Trial by media
is a phrase which is as equal as to the statement that who so
ever controls the media controls the mind that has been used popularly in the
last few decades to describe the impact of television and print media coverage
on a case by an attempt made by the media of holding the accused guilty even
prior to his trial and regardless of any verdict in the court of law.
criminal jurisprudence followed in India is based on the theory that an accused
is entitled to fair trial and is innocent till proven guilty beyond any
reasonable doubt. On account of exclusive coverage media goes a long way to
cover and publish interviews of witnesses, victim's relatives, comments of the
members of legal fraternity etc. which may cause prejudice to a trial
proceedings in particular the judicial mind. In fact this affects the perception
of public at large because media reaches out to the mass promptly.
In the last decade we have witnessed rapid growth of media influence in the
process of access to justice in plethora of cases relating to corruption, rape,
murder, sexual harassment, terrorist activities etc.Media activism imposes an
indirect pressure on the adjudicating authorities to deliver justice to victims
who may interfere with the trial proceedings and may cause prejudice to the
accused and the chance of proving his innocence. Trial by media means the impact
of the newspaper and television coverage on a person's reputation by creating
widespread perception of guilt regardless of any verdict in court of law.
Freedom of media in today's world is perceived to be the freedom of the People.
Also, it is gratuitous to emphasize on the fact that every citizen has a right
to be cognizantonall matters affecting them through media. Butties thought
provoking that the media in the present day is such a powerful entity that it
manipulates and builds public opinion as the word sit promulgates are presumed
to be true without questioning its authenticity. Media overlooks the primary
idea that governs trial in India which is Guilty beyond reasonable doubt
and Innocent until proven guilty
In order to attract more viewers the media end up maligning and tarnishing the
image of mere suspects and tagging them as guilty even before the judges. Media
by emphasizing on one-side delegations and taking the easy route of just
fuelling the public outrage without trying to unearth the reality can be very
damaging, which is barely considered by the media. Media has a great influence
over the public of the country.
Newspapers, News Channels, Radio and Television
don't only spread the information but they also assist in controlling the
stories which the public may discuss later. Crimes receive a wide coverage which
makes it challenging for the prosecutors and attorneys. The judiciary and the
media share a common bond and play a complimentary role to each other: man is
the centre of their universe. While the media explores, discovers, and reveals
the achievements and follies of man, the judiciary deals with the legal problems
created by him.
Both the judiciary and the media are engaged in the same task: to discover the
truth, to uphold the democratic values and to deal with social, political and
economic problems. The media, in fact, has been called the handmaiden of
justice, the watchdog of society; the judiciary, the dispenser of justice and
the catalyst for social reforms. Thus, both are essential for the progress of a
civil society. However, at times, these two pillars of democracy are at
Under the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression, the media
claims the right to investigate, to reveal, to expose and to highlight the
criminal cases. According to it, in a democracy the people have the right to
know. Therefore, the media has a corresponding duty to inform the people about
the criminal and the crime. It, thus, demands the right to carry on pre trial
publicity. Yet, on the other hand, the judiciary is keenly aware of the
fundamental rights of the accused to a fair trial and of due process of law.
Since pre-trial publicity can derail a fair and a speedy trial, the judiciary
has to balance the competing fundamental rights. While the freedom of speech and
expression of the media, the right to know of the people need to be protected
and promoted, the right to fair trial of the accused needs to be secured and
Media is regarded as one of the pillars of democracy. It has wide ranging roles
in the society. Media plays a vital role in moulding the opinion of the society
and it is capable of changing the whole viewpoint through which people perceive
various events. The media can be commended for starting a trend where the media
plays an active role in bringing the accused to hook. Free speech and Expression
is perhaps one of the most important and useful Rights available in our
Freedom of expression incorporated in The Indian Constitution under its Article
19(1) (a) grants freedom of speech and expression to its citizens. The freedom
of press is a necessary element of the freedom of expression that involves a
right to receive and impart information without which democracy becomes an empty
slogan. But this right is not absolute and is subjected to the reasonable
restrictions of defamation and contempt of court among others mentioned in
clause (2) of the above mentioned article, which clearly states that this right
can be restricted by law only in the interest 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.
