and gimmick to grab people's attention and boost viewership has persisted for far too long and is now jeopardising the very democracy from which it draws its authority.

This pervasive integration has reduced the courtrooms to a mere spectator with its inhibiting powers and collapsing separation of powers is what has been troublesome owing to the oversensationalizing of issues pertaining to legal courtroom cases. Democracy can thrive not only under the vigilant eye of its legislature, but also under the care and guidance of public opinion, and the press is par excellence, the vehicle through which the opinion can become articulate.

There is a chance of what is sometimes referred to as a "trial by public opinion"[2] in instances that garner a lot of media attention. This happens when the defendant, long before their real legal trial, is effectively judged and condemned in the court of public opinion. Such trials can have disastrous results since it might be difficult to overcome the assumption of guilt and reputational harm.

While the media plays a vital conduit role in providing information and holding people accountable in our legal system, when coverage becomes excessive or biased, it also runs the risk of impinging on someone's right to a fair trial. Legal regimes must strike a careful balance between transparency and the protection of this fundamental right in order to address these issues. It is undeniable that the media has sparked a conflict between the right to press freedom and a fair trial.

When questioned about this, the media argues that a democracy can only exist in the presence of a free press, which is a right derived from the people's right to be informed about the ongoing of their elected government on subjects that affect them. The media frequently has a tendency to alter the truth in order to boost audience, which leads to regular deviations from the legal system's conception of justice.

The individuals concerned lose their right to a fair trial as a result of this departure and overreaching into the judiciary's purview. The right to a fair trial lies at the heart of democracy and our Constitution, which also includes the right to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty, the right to legal representation, the right to a timely trial, and other rights.

This privilege is crucial not only for the benefit of the accused, but also to protect the integrity of the judiciary and public trust in the system. It can be stated that the media has functioned as a catalyst in numerous cases, such as the Jessica Lal murder case, in which the media played a significant part in presenting the perpetrator in court via different sting operations.

The media also had a significant influence in the administration of justice in the Priyadarshini Mattoo case, although these are uncommon instances of positive media interference. The media nearly compelled the judiciary to sentence the Nirbhaya Rape convicts to death by generating public panic through its reporting. As a result, meddling has frequently done more harm than good. Media will have a good impact on people as long as it functions as a spark and does not go beyond that.[3]

Determinative Constituents:
The relentless contribution of sensationalised media trials is the Constant 24/7 news cycle, which is fed by Digital Media. With news at our fingertips, the need to produce consistent material and attract people has led to sensationalism. Media outlets fight for viewers' attention, frequently favouring spectacular headlines and dramatic stories over objective reporting.

This constant flood of information has the potential to shape public perception by emphasising emotional appeal and exaggeration. In addition to this, the General public's insatiable desire for drama and dramatic stories contribute to this on an unprecedented scale wherein the audience demand drives media outlets, and stories containing an element of controversy or scandal tend to receive greater attention.

As a result, they concentrate on instances with juicy information, high-profile people, or disputed subjects. In order to increase viewership and readership, this catering to public interest may result in the misrepresentation of facts and judicial procedures. The Introduction of social media has increased the influence of media trials whereby true or misleading information spreads virally on sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube etc.

While social media has the ability to democratise knowledge, it also does not adhere to established journalistic standards. False or incorrect information can easily spread, exacerbating situations and adding to societal bias. Lastly what constitutes a critical aspect is a Lack of accountability in the media owing to the inadequacy of journalists to check facts or consider the legal repercussions of their reporting in the race to break news first. Misinformation, misrepresentation, and sensationalism can result in tainting public image and influencing juror bias.

Attentuating Plan Of Action:
This is where it becomes relevant to delve into the mitigating arenas wherever possible since Conflict is inevitable but Combat is more often than treated as optional. With respect to addressing the present issue at hand, the following measures can be taken account of:

Media Reporting Guidelines:
Creating clear and comprehensive criteria for media reporting on judicial matters might assist in avoiding sensationalism and bias. These rules may include reporting principles such as accuracy, fairness, and impartiality thereby discouraging the release of biased information that may sway public opinion.

