Critically Examining the Intersection of Media Coverage and Freedom of Expression: Implications for Judicial Integrity


In more recent times, it has become more and more difficult to keep the concept of media trials, which is indirectly connected to the fundamental human rights, to the back of one’s mind. This situation will display a complicated interplay between the mentality of the media to spread the news and the primary goal of society to protect the liberties of individual people. The trials dominated by the media, which is known for emphasizing the sensational elements of the judicial process, have turned out to be an essential factor in the freedom of speech and expression. This development connotes ethical challenges regarding the judicial systems’ impartiality and raises such important queries about the balance between the media’s right to report and the right of people to a true and fair trial. Therefore, we can conclude that the complicated role of social media during the legal processes is more than just spreading information. In fact, it is a complex endeavour that consists of a number of processes, from the legal proceedings, public perception, and even the underpinning principles of justice and democracy.[1]

Media Trial Defined

Information showing and Rationalization of blitzkrieg represents the situation when media are stimulated by sensationalism and commercial factors to spread mass information about legal cases and therefore to have a great positive impact on society. It is through the aggressive watering to information whose characteristics include the dramatization, selective characteristics of reporting and the escalating of subjective details. Along the lines of this procedure, media outlets tend to lean heavily on narrative-driven narratives they believe are capable of eliciting the maximum possible shares of audience or sales of newspapers. Hence, it should be inferred that media trials can play a crucial role in public scenery but it can create independent perceptions of already concluded situations or bias. The influence of media trials carries across into other aspects of the legal realm and may thus adversely hinder the impartiality of jurors, form an basis for judicial leaning short of judicial isolationism. This phenomenon therefore is an entity of multiple facets with significant effects on the fairness of the legal system as well society’s general principles of justice and equality.

Freedom of Speech and Expression

With no power, the freedom of expression and speech is one of the cherished pillars of democracies as it is expressed in various constitutions around the world. In India, this right stands under Article 19(1)(a) that secures to all of us the freedom of speech and expression, which is the part and parcel of the constitution. This constitutional article manifests a state’s acknowledgement of the fact that everyone possess an innate freedom to express his subjective views, opinions, and concepts without the fear of being approached by the government or be oppressed.

[Image Sources: Shutterstock]

Media Coverage

With the development of democracy approaching, the freedom of expression has gashed profound significance to stimulate a healthy public discourse and a vibrant democracy. It is the foundation of a non-restrictive and plural society where – although various opinions may exist, they can be fruitfully engaged in debates resulting in common interests for the nation and its citizens. Freedom of speech and expression enables the citizens to partake actively in the political process and speak up by raising grievances, scrutinizing authority, and contributing to social transformation. This right guarantees the inclusivity and accessibility to the information as well as ideas by allowing them to roam around freely. Thus, this right contributes to knowledge dissemination, scientific advancement, and cultural exchange promotion.

The Court has rendered this principle even more often to remind the society that the speech and expression freedom is the crucial component of the democratic environment. It has been significant in the sense that this right is not absolute but is another right subject to reasonable restrictions such as public order, decency and morality of India as well as its sovereignty and integrity of a country. Nevertheless, any measurement should be done based on necessity and proportionality, thus allowing neither realisation of the property nor the development of the area to be overestimated.[2]

Impact on Judicial System

  • Media trials, however, turn out to be serious deterrents rendering it very challenging to ensure the principle of justice. The unprecedented extent of media presence and of the media coverage you can call sensationalised gives the opportunity to influence public perception, sometimes even to do it selectively or distort it. Consequently, such influence can be passed on to potential jurors or judges and thus weakening the fairness and integrity of the judicial system.
  • Influencing Public Opinion: Media trials have the ability to alter public perception due to the selective presentation of important details, news sensationalization, and the framing of narratives that may lead to having a priori assumptions among the audience. This occurs when a bias and prejudicial case is portrayed in the media hence, people start judging those involved in legal cases by media trial rather than by their peers who are impartial jurors. The public will increasingly get polarized leading to a situation where the judges will have to decide according to already pre-designed narratives compromising the notions of justice.
  • Swaying Potential Jurors: Disproportionally portrayed news might impinge on the juror’s ability to make informed judgments. The juror may be biased even before court proceedings start and hence may wrongly assume the guilt or the innocence of the accused A very intensive media expose to the prospective jurors might make them biased to believe some of these cases at trial Instead of making an impartial decision based on the evidence presented in the court. Here “pressuring publicity” is the term to refer to the kinds of public [3]media release which might end up with the destruction of the entire jury pool, therefore, the defendant’s right to equal trial is challenged.
  • Impact on Judicial Decision-Making: The media approach is not free from influence on judges who are the same as everyone else. Despite this, judges should make their judgments solely on the merits of evidence and the applicable law. Nevertheless, the media coverage, particularly in high-profile trials, could introduce psychological forces that could subconsciously affect the judge’s decisions making. Judges might unintentionally be [the victims of’] external power(s) or public opinion influence, resulting in biased or other form of misjustice if not prevision. It might happen to meet up with the public expectations.