The media pushes people to prejudge the verdicts of criminal proceedings. Some
people use the media to influence court case outcomes. In media trials, the
media serves as a conveyor for popular sentiment. The media are also used to
practice parallel elements of justice outside the confines of the courtroom.
media are a principal pillar of democracy across the world. The media plays
numerous roles in society, including moulding social opinions and perceptions of
specific events. In recent times, the media has played a role in pushing for the
trial of accused persons. The media informs the public on matters of
significance to it, meaning that a healthy and free media are critical to the
working or functioning of democracy. Court proceedings that are covered widely
by the media are concluded by the courts rather fast by and large.
What is Media Trial?
Trial is essentially a process to be carried out by the courts. The trial by
media is definitely an undue interference in the process of justice delivery.
Before delving into the issue of justifiability of media trial it would be
pertinent to first try to define what actually the 'trial by media' means. Trial
is a word which is associated with the process of justice.
It is the essential
component on any judicial system that the accused should receive a fair
trial. India is a country where all the people have an upsurge of curiosity to
know about the sensational and the high profile cases. People themselves start
collecting information to lead the case in their mind and in this process the
media by publishing their own versions of facts in the source of newspapers,
news websites, and news channels pour water on the people's thirst for these
This is known as investigative journalism, which is
permissible in India. The power of the influence and revolutionizing the mass in
creating perception against a guilty or innocent mind is known by trial by media
or media trial. Trial by the media is not merely a legal issue. It is also a
On the one hand, it derails the lawmen from the legal track.
On the other, it also distracts the laymen, the 'public in the republic', from
crucial issues like economic disasters, unemployment or the growing unfreedom.
Authoritarian regimes always have invisible ministries for distraction which
manifest through the media that they hire. Democracy requires perpetual
Recently, Honourable Justice Kurian Joseph of Supreme Court of India while
addressing Bar Council of India Meet at Chennai on 26-07-2015 citing pressure on
the judiciary during the Nirbhaya rape case
had remarked that Media Trials in
pending cases should be avoided and thereby judges saved of the enormous strain
created by it. "Please stop trying (cases) in the media till a case is over.
Never try a case in the media, it creates a lot of pressure on judges, they are
also human beings," Referring to:
"the amount of pressure that is built,"
recalled how a judge who dealt with the case had once told him that:
"had he not
given that punishment, they would have hung him."
The Judge said:
If I had not
given that punishment they would have hung me, the media had already given their
verdict, (like) it is going to be this only". He however, added, "He (the Judge
who went into Nirbhaya case) had reasons to give the punishment, not because the
media said it, but because he had reasons.
Trial by Media – Is it a Fair Trial:
Litigation is not always a search for truth. According to philosopher Charles
Taylor, it is a zero-sum game, where the law only says either A or B is
. Media trials have always given rise to a certain kind of problem as it
involves the tug-of-war between two different principles which are the free
trial and the free press, both in which the public at large is generally
invested. The freedom of the press is a part of democracy in any country. This
is the kind of justification, given to investigative journalism.
But at the same time, the right to have a fair trial is a basic right that is
given to every accused and the victim alike which is uninfluenced by any
external source and is thus, recognized as a basic tenant of justice.
It does not consider the multitude of truth and complexity of events, issues or
individuals. British Marxist Terry Eagleton put it in perspective: Court rooms,
like novels, blur the distinction between fact and fiction. The jury judge not
on the facts but between rival versions of them. (The Guardian, 25 May 2005)
When trial by the court itself is inherently problematic in the adversarial
system of justice, a media trial poses additional issues.
accusations and witch-hunts impact the juridical process enormously. They also
contaminate the cultural and intellectual ecology of the nation. The trial by
media in their own eye may be as fair as everything is fair in love and war
because they work on this principle only. Media have the ability to cause a
trial by media because the public look to media as a reliable source of
information, this was also held by the English court in the Case Johnson,
P. 381), therefore media acts as a public court or a Janta court where they
decide the culprit soon before the commencement of the proceedings.
The media by
reporting consistently on a person who is convicted in a trial forces the public
to make perception for that person as an accused, which results in the guilt of
the accused before proceedings even begin. Hence, the trial by the media is not
as fair as they have no power to interfere and to force the public to make an
opinion against an individual. The media by doing the pre-trial interferes in
the procedure and mechanism of the judiciary which is not permissible under any
law or act.
Restrictions by the Constitution and the Contempt of Court:
Everything in this country has a limitation to its nature be it a right or
freedom similarly, the freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed under
Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian Constitution has also been restricted with some
reasonable measures under article 19 (2) of the same act. The clause 2 of the
article says that the state has the power to make any law to impose any
restriction for the freedom of speech and expression and on the same page no one
is allowed to used this right as against the sovereignty integrity and security
of the nation, or against any friendly nation with other states or against any
public order, defamation and incitement to an offense or decency or morality in
relation with the court.
