Cinema, radio, television, magazines are a school of inattention. People
look without seeing, listen in without hearing.
- Robert Bresson
Media is considered the fourth pillar of democracy. An element which is expected
to publish and report the happenings in the world truely and patiently. More so,
it is a machinery which keeps a check on the exceeding power of the government
by reporting and bringing the policies to the knowledge of the general public.
It can bring revolutions and can bring a change if it stays in its supposed
ambit of power.
But in recent times, the media has lost its such character and has turned into
something which can break someone's reputation and can even end someone's hard
In this Article, we will understand what trial by media or media trial is and
how the same is eroding the ethics of Journalism.
What Is Trial By Media
A Trial is a court process where the presiding judge of a court adjudicates a
matter presented before itself weighing all the evidences and the statements of
the witnesses relating to a particular case. This is a part of fair trial which
can actually assist the court in coming to a conclusion as to who is the guilty
party in a given matter.
However in the present times, the media has clothed itself with the power of
investigation and trial and ultimately concluding the fate of the accused by
branding him/her as a criminal, even before our courts of law, the rightful
authority to adjudicate, have delivered a judgement. Here, the media intensely
sensationalises a matter and begins to form its opinion, which further builds a
particular kind of notion or opinion about the accused among the general public,
sans considering the actual facts and evidences of a given case, which not only
presents a scenario of grave interference in the procedure of Fair Trail in a
court of law but also acutely affects the reputation and presence of the accused
(a declared convict by media) in the society.
Thus, Trial by Media is where the media oversteps it's defined boundaries and
unjustifiably and recklessly interferes with the judicial process by initiating
its own investigation and trial and negatively affecting the image of the
accused in the society.
Illegality Of Trial By Media
A Trial by Media is not only illegal but unconstitutional as well. Here, I shall
discuss various laws and constitutional provisions the study of which will help
in backing the same.
Reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2):
As Article 19(1) of the
Constitution of India guarantees protection of certain rights to the citizens,
out of these the Fundamental Right of Freedom and Speech and expression
[Art.19(1)(a)] is guaranteed. Media also enjoys the same. However, at the same
time, reasonable restrictions for such freedom are also placed under Art.19(2).
On reading Article 19(2), we can see that reasonable restrictions on the
exercise of the said freedom are given in order to preserve the interest of:
- sovereignty and integrity of India,
- the security of the state,
- friendly relations with foreign state,
- public order,
- decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court
- defamation or incitement to an offence
Clearly, the media, by initiating an unauthorised trial, firstly, defames
the accused by labeling him as a convict, when at the end of the day such
accused is adjudged as an innocent by a Court of Law. And secondly, such trial
by media comes under the purview of contempt of court under the Contempt of
Courts Act, 1971. The same is discussed further.
2. Contempt of Courts Act, 1971:
This Act under Section 2 defines both Civil
and Criminal Contempt. The present case of media falls under the ambit of
Section 2(c) defines criminal contempt as:
the publication (whether by words,
spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations, or otherwise) of
any matter or the doing of any act whatsoever which:
- scandalizes or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower the
authority of any court; or
- prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of
any judicial proceeding; or
- interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to
obstruct, the administration of Justice in any other matter;
Clearly, the case of trial by media interferes and obstructs the administration
of justice and thus is a Contempt of court.
The Press Council of India - Norms of Journalistic Conduct:
The Press Council of India published the code of Journalistic Conduct in 2010
defining the boundaries of the media and the proper code of conduct to be
carried by them as Journalists.
Section 3, among other important conducts, clearly mentions in its
sub-section(4) that "the press has a duty, discretion and right to serve the
public interest by drawing readers attention to citizens of doubtful antecedents
and of questionable character but as responsible journalists they should observe
due restraint and caution in hazarding their own opinion or conclusion in
branding these persons as Cheats
The cardinal principle
being that the guilt of the accused should be established by proof of facts
alleged and not by proof of the bad character of the accused. In the Zest to
expose, the Press should not exceed the limits of ethical caution and fair
Therefore, clearly, the trial by media is also a grave violation of the Norms of
Journalistic conduct released by the Press Council of India.
