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Media Trial in India

Introduction

Media verdicts known as media trials is a well-known term in the late 20th and early 21st centuries to describe the impact of television and newspaper coverage on an individual’s reputation, creating a widespread perception of guilt or innocence before or after a court verdict.[1] Increasing public curiosity can be expected whenever a sensational criminal case is heard in court. The media, including TV stations, newspapers, news websites, etc., start to disseminate their own version of events out of a desire for spectacular information. Investigative journalism is what they call it, and it is legal in India.

Impact of media trials:

The notion of the impact of trials in the media is such that the media has succeeded in portraying events that must remain secret. Although the media acts as a watchdog and provides us with a platform for people to find out what is going on in a society, it is important to realize that this has only resulted in the entire world being biased or turning against an individual community or individual person.  Trials in the media caused the alleged defendants to be misrepresented and helped destroy their careers simply because they were accused, even though they had not yet been found guilty by the court. Trials by media have always posed a certain problem because it is a tug-of-war between two different principles, free trial and freedom of the press, both of which are generally supported by the general public. As one of the four pillars of democracy, the media play important role in moulding and forming opinions in society[2]. Media is able to change the mentality of the masses through their point of view. So we need to understand what media trials are.

There are reasons why the media’s attention to certain cases is very impressively high. The reasons are –

  1. The cases may involve children or be so horrifying that the media finds it necessary to exaggerate the cases.
  2. The case may involve a prominent figure, like a politician or famous person either as a victim or as a defendant.

In such cases, the influence of the media could radically change society’s views.

Some famous cases of media trials are mentioned below:

  • Aarushi Talwar murder case [3]

Before the trial had started in the 2013 very famous murder case of Aarushi Talwar, the media had already determined who was guilty and who was not. The fact that her own parents were to blame for her death sparked widespread demonstrations, and the people lost control over the situation.

  • Delhi false sexual harassment case [4]

Jasleen Kaur, a lady from Delhi, India, accused Sarvjeet Singh of sexual harassment in 2015 by posting a picture of him on Facebook. The Facebook post gained attention, and the media picked it up labelling the man with terms such as “pervert” and “The Delhi Predator”. Four years later, he was cleared of all allegations and pronounced not guilty by the Delhi Court. However, the man lost his job during this time, and as a result of media coverage, he was unable to find another income source.

  • Jessica Lal murder case [5]

Manu Sharma, the son of former Congressional Union minister Venod Sharma, shot and killed model Jessica Lal in 1999 when she was working at a restaurant owned by socialite Bona Ramani after she refused to serve alcohol to him and his friends. This case became known immediately after the murder when the court acquitted the accused. This case became one of the main cases where public pressure and the media forced the judiciary to review this case a second time.[6] Jessica Lal’s killer, Manu Sharma, was honourably acquitted by the Magistrate’s Court and convicted of life imprisonment by the Delhi High Court following a media trial.

  • The Priyadarshini Mattoo case [7]

 Priyadarshini Mattoo a law student was found dead on 23 January 1996. The rapist and murderer of Priyadarshani, Santosh Singh, who used to stalk and harass her; strangled her by wrapping an electric wire around her neck [8]and also smacked her face with the helmet that made her face recognizable. He was sent to the Delhi Police in 2006 when the case was being investigated and was acquitted. The appeal against him stood in the High Court in Delhi for 6 years as the documents could not be translated from Hindi to English. But when the media picked up the case, Santosh Singh was declared guilty in a record 41 days. The death sentence was imposed by the Delhi High Court on 30 October 006, and it was eventually converted to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court. [9]

  • Sheena Bora murder case [10]

Indrani Mukerjea was arrested in 2012 on suspicion of killing Sheena Bora. In this case, the shocking revelation was that Sheena was the daughter, not the sister as Indrani Mukerjea stated. The media focused on this case, Indrani never accepted that he had two children and persisted in her claim that Sheena was her sister. The murder also brought to light the shady financial dealings of Indra Mukerjea and her husband Peter Mukerjea. They managed to manipulate the facts so that no case was opened against them for three years. Indrani Mukerjea’s character and personal life, all aspects unrelated to the Sheena murder investigation, have come under public scrutiny by the media. Journalistic ethics had again been the subject of controversial debate due to its interference in the personal affairs of the accused.

