Media is regarded as one of the four pillars of democracy. And it plays a vital
role in molding the opinion of the society and it has the potential of changing
the whole viewpoint through which people make their perceptions on various
events. Media Trial describes the impact of television and newspaper coverage on
a person's reputation by creating a widespread perception of guilt irrespective
of any verdict in a court of law.
Media Trials can be traced back to the 20th century although the phrase Media
" had been coined lately but the phrase had derived its meaning from the
case of Roscoe Fatty
Arbuckle (1921) who was discharged by the court of law,
but had lost all his reputation & prestige along with his job after the media
had declared him guilty
. Another renowned case was the trial of O.J. Simpson
(1995), where the media had promoted the case and deeply influenced the minds of
the viewers even above the status of the court. It is obvious that media deeply
encourages or influences the views of public.
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. Sheena Bohra murder case is a famous case
in which the excruciating eyes of the media have influenced the personal life of
the main accused Indrani Mukherjea that arose a debate on the matter of media
trial of the accused. In the awake of such cases the ethics of journalism were
Media Trials v. Judiciary
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. There have been quite
infamous cases as well that outraged the public and impacted the Judiciary such
as The Jessica Lal case
(2010) where the media rejoiced over their efforts in
bringing justice to Jessica Lal and the trial court had acquitted the
accused of all the charges. The Priyadarshini Mattoo case
a law student was raped and murdered and the judgment of this case was suspected
to have been influenced by Media Trial.
The Bijal Joshi rape case and Nitish Katara murder case
gave credits to media
where the accused would have gone unpunished if media wouldn't had intervened.
But on the other side media also pinpointed innocent people in the case of Malegaon blast and Maria Susairaj case ignoring the importance of accuracy.
Even Judiciary is not free from faults. Judges and other judicial officers being
humans cannot be said to be free from faults either. They can also be subconsciously influenced
by media trials or media publicity. Therefore, it
becomes important to pass regulations with respect to media publicity while a
trial is going on or pending.
Freedom of Speech vs. Media Trials
Freedom of speech i.e. Article 19(1)(a) plays an important role in the formation
of public opinion on social, political and economic matters. Thus, it can be
said that freedom of speech is the mother of all other liberties. Complying to
the statement Justice Venkataramiah of the Supreme Court in Indian Express
Newspapers (Bombay) Pvt. Ltd. v. Union of India
(1984) has iterated:
"Freedom of press is the heart of social and political intercourse. The press
has now presumed the role of the public educator making formal and non-formal
education feasible in a large scale particularly in the developing world, where
television or modern communication devices are not still available for all
sections of society."
Sometimes where there has been high publicity of court cases, the media has
played a crucial role in creating panic among the viewers, making fair trial
nearly impossible. There have been grounds why the attention of the media around
certain cases is sensationally high. The grounds are:
- Cases could involve children or they could be so barbaric or gruesome
that the media considers it mandatory to sensationalize such cases.
- The case could concern a leading celebrity either as a victim or as an
In the cases where leading celebrities are involved, the influence of the media
could drastically change the opinion of the "fans" of such influential
celebrities. One such case has been Rhea Chakraborty v. State of Bihar
, 2020 (Sushant
Singh Rajput Death Case) where media had played a crucial role and the accused
raised the issue of media trials.
Interplay between Media Trial v. Fair Trial
At the same time, the "Right to Fair Trial", i.e., a trial uninfluenced by
extraneous pressures is acknowledged as a basic tenet of justice in India. Legal
provisions aimed at securing the said right are contained under the Contempt of
Courts Act, 1971 and under Articles 129 and 215 of Indian Constitution (Contempt
Jurisdiction that is; Power of Supreme Court and High Court to punish for
Contempt of itself respectively).
The major concern of media is the restrictions that are imposed on the
discussion or declaration of matters relating to the merits of a case pending
before a Court. A journalist can be held responsible for contempt of Court if he
publishes anything which prejudices a 'fair trial' that impacts the impartiality
of the Court to decide a cause on its merits, irrespective of the nature of the
proceeding whether civil or criminal?
