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The Courtroom And The Newsroom: Navigating The Fine Line Of Media Trials

India, as the world's largest democracy, has four essential pillars, namely the legislature, executive, judiciary, and media. Each of these pillars plays a crucial role in shaping the nation's governance and society. With the advent of technology and the internet, people have access to an unprecedented array of virtual media platforms.

The media is considered a vital and integral part of Indian democracy, with a crucial role in delivering news and shaping public opinion. However, with this power comes great responsibility, and the phenomenon of "media trials" has emerged as a cause for concern. The term refers to the impact that media coverage can have on an individual's reputation by spreading perceptions of guilt or innocence before or after a legal judgement has been made.

The former Chief Justice of India, Justice N.V. Ramana expressed his concern regarding media trials and remarked that the media was conducting kangaroo courts on issues that even experienced judges find difficult to decide. He further stated that ill-informed and agenda-driven debates on issues involving justice delivery are detrimental to the health of democracy. Biased views propagated by the media are affecting people, weakening democracy, and harming the system.

A fair trial should not be swayed by public opinion or outside forces. It should be performed with adequate evidence presentation and the provision of pertinent case-related facts. The Indian criminal justice system upholds the presumption of innocence, which means that unless and until someone is proven guilty, the court must follow the due process of law and presume the person innocent. The media's primary responsibility is to disseminate news, which indicates that they should refrain from rendering opinions on individual cases and instead stick to the facts and relevant information.

Indian courts have dealt with cases involving media trials for many years, and have often criticized the media for conducting trials by the press, particularly in high-profile cases where the media coverage can influence public opinion and potentially impact the outcome of a fair trial. The Arushi Talwar murder case is one such example of media trials.

In the Arushi Talwar Murder Case, a teenage girl was found dead on May 15th, 2008, by her parents, namely Dr. Rajesh Talwar and Dr. Nupur Talwar. Initially, the housekeeper was suspected of murder but subsequently found dead on the terrace. The reports of the CBI stated that the father, Dr. Rajesh Talwar, with the help of his wife, murdered their daughter and the housekeeper after finding them in a compromising position under grave and sudden provocation.

In the same report, the CBI stated that no blood sample of Hemraj was found in Arushi's room, so the motive for the grave and sudden provocation was void. The prosecution also failed to prove any circumstantial evidence against the Talwars. However, the media declared the parents guilty of murdering their daughter and the housekeeper and then plotting the scene of crime. The irresponsible behaviour of the media, with its speculation and prejudice about the case, shifted the radar from "justice for Arushi'' to "punishment for parents."

The law enforcement authorities improperly handled the case without conducting proper investigation, and the question remained unanswered: "Who killed Arushi Talwar?" The sessions court found the Talwars guilty of Arushi's murder and sentenced them to life imprisonment. The Talwars filed an appeal to the Allahabad High Court against this decision. In 2017, the Allahabad High Court pronounced its verdict by overruling the judgement of the sessions court and thereby acquitted the Talwars.

However, the perception of the people had already been moulded by the media's false facts and presentation of the case, which shifted the focus from the actual evidence presented in court to the media's sensationalised reporting. This highlights the problem of media trials in India, where the court of public opinion on the perception of justice and the functioning of the justice system in India.

The media's handling of the Sushant Singh Rajput case has been widely criticized for its sensationalist reporting and the promotion of baseless conspiracy theories. The media's portrayal of the case has contributed to the public's negative perception of several individuals involved in the case, including the accused, their families, and even the judicial system. This has led to a situation where the media's portrayal of the case has influenced public opinion and created an atmosphere of hostility and distrust towards the judiciary.

The Sushant Singh Rajput case has highlighted the need for responsible and ethical journalism in India. The media has a crucial role to play in shaping public opinion, and it is essential that it does so in a fair and impartial manner. The media must avoid sensationalism and focus on presenting facts rather than conjecture or speculation. It is also important for the media to respect the privacy and dignity of the individuals involved in the case, including the accused and their families.

In conclusion, media trials have become a significant concern in India, as they can influence public opinion and compromise the integrity of the justice system. It is important for the media to exercise restraint and avoid sensationalism in reporting on criminal cases. The media must respect the principle of innocent until proven guilty and avoid pre-judging cases before the courts have had a chance to review the evidence. By doing so, the media can play a constructive role in shaping public opinion and promoting a fair and impartial justice system in India.

Written By:
  1. Addvit Shrivastava
  2. Ankit Singh

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