Violation of The Principle of Fair Trial:
When the media conducts a trial, it
is a direct breach of the sacred principle of the fair trial. A trial is fair in
a court of law when the following elements are present in the process:
An adversary Trial System: It is a system where a case is presented by the parties before an impartial
and independent judge. Here, the onus to prove the guilt of the accused lies
on the prosecution and the accused has to defend himself against the
accusations of the former.
presumption of innocence: A famous legal principle says that an accused is presumed to be innocent
until he is proven guilty. This means that unless and until the charges and
allegations against a given accused are not upheld by a judgement of a Court of Law on the basis of the facts and evidences
placed before it, such accuse is presumed to be innocent.
Impartial, independent Judge: For conducting a Fair Trail, a judge has to be impartial and independent so
that he can adjudicate a given dispute between the parties fearlessly. nemo judex in causa sua which means no one can be a
judge in his own cause reflects this principle.
The above discussed principles of Fair Trial are violated when there is a trial
by media. How? This is what happens.
Firstly, the media by conducting its own trial, declares and tags the accused as
a convict before the trial has even begun before the Courts of Law, violating
the basic principle of presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
Secondly, most importantly, the judges, who are supposed to be impartial and
independent while deciding a matter, may lose such character as they can also
get influenced by the unauthorized trial conducted by the hyped media. Since the
judges are only human beings they too can get affected by the negligent and
reckless conduct of the media because of media trial.
Therefore, the trial by media also gravely interferes with the Fair Trail in the
Courts of Law.
Famous Cases Which Were Victims Of Trial By Media
There are some cases which were hugely affected by media trial.
Jessica Lal murder case 2010 and Bijan Joshi rape case 2005. Here, the trial by
media led to widespread coverage of the guilt of the accused and led to a
certain perception about him. It created hysteria among viewers in high-profile
cases, making it nearly impossible for the trial to result in a fair judgment.
In Arushi Talwar murder case
as well, the media became hyped and began
its own investigation to discover who the killer could be. in this case too the
media viciously played up different angles like her father's alleged
extra-marital affair, fake news that Aarushi was an adopted child, demonised the
Talwars for not crying enough on TV., honour killing.
The latest case of death of Sushant Singh Rajput, where the accused Rhea
Chakraborty's reputation was being manhandled by the media by it coming up with
almost every new story sans relevant evidences.
Now, we should also be aware about some important case laws and their decisions
on Trial by Media. The same is discussed below.
Landmark Case Laws On Media Trial
In re P.C Sen, on the night of November 25, 1965, on All India Radio Station
a broadcast had taken place which proved to be obstructive in the dispensation
of Justice as the details of the accused were unraveled through such broadcast.
The Honourable Supreme Court held that any act done or published to bring any
Judge or the Court to the ambit of contempt or which tries to bring down the
authority of the court to anything that tries to interfere with the proceedings
of the law will be termed as contempt of court.
Y.V Hanumantha Rao V. K.R Pattabhiram and Another
, the court observed
"...... when litigation is pending before a court, no one shall comment on
it in such a way that 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."
In Saibal Kumar Gupta and Ors. v. B.K. Sen and Anr
, It was held by the
Supreme Court that:
"No doubt it would be mischievous for a newspaper to systematically conduct an
independent investigation into a crime for which a man has been arrested and to
publish the results of that investigation. This is because trial by newspapers,
when a trial by one of the regular tribunals of the country is going on, must be
prevented. The basis for this view is that such action on the part of a
newspaper tends to interfere with the course of justice whether the
investigation tends to prejudice the accused or the prosecution. There is no
comparison between a trial by a newspaper and what has happened in this case."
Studying the above case laws, it's apparent that the media is slowly going away
from and their these actions are resulting in the erosion of ethical Journalism.
Media is considered as the fourth pillar of democracy whose duty is to create
awareness among the masses regarding various government policies, the world
happenings, education, economy and other relevant areas. And it is supposed to
conduct itself in the said manner if we want to developed. However, when the
same media fails to remember its rightful duty by recklessly acting as an
investigation agency, from there the trouble begins not only for the Courts of
law but for the accused as well who is made the target of trial by media.
However, our courts of law have time and again reminded the media their actual
authority and how they are supposed to carry out their defined duty. Moreover
various laws are also on place to keep a check on such acts of the media. Our
Judicial system is always working to protect the rights of the people by
adjudicating impartially keeping in mind the evidences and the statement of the
witnesses on record. And there is no better machinery to dispense impartial
justice than our Courts of Law. Therefore, the media should only work in their
respective field and let the Courts do their rightful duty, to judge.
- AIR 1970 SC 1812
- AIR 1975 AP 30
- AIR 1961 SC 633
Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Rasleen Kour
Authentication No: DE33617211235-1-1220