The Constitution has provided these reasonable
restrictions to safeguard other fundamental rights over one's freedom. The
preamble of the constitution also mentioned that every individual has the right
to live a decent life and to have a fair trial but the media is busy with their
own trial process, they didn't care about the perspective or the opinion which
will be created by their act or what grievance can be faced by the person
against whom they have used their power.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India said:
I would rather have a completely free press with all the dangers involved in the
wrong use of that freedom than a suppressed or regulated press.
But he did not
foresee the danger involved as he did not expect the press to get involved into
something which is beyond its limit and ethics too and which further hinders the
'administration of justice' which is the very essence of the natural justice and
the rule of law. Constitutionally, the press in India has no special rights,
said Dr Ambedkar. But a free press is a political imperative for democracy to
survive. In a criminal trial, the prosecution and the accused have the right to
a fair trial.
Between free speech and fair trial, the borders are sometimes
crossed and the rules breached, leading to devastating consequences to
individuals and institutions. The tele-terror
should not be allowed to meddle
with a trial in accordance with the law. The digital violence in itself is a
breach of peace. Media is an institutionalised anarchy, in a liberal and
The media trial definitely falls under the ambit of the contempt of court. Thus,
it should be made punishable. The right to a fair trial must be uninfluenced by
the newspaper publications or even the headlines of the news. But what happens,
when the leading news channels decide to go against the ethical code of
contempt? Then decide to sabotage the career of the accused even before his
guilt is proven in the court of law? They portray him as an evil person during
the prime-time when all the viewers are generally geared in front of their
television. It is important to note that the idea of democracy is fair play and
transparency and by such an act of the media, the concept of democracy is at
stake. Thus, any attempt made to sabotage the other pillars of democracy, by one
of them, must be held as contempt.
Contempt of Court defined:
The remedy against such an act is the Sec.2 of Contempt of Court Act 1972. The
Contempt of Court Act defines contempt as both civil and criminal. In M.P. Lohia
V. State of West Bengal
the Supreme Court strongly deprecated the media for
interfering with the administration of justice by publishing one-sided articles
touching on merits of cases pending in the Courts. Saibal Kumar V. BK. Sen,
Supreme Court tried to discourage the tendency of media trial and remarked:
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
published the details of 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 Contempt of court operates on a
slightly different plane. The paramount considerations here are dignity of the
court and fairness of trial. Hence it follows that once a case has reached the
court no one is allowed to publish his own versions of facts. Violation of this
rule amounts to contempt of court.
The rule evolved judicially which is supplemented by special statutory
provisions, which prohibit the publication even of certain matters actually
taking place in course of trial. Now the question arise is whether this negative
approach of law is inconsistent with the constitutionally guaranteed right of
freedom of speech and expression. In this connection it may be pointed out that
the constitution in Art: 19(2) expressly save the operation of law of contempt
of court. 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 law of contempt is one of the grounds for reasonable
restrictions under Article 19(2) to the freedom of speech and expression. While
civil contempt refers to the wilful disobedience to any judgment or order of a
court and criminal contempt is an offence under Section 2(c) of the Contempt of
Courts Act, 1971, and is punishable by imprisonment of up to six months. It is
defined as the publication of any matter which lowers the authority of any
court, or scandalizes or tends to scandalize, prejudices or tends to prejudice,
or obstructs or tends to obstruct any judicial proceedings, or the
administration of justice.
Media Trials v. Judiciary:
There has been no legal system where the media is given the power to try a case.
Every coin has two sides so is the case with media trials and journalism, at
certain instances journalist portrays a pre- decided image of an accused thereby
tearing his/ her reputation that can eventually affect the trial and the
judgment, henceforth trial by media. In India, media trials have assumed
significance. There have been several cases where the media had taken the case
into their own hands and declared judgment against an accused contrary to fair
trials in court.
The media can even influence the thinking-process of any individual.
Like for an
example times like this where COVID-19 has become a world pandemic the media and
news channels every morning will telecast how many people died, number of new
cases which automatically creates fear in a person's mind, whereas if the show
number of recoveries this might motivate the public and help them fight the
pandemic. Media changes the view of people which can have both negative and
positive impacts. The media does nothing but just manipulate the people's mind.
