In India, the criminal law system operates under the presumption of innocence before guilt is established beyond a reasonable doubt. The media goes to considerable pains to broadcast interviews with witnesses, relatives and friends of the victims, representatives of the legal system, etc., all of whom might potentially persuade the judicial mindset and alter the verdict of the trial due to their unique coverage. The rapid dissemination of news has an effect on popular sentiment. Over the past decade, the media has become increasingly influential in cases involving corruption, rape, murder, sexual harassment, terrorism, etc.
However, the media’s involvement might put pressure on the judging authorities to do the right thing for victims, who may impede the trial process or be biased against the accused, reducing the latter’s chances of proving his innocence. from a judge. In this article, the author will discuss the considerable amount of influence media trials has on the justice system of our country and the way in which it has impacted the final judgement of the court.
FREEDOM OF PRESS , MODERN MEDIA AND ITS INVOLVEMENT IN THE LEGAL SYSTEM
In today’s global society, press freedom is often seen as a proxy for citizen liberties. The right of every person to be informed about issues that may impact them is something that should go without saying. It’s interesting to ponder how the modern media has become such a potent force that it may shape public opinion by spreading false information that is subsequently accepted at face value.
For the sake of ratings, the media often portrays innocent people in a negative light, labelling them as guilty before a trial has ever begun. The most potent tool the media has to accomplish its job is the freedom to report the news. Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution guarantees a person’s right to free speech, although this freedom is not unlimited and is limited by statute. The media, despite the legitimate constraints on free speech and expression, is clearly guilty of violating Section 12 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 by interfering with the administration of justice in the name of its own trial. Even before a trial begins in court, the defendant is on trial in the court of public opinion. The media runs parallel processes to expand the movement or manipulate the legal system in cases involving arrest, bail, confessional statements, and interrogation. The trial court, which has a constitutional obligation to limit the impact of adverse publicity, is put under additional pressure.
While its true that the media and the courts serve the public interest and should be allowed to continue operating freely and without interference but the former must draw a line where it needs to give credible information to its viewers without interfering with the proper procedures of Courts. But sadly this has not been the case for many years and the media’s indulgence in high profile cases has been increasing day after day which is jeopardising the sanctity of justice along with creating an air of bias and prejudice mostly towards the accused party. The following section will discuss how media’s portrayal of the case’s events has impacted the significance of fair trial in courts.
INFLUENCE OF MEDIA TRIALS IN COURT CASES
It was discovered via the investigation that the media had presented biased accounts of events that may have been utilised in court, thus jeopardising a fair trial. Justice was long sought in high-profile cases like the the efforts of the media to uncover the truth played a crucial part in bringing about their successful resolution. Recent years have seen widespread praise for the media’s involvement in bringing about justice in high-profile cases such as the notorious Jessicalal Case and the Nirbhaya Case. After a lengthy wait in the Jessica Lal murder case in which all witnesses became hostile and the accused Manu Sharma was acquitted, justice was finally served thanks in large part to the efforts of the media, namely the justice for Jessica campaign and Tehalka.
In high-profile cases, the media often shapes public opinion while violating the most fundamental rights of the accused. Because of the intense public interest in the Sheena Bora murder case, the media has been scrutinising details of the accused’s life that have nothing to do with the trial. The media’s coverage of the Nanavathi case led to bias and swayed the jury’s verdict, interfering with the fair administration of justice. The press can obstruct justice when it scandalises judges, influences witnesses, tampers with evidence, and publishes disputed information about ongoing court cases. This involvement poses a danger to the proper functioning of the judicial system and the right to a fair trial as guaranteed by the Constitution.
Under the guise of a “Media Trial,” the media conducts its own investigation and turns public opinion against the accused long before the court takes jurisdiction over the case, prejudging the jury and the public against someone who should be found innocent. to the public’s view of a person’s guilt through press and media coverage, which might override any need for seclusion to protect a person’s image. In India, the criminal justice system operates under the presumption of innocence unless guilt is established beyond a reasonable doubt. As a result of their exclusive coverage, the media goes to great lengths to conduct the family of the victim, which adds to an emotional factor to the case which could be used as an unfair weapon to influence the members of the legal community and sway a judge’s opinion.
Since news quickly reaches the masses, this does have an effect on public opinion. The media’s role in facilitating victims is commendable as access to justice has grown significantly over the past several decades, impacting numerous instances including corruption, rape, sexual harassment, murder, etc. But every good deed shall be done within the limits of rules and regulations. The media should carry out its responsibility of providing accurate information about cases and keeping its audience informed about recent developments in accordance with the authority granted to it by our Constitution. However, it should not hold the reins of justice by holding its own trials and rendering verdicts in front of a court of law.
Trial by media has clear consequences, one may say. It must proceed with extreme care and caution. The answer is not to stifle press freedom totally, but to work toward making it more responsible. The media should not pass judgement on someone accused of a crime until their guilt has been established in a court of law. Any person who appears before the courthouse seeking redress should be afforded the due process of law. It matters how judges determine cases, to use Ronald Dworkin’s terms. And, talking about the world as it is, as has been reported herein previously, there is every risk that the media by establishing a ‘pressure situation’ may stifle the judicial process. The judiciary must ensure that the media is appropriately regulated. In addition to the foregoing, judicial procedures are not a sporting event and the media should not be permitted unfettered access to them.
Author(s) Name: Avantika Mandar Chavan (O.P Jindal Global University)