Jessica Lal Murder Case

The surface of this case is in Jessica Lal, which occurred in the year 1999 and was in the spotlight because it to be a high-profile one and some powerful people were involved.
Jessica Lal, a model and bartender, one night of the Manu Sharma, son of a popular politician, was shot at a social gathering at a famous restaurant in Delhi when she refused to serve him a drink. Indeed, the media attention to this case was exaggerated with the press focused on the backgrounds of the individuals charged. The other thing to consider in this case is that the students charged were rich and popular which introduced a situation that was full of privilege and connections with some powerful people. The heavy publicity surrounding the case and the turmoil that had creeped into society had set the public mood against the accused. A serious case of public outrage and thirst for justice had been lit. Although Manu Sharma was charged the offense with prosecution providing logically persuasive prove, he was absolved in 2006 by the trial court on allegation that there exist no reliable evidence and witnesses. That was the acquittal which hardly amazed anyone and drew votes against the notion of such impact Ness of riches and political intrigue upon the judicial structure.

Nevertheless, after a review of the case and a public reaction, Delhi High Court nullified acquittal by the lower court’s decision in 2006 that he had committed murder and sentenced Sharma to life imprisonment. The Jessica Lal case serves as a paradigm of how sensationalized media coverage could create pressure for the judicial system causing judges to conclude excessively which contributes to delaying justice.[4]

Aarushi Talwar-Hemraj Murder Case

The Aarushi Talwar-Hemraj Fatal Case that was witnessed in year 2008 made all the people interested in the stories by its exciting details and repetitive mysteries. Aashi Talwar, a young girl was found in Noida Indian state Uttar Pradesh. The girl is stolen away, after his death father and his family will suffer the pain. The servant of the family’s house domestically, Hemraj, was on the terrace’s body a day later. The case received a considerable of attention from which the coverage was focalized on sensationalist, speculative and reports without confirmation.

The outlandishness of the TV show #MeToo came powerfully to the forefront of public consciousness, and the identity of the culprits ignited huge onslaught of visitor interest and commentaries among citizens. Unfortunately, the material evidence did not help to conclusively identify any particular person with the murder, however, the media itself influenced the perception of society and contributed to the escalation of the rumors and conspiracy theories.

The sentencing by trial court which convicted the parents of Aarushi namely Rajesh and Nupur Talwar by judging them based on circumstantial evidence led to another point which emphasizes the evil effect of mediatized coverage on judicial process. However, the reasons of the Allahabad High Court in 2017 to overturn the trial court’s decision have been neither fully understood by the public nor been accepted worldwide. The court repeatedly pointed that the ceiling was not closed by the experienced doctors and, consequently, the doctor’s observations are doubtful. The matter of Aarushi Talwar-Hemraj murder enlightens us the potential and power of media sensationalism. It has shown that media can lead to wrong ideas at all stages and miscarriages of justice.[5]

Despite constitutional guarantees and legal safeguards, the pervasive influence of media sensationalism presents several obstacles that need to be addressed:

  • Pre-Trial Publicity: The media whistle-whistles before a trial in which process is suspended. As the media often provide the public with sensationalized reporting, public opinion is affected. The jurors’ decision might even become prejudiced. The difficulty of unseeing a bias due to pre-trial publicity will make it a challenge to get a jury that can be impartial and it will also taint the right of the defendant to a fair trial
  • Judicial Independence: The task of judges is to deliver judgements that are independently impartial and are not affected by external factors, such as media influence or public mood. Nevertheless, the sensationalism of reporting can be seen as a not so evident force that the judge’s magistrates are unconsciously exerted into and can result to the tainting of their judgements or a sort of bias.
  • Witness Intimidation and Tampering: The media trials tend to intimidate witnesses and may prevent them from getting ready for testimony and uttering what is exactly what is on their minds. Witnesses are afraid of being reprimanded, or get into the limelight. This is a risk of not emphasizing on the real details of the case as they may not be ready to confess a severe crime. Justice becomes hard to be access when a witness decides not to do so.
  • Presumption of Innocence: The media, have their own way for covering sensationalized news and unfairly assume an individual’s guilt, thus, contradicting the sacred principle of judging the accused innocent until proven guilty. Biased reporting can run the risk of real miracles to the reputations of the accused who are then likely to suffer from public opinion, covering the possibility of the fair trial.
  • Misinformation and Sensationalism: The media trials tend to be sensational and focused on to score big in the sensationalism section. The factual correctness is often traded to have a sensational heading. Falsehood and recounting of stories can contaminate public debate, awaken emotions and, among other things, capsize man’s judgment of innocence or guilt.

 Balancing Freedom of Speech and Fair Trial Rights

In democratic societies, this is resolved by gold standards: a balance between free speech and the right to a fair trial, the principles of justice and freedom are concurrent aspects. Free speech plays a pivotal role in advancing intellectual and political discourse while allocating responsibility among citizens. With the latter, on the other hand, justice is maintained by establishing a firm rule of law and judicial system integrity. Then again, the rights of an accused and the protection of fair trial can create a crossover, which causes problematic issue as it can hinder the impartiality and equity of the justice system.

One such option that could help in resolving this crisis may be through imposing responsible reporting policies on news media agencies that report on legal cases. These standards shouldn’t overlook the facts, be objective and don’t influence the defendant’s right to a fair trial. Media organizations are advised against the use of any exaggeration of the facts, spread of information that could bias the potential jurors or any insinuation as presented by facts on whether an individual has committed that offence or not. On the other hand, journalists ought to emphasize the aspect of being fair and factual. This means they should report news in a manner that also conforms with the rules of ethics and integrity. First, media should be responsible in reporting legal proceedings so as to uphold the essence of what justice entails without influencing the actual administration of law. Besides, the establishment of transparency and accountability systems will assist a great deal in keeping the media strictly accountable in their dealing with legal affairs. Apart from media organizations issues, they need to develop internal protocols for corroborating and fact check, issuing corrections and clarifications in a timely manner, and ensure those accused have the chance to explain their side. Teams in existence are such as working bodies, consisting of officials of the media, justice system and civil society, could take media monitoring of legal phenomena and try all those that report unethically or unfairly. The media regulation mechanisms would hold media outlets responsible for the way they meet their reporting obligations, thus providing an incentive for the responsible journalism to increase and the risk that the proceedings of the courts might be influenced by the media, therefore, reduce.

Educating the media literacy and the public as to how the legal process works can make the citizens informed enough to differentiate between the truth and the lies of the media in such cases. Educational measure such as fair trial rights trainings, presumption of innocence, and journalist taking the lead in shaping a wholesome public perception can create a more knowledgeable populace. Enabling the public to have access to the knowledge and the know-how needed for being rational in the intensity of the media coverage thus can be among the main areas of such initiatives, as the latter can reduce the perceptions of guilt or innocence a suspect might have been exposed to.


the sometimes implication of media trials with free speech and freedom of expression has brought numerous and complex difficulties to the justice systems all over the world and in India as well. Speaking freely is one of the key principles in democracy but it should come hand in hand with the right to a fair trial to maintain the reputation and reliability of the court. In striking the balance between freedom of speech and judicial integrity, this study has illustrated the requirement for pro-active steps, which should be taken to mitigate risks, that arise from sensationalized reporting. Good reportage guide-lines, open reporting mechanisms and people’s awareness are likely the well standing ways of dealing with media sensationalism and upholding the principles of impartiality and due process. Through cultivating a media framework of ethical journalism, ensuring accountability, and helping the public understand the rights to a fair trial, the different stakeholders are equal partners that can manage the tricky platform of freedom of expression and right to a fair trial. In the end, the fortification of these basic concepts is fundamental for letting the rule of law to be in effect, regarding the individual freedoms as birthrights and ensuring public belief in judicial system.

Author: ANISH KUMAR, in case of any queries please contact/write back to us via email to or at  Khurana & Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorney.


[2]  Dr. Ambedkar ‘s Speech in Constituent Assembly Debates, VII,980.




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