Recently the country has seen uproar and shown its grave concern in the
sensational case of the late actor, Sushant Singh Rajput on the issue pertaining
to the Investigation and alleged mishandling of the latter's unnatural death.
The media has narrated the entire story of the late actor's death in a manner so
to induce the general public to believe in the complicity of the person
indicted. The media has gone a step further and published information based on
mere assumptions and suspicion about the line of investigation by the official
agencies to vigorously report on the issue on a day to day basis and comment on
the evidence without ascertaining the factual matrix.
Such reporting has brought
an undue pressure in the course of fair investigation and trial. The media in
this manner is conducting a parallel investigation and trial; and has already
foretold its decision thereby, creating a pressure on the investigation agencies.In connection to the case the court asked if the current mechanism for
self regulation of the electronic media was enough to maintain a balance between
rights to freedom of speech and expression and the right of the accused to a
fair trial and reputation.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni
was hearing a PIL filed by eight former senior police officers from Maharashtra,
as well as activists, lawyers and NGO's seeking a restraining order against Media Trial
in actor Sushant Singh Rajput's death case. The court said that in
the present case, 'Substantial damage has been caused to the reputations of the
persons so called involved'. It takes year of hard work to build a reputation
and with just one stroke it is brought from top to bottom. Without being
punished, there is stigma on their forehead till the trial is completed, no
matter if they are cleared of the charges, the court said.
The court was prompted to make the observations after the advocate of one of the
respondent channels submitted a report authored in 1947 by a European institute,
which analysed options between self-regulation and statutory regulation for the
media, and concluded that there was no need for government control.
clarifying that the channel was not guilty of the allegations made by the
petitioners as it was not named by any of the petitions, advocate Ankit Lohia
appearing for Zee News, however, said that he wanted make submissions in support
of the contentions of other channels that there was no need for government
interference in functioning of channels. He cited a 1947 report of a European
institute and stated that the report had made it clear that the media should
self-regulate instead of any statutory regulation.
Media Trial vs. Fair Trial:
Pre-trial publicity is injurious to the health of a fair trial. The media trials
have also pressured the lawyers not to take up cases where the public deems
certain individuals as guilty, without actually being proven due to the media
trials, thereby forcing the accused to withdraw his right to have an advocate.
But, it also dissuades the advocates who actually take up such cases. The media
has again come in focus in its role in the trial of Jessicalal murder case. The
concept of media trial is not a new concept. The role of media was debated in
the Priyadarsini Mattoo case and likewise many other high profile cases.
have been numerous instances in which media has been accused of conducting the
trial of the accused and passing the verdict
even before the court passes its
judgment For example, in the case where the senior advocate Ram Jethmalani had
defended the accused Manu Sharma in Jessica Lal's case,
it was during this time,
that one of the senior editor of a TV News channel had stated it to be a
defence of the indefensible, thereby, declaring that the accused was already
guilty of the crime he had not yet been proven off. The assumption of the media
clearly encroaches upon the right of the accused to have a fair trial as well as
his right to have a good advocate.
Jessica Lal murder case i.e., Manu Sharma v. State (NCT of Delhi), the court
held that despite the significance of the print and electronic media in the
present day, it is not only desirable but the least that is expected of the
persons at the helm of affairs in the field, to ensure that trial by media does
not hamper fair investigation by the investigating agency and more importantly
does not prejudice the right of defense of the accused in any manner whatsoever.
It will amount to travesty of justice if either of this causes impediments in
the accepted judicious and fair investigation and trial.
Recently in Dr. Shashi Tharoor v. Arnab Goswami and Anr,
the court held that it
is the function and right of the media to gather and convey information to the
public and to comment on the administration of justice, including cases before,
during and after trial, without violating the presumption of innocence. In fact,
presumption of innocence and a fair trial are at the heart of criminal
jurisprudence and in way important facets of a democratic polity that is
governed by rule of law.
Journalists are free to investigate but they cannot
pronounce anyone guilty and/or pre judge the issue and/or prejudice the trial.
The grant of the fairest of the opportunity to the accused to prove his
innocence is the object of every fair trial. Conducting a fair trial is
beneficial both to the accused as well as to the society. A conviction resulting
from unfair trial is contrary to the concept of justice.