Gag Orders:
Courts can issue gag or restraining orders to prevent the media from disclosing specific details or comments about a case. These orders are frequently invoked to preserve the accused's rights and ensure a fair trial as also striking a proper balance with the First Amendment rights to Free Expression.

Juror Sequestering:
Separating jurors from media exposure during a trial might prevent outside influence on their perceptions. This approach serves to ensure that jurors base their decisions only on the factual matrix provided in the court, rather than on external information or biases.[4]

Recent news articles have shifted focus upon what the public is interested in rather than what subjects are of public interest. The increased use of electronic media[5] has resulted in an increase in such media trials due to the increased opportunity for broadcasting and near-zero supervision.

When the media conducts parallel trials, the ability of a judge to determine matters neutrally on the merits of the case is hampered, particularly in sub judice matters. If the judge rules or pronounces a verdict contrary to the media's opinion or verdict, the judge is depicted as biased and corrupt, incapable of carrying out his or her duties. The relentless examination in sub judice cases has resulted in a very dangerous situation.

Without a doubt, the media possesses enormous power and influence over the people; this power, when misused under the guise of participatory journalism, affects the case by subconsciously influencing the judge's decision, because the media has tried the matter prior to the Court's decision. The media should understand the distinction between assisting the court in dispensing justice and impeding the process of justice delivery by meddling and overstepping bounds.[6]

The media is responsible for reporting the facts and circumstances of the case, but the judiciary is entirely responsible for adjudication. As the fourth estate of the president, the media influences the standard of democracy in any state and asserts its function by strengthening and elevating the standard of democracy.

The democratic structure of India calls for an apparatus at every stage to ensure a maintenance of law and order coupled with justice as enshrined in our law of the land. This is where the pillars upholding the same seeps in i.e. Legislature, Executive, Judiciary and Media. It is somewhat implied that with great power not only comes great responsibility but sometimes the undue advantage as well leading to the abuse of the same as is evident from the Digital India Age.

The basis of our Criminal Jurisprudence is now under a threat of eroding the principle of proving someone guilty beyond reasonable doubt which is at the hands of media who have assumed themselves to be the adjudicators and forbearers of truth but on the face of it, a rather misleading and controversial facet is run by them.

The moral and ethical standards of journalism back then were rigid as compared to the present where the viewership is given utmost priority than the facts and circumstances of a case. The similar was the story followed by media during our beloved Sushant Singh Rajput's case which was oversensationalised to a point that the truth got camouflaged in the same and the populace was unaware as to what actually struck him upto several months. This is how a blessing in disguise of media has turned to a curse in the obstruction of justice which needs to rectified at its earliest.

Therefore, to achieve an equilibrium what becomes essential is the preservance of our robust and independent judicial structure on one hand and our fundamental right of free speech and expression on the other hand. This will ultimately safeguard the principles of the foundation upon which our democratic societies are formulated but it must not be forgotten that any failure or breach in the same can soon erode the trust of the populace in our legal system comprising the ideals which lay at the heart of our constitution. This is why every minor inconvenience even today calls for people approaching courts at the very instance without any hesitation which is what should be the ideal goal to live by

  1. Ramchandani, S. (n.d.). "The Constitutionality of Media Trials in India: A Critique"
  2. Banerjee, S. (2021b, May 12). "Reflection of the media trial as a threat to our judicial system"-iPleaders.
  3. Trial by Media - A Threat to Our Judicial System? (n.d.).
  4. Editor_4. (2020, September 13). Trial by Media: an International Perspective | SCC Blog
  5. 13_chapter4. (n.d.). Scribd
  6. Vijayan, K. (2014). Media trial. Kerala University.

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Vidhi Kawrani
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