Democracy is the rule of the people who have three strong pillars. But as Indian society has become somewhat unstable on its three legs (Executive, Legislature, and Judiciary), the media or press has emerged as the fourth pillar through the rights guaranteed under Article 19 of The Indian Constitution. The media plays a vital role of a watchdog on the other three pillars working as the functionaries of society. It tries to bring the wrongs in our system to the public's knowledge with the hope of correcting them.
The media revolution has resulted in great gains for the general public. The ethical and fearless journalism has aided the judiciary of the state in taking Suo-moto cognizance of the matters in various cases based on the press reports. Media has the power to influence and revolutionize masses. However, every coin has two sides. The increased role and importance attached to the media led to a competitive market, grabbing for the attention of viewers and readers. This often turns into a distortion of facts and sensationalization. It motivates the use of invasive news gathering practices, which tends to hinder the privacy of the people who are the subject of such reportage.
What is a media trial?
Media trial is where the media attempts to hold the accused guilty even before his trial and irrespective of any verdict in the court of law. The media broadly covers sub judice matters by publishing material and opinions detrimental to the interests of the parties involved in trial pending before the Courts.
Media has now reincarnated itself into a 'public court,' also known as "Janta Adalat." This means that the media is interfering with the court proceedings, pronouncing its verdict prior to the court's judgment. The principles of law do not approve of presuming the accused as guilty until proven. But the media is overlooking such basic and vital principles of law while declaring the accused as guilty. Adjudication by media in court cases has become a trend in the current scenario to boost the TRP of news channels. Media influences the masses by turning an innocent into a culprit, thus changing the perceptions.
Article 19(1)(a) of India's Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression to its citizens. It also provides for Freedom of Press to ensure democracy. The press has the right to obtain and report information. However, this right is not absolute. There are certain reasonable restrictions stated under Article 19(2), which includes defamation and contempt of court.
Impact of Media Trials
Though the media acts as a watchdog and creates a platform where the general public can know about the instances happening in society, it only leads to forming biases against one community or an individual. Media trials hinder the reputation of the alleged accused, causing a wrongful portrayal of him. It invades their privacy, creates prejudice in the viewers' perception, and often destroys their whole career.
Various Judges of Court have criticized the trial by media as it leads to psychological discrepancy while delivering any degree. Even the Supreme Court, in certain cases, has stated that such trial by the media and press leads to the miscarriage of justice.
Contempt of Courts
The Constitution of India provides the right to a fair trial to every citizen vide Article 14, Article 19, Article 20, Article 21, and Article 22. Article 129 and Article 215 of the Indian Constitution plays a vital role. Thus, every citizen has a basic right to a fair trial, uninfluenced by external sources.
Any publication which interferes with or obstructs any proceeding has been termed as contempt. Any such information published before the verdict of the court, any such acts that can mislead the public and violate the rights of the accused of a fair trial is a contempt under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. Thus, a journalist publishing any information that might go against the 'fair trial' of the accused may be held liable for the court's contempt. This kind of information may impair the neutrality of the court while delivering justice.
In this context, an observation was made by a Division Bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justices P. Sathasivam and Swatanter Kumar in their judgment in the Jessica Lal case whereby the duty and role played by the media while reporting a case was brought out stating that "Presumption of the innocence of an accused is a legal presumption and should not be destroyed at the very threshold through the process of media trial and that too when the investigation is pending. In that event, it will be opposed to the very basic rule of law and would impinge upon the protection granted to an accused under Article 21". The Bench cautioned that "every effort should be made by the print and electronic media to ensure that the distinction between trial by media and informative media is always maintained."
The Press Council of India has been established to regulate the press's power, preventing it from publishing prejudiced content and defaming people accused in any case. The content being publicized to the viewers remains under control. Any information against the law will come under the ambit of contempt. From the above-mentioned points, it can be said that the media has more of a negative influence than positive. Today's media is all about TRP and sensationalization. Though it acts as a watchdog, court proceedings are not something to interfere with. Thus, the media should be properly regulated by the court and punished for violating any basic code of conduct.
Alliance Univeristy, Bengaluru