Stands by the Indian Court with Media Trial:
In India, the courts have the power to pass pre- publication or pre-broadcasting
injunction or prior restraint order in subjudice matters. The two-pronged test
of necessity and proportionality has to be satisfied before ordering
postponement of publication. Moreover, the injunction order should only be
passed if reasonable alternative methods or measures would not prevent the said
risk. Before airing any story pertaining to the plaintiff, the defendants shall
give the plaintiff a written notice, by electronic mode, asking for his version.
If the plaintiff refuses or does not reply within a reasonable time, he will not
be compelled to speak and the story will be aired with the disclosure that the
plaintiff has refused to speak to defend.
The Press Council of India Act, constituted a body named Press Council of India.
It is a statutory autonomous body. Its object broadly was to preserve freedom of
press. The Council could warn, admonish, or censure a newspaper or a news agency
for any professional misconduct, or breach of code of journalistic ethics, or
offence against the public interest. It could also condemn the Government or
other Organizations for interferering with freedom of press. It enjoyed the same
powers, while holding an inquiry under Press Council Act, as are vested in a
civil court while trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure.
could also ask a defaulting newspaper to publish the council's finding. The
Council is empowered on complaints made it or otherwise, against offending
newspapers . The Press Council safeguards freedom of press maintains and
improves standards of newspapers and news agencies. It is comprised mainly from
the newspapers that are charged with the responsibility of regulating the
conduct of brethren.
The Council has thus assumed the role of a self-regulating body of the
newspapers themselves. The Council has the power to consider complaints suo moto;
in addition to enquiry into complaints brought before it. It has empowered to
make observation against authority, including Government, if it considers it
necessary for the performance of its functions. Thus the Press Council is a
statutory, quasi-judicial and selfregulating body without teeth (power to impose
The power of Press Council of India is limited and increase in
tendency of media sensationalism and competition among the newspapers which
accelerated media to deviate from their traditional accountability and ethical
values. Consequently the invasion on individual rights as well as collective
rights is raising, thereby a need for a strengthened statutory body is need of
the media world.
Stands of English Court with Media Trial:
The media all over the world has a greater impact on the public as they have the
power to attract and manipulate the thoughts of the people by providing
information to the masses by different sources. The situation of the media in
English courts is similar to some extent. As Article 6 of the human rights act,
the UN-based principle on the independence of the judiciary states that it is
the duty of the judiciary to ensure that the judicial proceedings have been
conducted fairly as well as the rights of both the parties have been respected.
The principle is given in this article has been interpreted in the same language
in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which
provides that everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a
competent, independent and impartial tribunal in the determination of any
criminal charge or in a suit at law.
Whereas contrary to both the provisions
provided under the human right act or ICCPR, the right to press or freedom of
expression is also given under Article 10 and Article 19 respectively, but it
also states that this freedom shall be paramount with the limitations and shall
be made only up to the mark that is necessary for a democratic society. The
media shall be in proportion to the pressing social needs only. U.S.A. & U.K.
both believe in limitation of the power given to the media in publishing and
casting these pre-trials.
The U.S. supreme court stated that the media has the
dangerous potential to impact the trials. In a landmark case Dr.Samuel
H.Sheppard, the Court held that prejudicial publicity had denied him a fair
trial. Similarly, in U.K. England in the case of Attorney General vs. British–
Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has agreed that media trials affect the judges
despite the claim of judicial superiority over human frailty.
Madrid principles on the relationship between the media and judicial
In January 1994, participants from 40 countries met in Madrid, Spain in a
meeting convened by
the International Commission of Jurists, the Centre for the independence of Judges and Lawyers, and the Spanish Committee of UNICEF.
The purpose of the meeting was to examine the relationship between the media and
judicial independence as guaranteed by the
1985 United Nations Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary.
purpose of this meeting was to formulate principles addressing the relationship
between freedom of expression and judicial independence. The preamble of this
document lays emphasis on the Rule of Law and to prevail this rule of law
freedom of expression especially the freedom of media becomes an important
element in the Democratic society.
This document imposes duties and
responsibilities on both the judiciary and media. The basic principle that was
laid down in the document is the freedom of expression which includes the
freedom of media. It is the function and right of the media to gather and convey
the information to the public and to make a comment on the administration of
justice including cases before the trial, during the trial, and after the trial
of the case. The basic principle is immune from any special restrictions and the
scope of this principle is very vast.