  • Sunanda Pushkar murder case [11]

On 17 January 2014, Sunanda Pushkar, the wife of former Union Minister Shashi Tharoor, was discovered dead under very mysterious circumstances in a hotel room at the Leela Palace in New Delhi. She had a Twitter argument with Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar the day before she was killed. The journalist’s tweets that suggested a relationship between the journalist and Sunanda Tharoor’s husband, Shashi Tharoor, were the focus of the argument. Her postmortem report stated that Sunanda died from a sleeping pill overdose; however, later in October, the medical team claimed they were under pressure to submit a false result. The case is still being investigated. Sunanda was allegedly poisoned and killed, but no one was ever arrested. Nobody has been detained as of yet in connection with Sunanda Pushkar’s murder. In the media trial, Shashi Tharoor was accused of killing the victim while the case was still being investigated and the judicial case had not yet begun. Following that, Shashi Tharoor faced numerous controversies.

  • Pramod Mahajan Killing

Pramod Mahajan, a prominent politician, was assassinated in broad daylight at his home by his younger brother Pravin. Pravin went to the closest police station after shooting and killing his brother and told the officers, “I’m Pravin… I shot Pramod.” The dysfunctional connection took shape throughout the trials and media publicity. Pramod raised him “like a lap dog,” Pravin claimed. Pravin was given a life sentence but passed away in March 2010 from what is believed to have been a cerebral haemorrhage.[12] Judge Kurian Joseph of the Supreme Court of India has said that the media’s assessment of ongoing cases amounts to contempt of court.[13]

Conclusion:

The major news networks violate the ethical code of contempt and sabotage the defendant’s career before a court finds him guilty. He is portrayed as an evil person during prime time when usually all the viewers are in front of their televisions. It is important to note that the idea of democracy is a game of fair play and transparency and such an act by the media puts the concept of democracy at stake. Freedom of the press is part of democracy in every country. At the same time, all accused and victims are entitled to a fundamental right to a fair trial.It became clear that media judgments had more negative than positive effects. Therefore, it is necessary to impose restrictions on it.

Author(s) Name: Anjali Sharad Fad (Department of Law, Mumbai University, Fort)

References:

[1] Nikitha Suresh and Lucy Sara George, ‘Trial by media: An overview’ (2018) 4 (2) IJLMH, 267-272

[2] Bhaswat Prakash, ‘Trial by media – a threat to our judicial system?’ (Legal service India) <www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-4292-trial-by-media-a-threat-to-our-judicial-system-.html> accessed 10 December 2022

[3] Nupur & Rajesh Talwar v CBI & Anr (2012) Review Petition (Criminal) No. 85/2012

[4] Sarvjeet Singh v State (NCT Delhi) (2015) Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 1598/2022

[5] Manu Sharma v State (NCT Delhi) (2010) Criminal Appeal No. 179/2007

[6] Vanya Verma, ‘Famous cases of Media trial in India’ (IPleaders, 10 March 2021) <https://blog.ipleaders.in/famous-cases-media-trials-india/> accessed 10 December 2022

[7] State (CBI) v Santosh Kumar Singh (2007) CriLJ 964

[8]Vanya Verma (n 6)

[9]Ibid

[10] Indrani Mukerjea v CBI (2012) Special Leave Appeal (Crriminal) No. 1627/2022

[11] Shashi Tharoor v Arnab Goswami and Anr (2017) CS(OS) No. 253/2017

[12] Vanya Verma (n 6)

[13] ‘Trial by Media is Contempt of Court’ (The Hindu, 02 August 2015) <www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/trial-by-media-is-contempt-of-court/article7491331.ece> accessed 10 December 2022.