Media Trials and its Implications on the Legal System

Media and Entertainment has been an important contributing industry in India, especially as a developing country. While Indian media was introduced in the 18th century, it only took off in the late 1930s, at a time of revolution and when all eyes were on India during our fight for independence. Over the years, telecasting, news channels, news applications and even so far as social media has become the main platforms for people to read the news and on-goings in the country. Essentially, the core purpose of the media is to deliver affairs, educate people, and efficiently portray the good, the bad, and the ugly. However, since the late 2000s, Indian media has not only diverged from its very purpose but also received heavy criticism for their doings. News channels and journalists are being exploited and put on the burning front-line day by day and while India is regarded one of the largest democracies in the world, the country was also ranked 136 out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index in 2017. However, the criticism is not completely unjustified. The Legal System today is facing a complex challenge with the Indian Media, mainly for their aberrations in reportage.

Media and Entertainment[Image Source : Shutterstock]

Media Trials and its implications in the Legal system

Media and Entertainment has been an important contributing industry in India, especially as a developing country. While Indian media was introduced in the 18th century, it only took off in the late 1930s, at a time of revolution and when all eyes were on India during our fight for independence. Over the years, telecasting, news channels, news applications and even so far as social media has become the main platforms for people to read the news and on-goings in the country.

Essentially, the core purpose of the media is to deliver affairs, educate people, and efficiently portray the good, the bad, and the ugly. However, since the late 2000s, Indian media has not only diverged from its very purpose but also received heavy criticism for their doings. News channels and journalists are being exploited and put on the burning front-line day by day and while India is regarded one of the largest democracies in the world, the country was also ranked 136 out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index in 2017. However, the criticism is not completely unjustified. The Legal System today is facing a complex challenge with the Indian Media, mainly for their aberrations in reportage. While freedom of speech is a right and the basis of our democratic nation, to protect the peace, sovereignty, order and integrity, the enjoyment of this right cannot be of excessive or arbitrary nature. The media has during several instances conducted what is referred to as ‘Media Trials’, where the due process of law has been interrupted due to the media taking matters into their own hands without authorization by Courts. The Digital News Report 2021 concluded that 73% of the Indian population consumes news through social media and their smartphones typically, this highlights the massive influence that false allegations and media trials can have on the general population. An example of the same is the infamous 2010 Jessica Lal dispute, where the media not only indulged in misrepresentation but also televised and broadcasted the accused and decided, without a lawful judgement pronounced by the concerned Court, that the accused was guilty. The Delhi High Court in Sushil Sharma v, The State (Delhi administration) & Ors (1996) stated that judgements and convictions will not be based on the media’s trials, but on the basis of the process of law and natural justice. However, since more than 70% of the population relies on the media as their source of information, it is becoming more and more challenging to protect the process of law and regulate the kind of information published or released by the media, in such instances, where media trials or false information is spread, violent protests have erupted and confidential information has been leaked, in cases with juvenile convicts, their identity being revealed is also at high risk, these are only a basic premise of the issues that come forth, this not only causes civil unrest but inevitably interrupts the proceedings and process of law.

While the focus should be on misrepresentation and defamation by the media, it has shifted to accusing activists, politicians, and citizens of Sedition. Thus, to protect the integrity of the law, there has been heavy discussion over the constitutionality of media trials. Article 19 of the Constitution of India states that all citizens have the right to freedom, Article 19(1) states that any person(s) has the right to receive, seek, give out or impart information as they please to do so, Freedom of Press, although not a separate right guaranteed, comes under Freedom in article 19 itself, the Supreme Court of India has recently begun taking stringent action against conduction of media trials or any defamatory information published on all platforms (television, articles, videos, newspapers, social media posts) and informed the Media time and again of the consequences in partaking in the miscarriage of justice, in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India (2015), the Supreme Court boiled down the elements to right of free speech and freedom of press to the very core and reiterated the conditions under which incitement, advocacy or administration of media trials can be sanctioned under the law, and in Manu Sharma v. State (NCT of Delhi) (2010) the Supreme Court referred to the ‘Nature of Judicial Process’, emphasizing on the importance of striking down media trials and providing the Courts with deserved respect and integrity to apply the course of law and justice.

Media Trials v. Fair Trials

Article 14, Article 19, Article 20, Article 21, and Article 22 of the Constitution give any individual the right to a fair trial, without external interruptions or disruptions to the law and principle of justice. The Courts have indulged in the significant difference and ramifications of a media trial as compared to that of a fair trial. Media trials have been found to affect not only the final judgement, but it also impacts the ‘middlemen’ in a dispute, it was during the Jessica Lal case when Mr. Ram Jethmalani was set to defend Manu Sharma, the accused, when a senior editor of a news channel stated in an outright manner that this was only ‘defense of the indefensible’, this not only proposed to a very large audience, albeit, hundreds of thousands of citizens that the accused was guilty but it also set forth a dangerous presumption, encroaching upon an individual’s right to representation and the right to an absolute fair trial. Following this, media trials were declared to be a contempt of court and the Court held that prompt action would be taken in the instance of the same again.

Conclusively, while it has been proposed that even more stringent restrictions be put forth to eradicate the concept of media trials, another path could also be the criminalization of media trials as a whole, legalization of the same give the media indefinite power and hold over the Courts and the Constitution as well.

Conclusion:

It has been proved time and again that media trials have done more damage than good, in any given situation, and the results of the same are not only dangerous but extremely damaging and derogatory to the very purpose the Courts work, day-in-and-day-out for.

Author: Anushka Abhijit Bora, A Student of Symbiosis Law School, Pune,  in case of any queries please contact/write back to us via email to chhavi@khuranaandkhurana.com or at  Khurana & Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorney.

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