Judicial remarks on Media Trial:
In the words of Justice Pathanjali Sasthri, it is stated that Art: 19(1) (a) is
the foundation of all democratic institution. Without free political discussion
public education is not possible. The free media is essential for the proper
functioning of democracy. Dr Ambedkar in his speech in Constituent Assembly
Debates (Vol. VII 980) says:
The press has no special rights which are not to be
given or which are not to be exercised by the citizens in his individual
capacity. The editor of press or the manager is merely exercising the right of
expression, and therefore no special mention is necessary of the freedom of
Indian Constitution does not specifically mention the liberty of mass media. But
the speech and expression covers the rights relating to broadcasting. The
decision in Maneka Gandhi's case
reinforces this view. In this case it is held
that it is not correct view that the right which is specifically mentioned by
name can never be a fundamental right or takes of same basic nature and
character as the named fundamental right so that the exercise of such right is
in reality and substance nothing but an instance of the exercise of named
fundamental right. The court declared that the day this clearing house closes
down would toll the death knell of democracy.
Impact of the Trial by Media:
Media has now reincarnated itself into a 'public court
' which can also
be referred as Janta Adalat
and has started interfering into court
proceedings so much so that it pronounces its own verdict even before the court
does. It completely overlooks the vital gap between an accused and a convict
keeping at stake the golden principles of presumption of innocence until proven guilty
and guilt beyond reasonable doubt
Nowadays what we actually observe is a
trial by media, where the media itself conducts a separate investigation, builds
a public opinion against the accused even before the court takes cognizance of
the case. By this way it prejudices the public, as a result of which many a time
it could happen that the accused, which should be assumed innocent, is presumed
to be a criminal leaving all his rights and liberty unredressed.
publicity about a case and the suspect involved in the case by the media
prejudices a fair trial or results in characterizing the accused as a person who
had indeed committed the crime, it amounts to undue interference with the
administration of justice, calling for proceedings for contempt of court
against the media.
To an extent it can be agreed that the media, by publicizing certain facts, as
it was best seen in Jessica Lall case acts as a catalyst which is conducive to
the speedy progress of the trial and media activism of this nature is
acceptable. However, once the trial has commenced, the media has no right to
pronounce based on its perception the innocence or guilt of the persons involved
in the case. Determination of the guilt or innocence of a person under our
constitutional scheme is the function of the courts, and not the media. Besides,
irreparable harm can be caused to a person's reputation by prematurely judging
him or her guilty.
Some of the Landmark Judgements:
Media has a totally different group of people to handle high-profile cases in
the criminal justice system. This may also influence the way the trial procedure
which includes the witness, evidence and important elements. I have focused my
Research and my analysis on the following cases which show the influence of
media on us and the criminal justice system:
P.C. Sen vs. Unknown (8th November, 1968)In the case of re P.C. Sen, 1968, a special leave petition had been filed that a
broadcast that had taken place on the night of November 25 1965, on an All India
Radio station had been obstructive in the course of justice and had amounted to
contempt of court as it gave out the details of the accused. Justice Shah stated
that any law related to the contempt of the court is well-settled. Any act that
is done or published to bring any Jude or the court to the ambit of contempt or
which tries to bring down the authority of the court of that anything that tries
to interfere with the proceedings of the law will be termed as contempt of
Y.V. Hanumantha Rao vs. K.R. Pattabhiram and Anr. (3rd September, 1973)In the case of Y.V. Hanumantha Rao v. K.R. Pattabhiram and Anr, 1973, there was
a curfew that had been imposed in a small district of Andhra Pradesh. It was
brought before the court that the curfew that was imposed was arbitrary and that
there was no law upholding the same. During this time, while the case was
pending, the Deccan Chronicles had published about the law of curfew and why
it was imposed along with its historical background and stated everything about
the case. It was then it was observed that, when a litigation was pending in the
court of law, there shall be no comments made regarding that litigation which
may cause substantial danger of prejudice of any trial, for instance, the
prejudice in the decisions given by the judge, the witness or any other general
public having access to such media news. It was also stated in this case that,
even if a person who publishes such news believes in his or her capacity for it
to be true, it shall still stand as contempt of the court for the reason that
this truth was established before the verdict given by the judiciary.
Sushil Sharma vs. The State (Delhi Administration) (1st May, 1996)In the case of Sushil Sharma v. The State (Delhi Administration and Ors.), 1996,
there was little evidence that the accused had murdered his partner. However,
while the case was still pending in the court, the media had started portraying
the accused as a murderer and was capable of changing the views of the public
even before the decision of the case. It held by the High Court of Delhi that
the conviction of any person would solely be based on the facts of the case and
not because the media wanted the person to be declared as guilty. The charges
also have to be framed against the person accused based on the evidence
available on record and not based on what the media portrays the person to be.