Evidentiary aspect of a case Meaning
In order to prove the existence of an element, or that a particular event taken
place, or for the validation, there is required to be an 'evidence' which
provides certification for the same. The law of evidence comprises of all the
principles and rules that regulate the proof of facts in any legal proceeding.
It is because of these rules, that the fact that what elements are to be and not
to be considered to reach a conclusion by the trier. Generally, this trier is
referred to as the judge who tries the case. In addition to that, these set of
rules also help to determine the quantity and quality of the proof that can be
admitted in the court.
Every time a dispute or a case reaches the court to try it, there are going to
be number of issues which a party will have to prove or disapprove in order to
let the court reach a verdict, and this approval or disapproval of a fact is
done with the help of evidence.
Media trial intervening
The validation of evidence becomes questionable once the evidence forming the
essence of a case, whether civil or criminal, is intervened by the media trial
procedure. There have been instances where it had been established by the
Judiciary as well. For instance, the Bhima-Koregaon case
, where few activists
were arrested with an allegation of sharing links with Maoists by the
Maharashtra police. In this case, the leads found for the case were leaked as a
result of media trial.
The 13 letters which were subject to investigation seemed to give away vital
information about the operations of the outlawed Communist Party of India
(Maoist) got leaked to the reporters and created a chaos in the entire
proceedings of the case. The Bombay High court had to come out to take a stand
and it criticized the act of leaking the letters to the general public.
result of this whole chaos, the court had to drop the letters to be considered
as primary evidence before making any improvement in the case. And the letters
were not submitted as evidence in the court.
The Hon'ble court also said that:
The use of electronic media by the investigating arm of the state which did
the task of influencing public opinion during the pendency of the investigation
completely subverts the fairness of the investigation.
Therefore, it cannot be denied that the intervention done by the media has so
impact upon the evidence of a case and subsequently the entire proceedings of
a case that is pending in the court for trial.
Indian Judiciary's stance:
The entire procedure of media influencing the general public results in creating
a pre-judice. This pre-judice is created not only in the minds of viewers or
readers but to a large extent, to the judges as well. It becomes the
responsibility of the judges and the courts to not let the blind items published
in a certain high-profile case, to affect the final verdict. However, in the
judicial history of India, there have been cases where the inclination was
slightly towards what was influenced to be believed than the actual evidences
In the infamous Aarushi-Hemraj double murder case, where a teen was found to be
in a pool of blood on her bed and dead one morning. The housekeeper who was
being suspected to have murdered her was also found dead on the terrace the same
The media tried its best that was possible to glorify such an intense case and
project it to the general public. According to the facts of the case, it was
proved that there were no witnesses for the incident still, in spite of that,
the public is well aware of every detail that had happened that night.
Media trials often provokes the atmosphere of mob lynching or influences the
perception of general public but it also plays a very crucial role in moulding
the mindset of the present generation and does an outstanding job in bringing
the criminal on the hook. Although the mob mentality exists independently of the
media which merely voices the opinions which the public already has. Media also
assists with the problems arising due to the celebrities or corrupt people
bribing authorities in order to escape court trials and thereby fearlessly
bringing the truth into display in compliance with justice.
- Trial By Media and Trial of Media.
- Right to Privacy in Sting Operations of Media http://odisha.gov.in/e-
- Freedom of press in India : Constitutional Perspectives http://www.supremecourtcases.com/index2.php?option=com_conte
- Trial-By-Media: Derailing Judicial Process In India, K.G.
Balakrishnan, The Constitution, The Media And The Courts
- The Fourth K.S.
Rajamony Memorial Public Law Lecture, Kerala
Written By: Mohasina Mukhtar
- PhD Scholar, School of Legal Studies, RIMT University, Mandi Gobindgarh, Punjab, India.