Tuesday, 15 February 2022

Trial by media

 Media trial

By Shreya Verma

Media is considered to be the fourth pillar of the government. It has time and again enlightened people and made them aware of what is going around in the world. It acts as a watchdog over the Government functioning and acts as a link between the people and the Government. However, every coin has two phases. And there have been instances where media has abused its powers and had led to gross injustice. For example, in November, 2008 Mumbai Attacks, live media reporting of the attacks facilitated the terrorists to track actions of the armed forces. Similarly, media is also said to influence delivery of justice through media trials.

The phrase “Media trial” derived its meaning from the case of Roscoe Arbuckle “Fatty” in 1921, who was discharged by the court of law, but had lost all his reputation & prestige along with his job after the media had declared him “guilty”. It refers to the impact of television and newspaper coverage on a person's reputation by creating a widespread perception of guilt or innocence before, or after, a verdict in a court of law. In India too there have been several cases where, the media intervened in judicial trials and have tampered in delivery of justice. For example, in Sheena Bohra murder case (2012), the excruciating eyes of the media have influenced the personal life of the main accused Indrani Mukherjee that arose a debate on the matter of media trial of the accused. In the awake of such cases the ethics of journalism were usually questioned. There have been instances of gross injustice as a result of unnecessary intervention of media. In another important case, The Jessica Lal murder case (2010), the media rejoiced over their efforts in bringing justice to Jessica Lal and the trial court.

Law Commission in its 200th Report (2006) under the Chairmanship of Justice M. Jagannath a Rao, gave certain recommendations, which are as follows:

  • To prohibit the publication of anything that is prejudicial to the reputation if accused- a restriction which shall from the mine of the arrest.

  • The starting point of a criminal case should not be from the filing of the charge sheet but from the time of arrest of an accused. The perception behind such an amendment is that it would prevent prejudicing or prejudging the case.

  • To address the damaging effect on the administration of justice of the sensationalized news reports.

  • The High Court is empowered to direct the postponement of the telecast or the publication in criminal cases and to prevent the media from restoring to such a telecast or publication.

Being a citizen of the country, we have the right to be informed about the various issues and events that have been taking place in the other parts of the country and that responsibility rests with the media and is well justified by the constitution. However, where it reaches the extent to create a prejudice in the minds of its viewers or the readers, it becomes unjustifiable. The media trial creates prejudice to such an extent where in order for an acquitted person to prove his innocence has to go to another extent because the 'reasonable doubt' set by these channels and papers is so high, that to prove innocence beyond it becomes an impossible task to do.

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