Secretary, Ministry of Information and Communication vs. Cricket
Association of Bengal (9th February, 1995)The court give a wider meaning to freedom of speech and expression, which
emphasized that every citizen has the right to telecast and broadcast to the
viewers any important event through electronic media. Television and radio have
also provided that the Government had no monopoly over such electronic media and
such monopolistic power of government was not mentioned anywhere in the
constitution or any other law prevailing in the country.
This judgment thus
brought about a great change in the prevailing broadcast media and such sector
became open to the citizens. The freedom of speech and expression includes right
to acquire information and disseminate it. Freedom of speech and expression is
necessary for self-expression which is an important means of free conscience and self-fulfillment. It enables people to contribute to debates of social and moral
issues. It is the best way to find out the truest model of anything sincere
which is only through it that widest possible range of ideas can circulate. It
is the only vehicle of political discourse so essential to democracy.
R.K. Anand vs. Delhi High Court (29th July, 2009)The important questions relating to trial by media were examined by the Supreme
Court. The case arose out of a sting operation carried out by a private
television channel, NDTV to expose the unholy nexus between the prosecution, its
witness and the defense in the infamous BMW hit and run case resulting in the
death of six persons by speeding BMW car which was driven by the scion of a
influential and wealthy family.
While the trial was pending even after the eight
years of the incident, NDTV telecasted a sting operation to expose the manner in
which a senior advocate appearing for the accused was negotiating with the help
of special public prosecutor to sell out in favor of defense, the Delhi High
Court then initiated the Suo-Moto contempt proceedings and held the special
public prosecutor and the defense counsel guilty of contempt of court and they
were debarred from appearing in the Delhi High Court and its subordinate courts
for four months. Then the appeal was filed before the Supreme Court, it was
contended that NDTV was guilty of trial by media and it could have telecasted
the stings only after obtaining the permission of the High Court. The Supreme
Court of India rejected the contention holding that such a course would not be
an exercise in journalism but in that case the media would be acting as some
sort of special vigilance agency for the court.
The Supreme Court held that NDTV
was not guilty of trial by media and the phenomenon of trial by media was
described as The impact of television and newspaper coverage on a person's
reputation by creating a widespread perception of the guilt regardless of any
verdict in a court of law. The Court dismissed the appeal of R.K Anand and
issued him a notice for the enhancement of punishment.
Sahara India Real Estate Corporation Ltd. vs. SEBIWhich is also known as the media guidelines case, the Supreme Court of India in
2012 constituted a constitution bench of five judges to consider whether the
guidelines shall ought to be framed by the court in respect of the media
reporting of the ongoing cases or reporting of the cases which are pending
before the court, in this case there was an unauthorized leak of privileged
communication by a private television channel and the communication was related
to the settlement proposal exchanged between the lawyers on two sides.
The Supreme Court of India passed an order saying that We are distressed to
note that even without prejudice proposals sent by the learned counsel for the
appellants to the learned counsel for SEBI has come on one of the television
channels, such reporting by television channels not only affects the business
sentiments but also it interferes with the administration of justice the court
ordered both the counsels to make a written application to the court in the form
of interlocutory application, so that appropriate orders could be passed by the
court with regards to the reporting of sub judice matters pending before the
court, the Sahara filed an application complaining the unauthorized broadcast by
the television channel and the Supreme Court of India opened a debate on media
reporting of court cases on behalf of media houses and journalists.
The mysterious leak to the media sparked the confidential exchange between the
lawyers in the case, snowballed into an open ended debate on media
transgressions and the need to rein it in with the guidelines. The Supreme Court
of India while recognizing the media's right to report the court proceedings and
recognizing the presumption of open justice held that there may be certain
exceptional cases where the reporting by media might adversely impact the
administration of justice, in such cases the reporting may be deferred for a
limited duration by the Supreme Court or the High Courts, Such order of
postponement must pass the tests of necessity and proportionality.
Sushant Singh Rajput Case:The Bombay high court did not mince words while pointing out to the fact that
journalists today have lost their neutrality and the media has become polarised.
The observations were made by the bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and
Justice Girish Kulkarni on Friday while hearing public interest litigations
against the media trial in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case. The court was
prompted to make the observations after the advocate of one of the respondent
channels submitted a report authored in 1947 by a European institute, which
analysed options between self-regulation and statutory regulation for the media,
and concluded that there was no need for government control.
