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Trial By Media And Its Impact

Trial by media is a phrase popular in the late 20th century and early 21st century to describe the impact of television and newspaper coverage on a person's reputation by creating a widespread perception of guilt or innocence before, or after, a verdict in a court of law. Media has been the voice of thousands through which a platform is provided for the common man.

In rapidly changing socio economic conditions like in India (largest democratic country) media has gained prominence and hence referred as a fourth pillar of democracy. Of course sometimes a drop of ink dropped down from the journalist's pen might be more powerful than a bullet from the soldier's gun. According to criminal jurisprudence a suspect/accused is entitled to a fair trial until proven guilty/innocent by the court of law.

Impact Of Media Trials

Media Trials v/s Freedom Of Speech And Expression

Freedom of speech plays a crucial role in the formation of public opinion on social, political and economic matters. Similarly, the persons in power should be able to keep the people informed about their policies and projects, therefore, it can be said that freedom of speech is the mother of all other liberties.

In Printers (Mysore) Ltd. v. CTO the Supreme Court has reiterated that though freedom of the press is not expressly guaranteed as a fundamental right, it is implicit in the freedom of speech and expression. Freedom of the press has always been a cherished right in all democratic countries and the press has rightly been described as the fourth chamber of democracy.

In R. Rajagopal v. State of T.N the Supreme Court of India has held that freedom of the press extends to engaging in uninhabited debate about the involvement of public figures in public issues and events. But, as regards their private life, a proper balancing of freedom of the press as well as the right of privacy and maintained defamation has to be performed in terms of the democratic way of life laid down in the Constitution.

Therefore, in view of the observations made by the Supreme Court in various judgments and the views expressed by various jurists, it is crystal clear that the freedom of the press flows from the freedom of expression which is guaranteed to all citizens by Article 19(1)(a). Press stands on no higher footing than any other citizen and cannot claim any privilege (unless conferred specifically by law), as such, as distinct from those of any other citizen. The press cannot be subjected to any special restrictions which could not be imposed on any citizen of the country.

Media Trial v/s Fair Trial

Trial by media has created a problem because it involves a tug of war between two conflicting principles: free press and free trial, in both of which the public are vitally interested. The freedom of the press stems from the right of the public in a democracy to be involved on the issues of the day, which affect them. This is the justification for investigative and campaign journalism.

At the same time, the Right to Fair Trial, i.e., a trial uninfluenced by extraneous pressures is recognized as a basic tenet of justice in India. A journalist may thus be liable for contempt of Court if he publishes anything which might prejudice a 'fair trial' or anything which impairs the impartiality of the Court to decide a cause on its merits, whether the proceedings before the Court be a criminal or civil proceeding.

In Zahira Habibullah Sheikh v. State of Gujarat, the Supreme Court explained that a:
Fair trial obviously would mean a trial before an impartial Judge, a fair prosecutor and atmosphere of judicial calm. Fair trial means a trial in which bias or prejudice for or against the accused, the witnesses, or the cause which is being tried is eliminated.

Media Trial v/s Right To Be Represented

Through media trial, we have started to create pressure on the lawyers even: to not take up cases of accused, thus trying to force these accused to go to trial without any defense. Is this not against the principles of natural justice?

Every person has a right to get himself represented by a lawyer of his choice and put his point before the adjudicating court and no one has the right to debar him from doing so. For an instance, when eminent lawyer Ram Jethmalani decided to defend Manu Sharma, a prime accused in a murder case, he was subject to public derision. A senior editor of a television news channel CNN-IBN called the decision to represent Sharma an attempt to defend the indefensible.

Is Media Trial A Contempt Of Court?

Trial by Media is Contempt of Court and needs to be punished. The Contempt of Court Act defines contempt by identifying it as civil and criminal.

Criminal contempt has further been divided into three types:
  1. Scandalizing
  2. Prejudicing trial, and
  3. Hindering the administration of justice.
Prejudice or interference with the judicial process:
This provision owes its origin to the principle of natural justice; 'every accused has a right to a fair trial' clubbed with the principle that 'Justice may not only be done it must also seem to be done'. There are multiple ways in which attempts are made to prejudice trial. If such cases are allowed to be successful will be that the persons will be convicted of offences which they have not committed. Contempt of court has been introduced in order to prevent such unjust and unfair trials.

No publication, which is calculated to poison the minds of jurors, intimidate witnesses or parties or to create an atmosphere in which the administration of justice would be difficult or impossible, amounts to contempt. Commenting on the pending cases or abuse of party may amount to contempt only when a case is triable by a judge. No editor has the right to assume the role of an investigator to try to prejudice the court against any person.

Bed Impact of Media trial
Pro-Plaintiff Media Bias

Litigation involving well-known companies or individuals always has grabbed the attention of the news media, especially when it involves sensational charges. The magnitude of the coverage and the filter through which the media reports on litigation can create a clear plaintiff bias in civil cases.

While small companies can find themselves under the media spotlight in a particularly novel or bet the company suit, the media tends to focus on allegations against established and respected corporate defendants. These larger companies tend to have household names, and allegations against them can make good copy: even if the allegations are seemingly spurious, commonplace or unproven. The same is true for litigation involving celebrity defendants.

The Nature of Bias in High-Publicity Cases
A larger issue is the complex nature of juror bias and how that bias predisposes a juror toward one side in a case. It is no secret that we all have biases. The difficulty comes from understanding how those biases may ultimately affect the viewing of evidence and the deliberations in a case. Judges are also Human Beings they too care about the reputation and promotion. That time is gone when judges are not considered as social because it will harm their reputation.

Now days Judges are social and being an human being they care about their promotions and remunerations. In high profile cases they tend to be bias and give verdict as per as media reports just to be in lime light. This will surely help them to get a promotion before other competitive judges. Media is so much into our daily life's that judges too can't stay away from it and they usually tend to give verdict as per media reports.

The Additional Pressure on Judges in High-Publicity Trials
The media create a series of unconscious pressures on a juror in a high-profile trial. Jurors know that they are being watched by the world. They are not only making a decision for themselves, but they are making a statement for their family, co-workers, community, and society as a whole. This elevates their verdict to a level beyond the evidence.

Though media act as a watchdog and act as a platform to bring people voice to the notice of society and legislatures. But now days media is so much sensationalized and they just do for their salaries and TRP's. There are few reporters those showing only those news for what they have been paid by political parties.

From the above account it becomes clear that the media had a more negative influence rather than a positive effect (except for a few exceptions here and there). The media has to be properly regulated by the courts. The media cannot be granted a free hand in the court proceedings as they are not some sporting event.

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