While clarifying that the channel was not guilty of the allegations made by the
petitioners as it was not named by any of the petitions, advocate Ankit Lohia
appearing for Zee News, however, said that he wanted make submissions in support
of the contentions of other channels that there was no need for government
interference in functioning of channels. He cited a 1947 report of a European
institute and stated that the report had made it clear that the media should
self-regulate instead of any statutory regulation.
The chief justice made an observation on the submissions of Lohia and said, We
are ruled by the rule of law. In India there is a rule of law, right? How do you
advocate that people who go around accusing others can find shelter of freedom
of press? Journalists back then were responsible and neutral, now the media is polarised.
Jasleen Kaur Harassment Controversy Case:The Jasleen Kaur harassment controversy stemmed from the accusation of sexual
harassment made by Jasleen Kaur against Sarvjeet Singh in 2015 and the events
that followed. In August 2015, Delhi woman Jasleen Kaur posted a photo of a man,
Sarvjeet Singh, on Facebook and accused him of harassment. The post immediately
went viral on Indian social media and garnered widespread attention. She
received widespread support for raising her voice against eve-teasing and sexual
harassment on social media including from national celebrities and politicians.
Sarvjeet was arrested the next day and was bailed the day after.
It was followed
by Trail by Media in which Sarvjeet was labelled by terms like "National
and "Delhi ka Darinda
" (Delhi's predator) on national news channels. A
few days after the incident, an eyewitness vouched for Sarvjeet's innocence
which brought credibility to Sarvjeet's account.
After four years, in 2019, the Indian court acquitted Sarvjeet of all the
charges and he was held innocent. On October 24th, 2019, four years after the
incident, the court passed the judgment. All the charges were dismissed and
Sarvjeet was held innocent. He was acquitted of all the charges against him.
However, during the time, the man had lost his job and couldn't find any other
source of income due to such media coverage.
Question arises that whether a Media Trial: A Boon or a Curse:
From the above such Research and Article, it has been clear that the media
trials have had more of a negative impact than a positive one. The media has to
be properly regulated by the courts. While a media which has been controlled by
the government is not good for democracy, the implications and the result of
unaccounted publications are even more damaging not just to the reputation of
the person but also to the judgment imposed by the courts. Therefore, media
trials have only served to help the people in only very few instances but that
does not happen in all the cases, thus it is necessary to have restrictions
imposed on it. Media, as referred to by many as the eyes and ears of the
It forms the backbone of our society. And a responsible media is expected to
take into consideration the reliance entrusted on it by the general public and
confidence and faith entrusted whereby common man/public blindly accepts the
truth of the news published by media.
This actually calls for the existence of a
responsible media. No freedom, however sacred it may be, can be absolute. This
is also true of press freedom. Not only the freedom of press is subject to the
laws of the land, such as contempt and libel, but also is responsible to the
society it serves. It should accept certain responsibilities in the discharge of
The press has an obligation –voluntary and selfimposed that in presentation of
truthful news and fair comment it adheres to certain norms of decency and
decorum, and that it does not indulge in vulgarity, obscenity, character
assassination, violation of citizen's privacy and incitement to offence,
disorder and disintegration of the country. The media strongly feels bitter
about this sub judice rule and complain that Courts during the course of a
hearing tend to interpret the sub judice rule.
However, there is an urgent need
to liberalize the sub judice rule, applying it only in important cases that will
likely influence the trial and not to any act that might have the remote
possibility of influencing it. Another main constraint on stings and trials by
media is the public interest. If public interest is missing and either self or
manipulative interests surface, the media loses its ground and invites the rage
of the court.
Norms that should be followed by the Media for any Media Trial to avoid any
Issues on the Path of Justice under the Constitution:
While acting as a responsible media, it should follow certain norms in
reporting of a crime or any news related to the same:
- Accuracy of the case shall be maintained and verified before the same is
reported/published and read of all.
- Every caution shall be undertaken to avoid any writing that is opinion
based i.e. either favoring or defaming any person/party.
- Right to privacy shall not be interfered with.
- Accuracy is of utmost importance while reporting court proceedings.
- Reports based on mere suspicion or personal opinion shall not be
- Appreciation of an act of violence shall be avoided always.
- The heading shall not be purposely made sensational or provocative; it
must be apt for the matter printed under it.
- Rectification shall be published without any delay in cases of error.