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Media Trial And Its Impact On Evidence

Whenever a sensational or a controversial or a case with high profile parties come to a court for trial, it enhances the excitement within the general public and they desire to know and keep themselves updated with every little improvements made by the court during the proceedings, or any new evidence which is discovered by the investigating team, or any person's name coming out to be potential accused etc.

The news channels and newspapers or websites quench this thirst created amongst the general public by publishing news, articles etc which consist of their own version of the facts of the case which may vary from the actual facts, even if it is rarely.

When an individual views such a story or reads such an article, they begin to form a perspective based solely on those stories and articles and start to see the person being tried as the accused or innocent, depending on what is fed by the channels and papers, to them. And that is done before the court could give a verdict on the case, or on the stance of that person in relation to the case. This entire process of influencing is in totality, termed as 'media trial'. In other words, the process of declaring the accused as convict without even the court giving its judgment is called media trial.

There have been a lot of cases in India, the final verdict for which was very evidently affected by this process of media trial, like the infamous Aarushi murder case, Jessica lal murder case, the very recent Sushant Singh Rajput's death case etc.

However, media trial is also justified as a Freedom of press, so it created contrasting views in this manner.

Research Questions
  1. Does Media trial affect the evidentiary aspect of a case?
  2. Does the Indian Judiciary let Media trial prevail over evidence law?
  3. Is Media trial justifiable under law?

Evidentiary aspect of a case
Meaning
In order to prove the existence of an element, or that a particular event taken place, or for the validation, there is required to be an 'evidence' which provides certification for the same. The law of evidence comprises of all the principles and rules that regulate the proof of facts in any legal proceeding. It is because of these rules, that the fact that what elements are to be and not to be considered to reach a conclusion by the trier. Generally, this trier is referred to as the judge who tries the case. In addition to that, these set of rules also help to determine the quantity and quality of the proof that can be admitted in the court.

Every time a dispute or a case reaches the court to try it, there are going to be number of issues which a party will have to prove or disapprove in order to let the court reach a verdict, and this approval or disapproval of a fact is done with the help of evidence.

Media trial intervening
The validation of evidence becomes questionable once the evidence forming the essence of a case, whether civil or criminal, is intervened by the media trial procedure. There have been instances where it had been established by the Judiciary as well. For instance, the Bhima-Koregaon case, where few activists were arrested with an allegation of sharing links with Maoists by the Maharashtra police. In this case, the leads found for the case were leaked as a result of media trial.

The 13 letters which were subject to investigation seemed to give away vital information about the operations of the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist) got leaked to the reporters and created a chaos in the entire proceedings of the case. The Bombay High court had to come out to take a stand and it criticized the act of leaking the letters to the general public. As a result of this whole chaos, the court had to drop the letters to be considered as primary evidence before making any improvement in the case. And the letters were not submitted as evidence in the court.

The Hon'ble court also said that:
“the use of electronic media by the investigating arm of the state which did the task of influencing public opinion during the pendency of the investigation completely subverts the fairness of the investigation.”

Therefore, it cannot be denied that the intervention done by the media has so impact upon the evidence of a case and subsequently the entire proceedings of a case that is pending in the court for trial.

Indian Judiciary's stance
The entire procedure of media influencing the general public results in creating a pre-judice. This pre-judice is created not only in the minds of viewers or readers but to a large extent, to the judges as well. It becomes the responsibility of the judges and the courts to not let the blind items published in a certain high-profile case, to affect the final verdict. However, in the judicial history of India, there have been cases where the inclination was slightly towards what was influenced to be believed than the actual evidences found.

In the infamous Aarushi-Hemraj double murder case, where a teen was found to be in a pool of blood on her bed and dead one morning. The housekeeper who was being suspected to have murdered her was also found dead on the terrace the same day.

The media tried its best that was possible to glorify such an intense case and project it to the general public. According to the facts of the case, it was proved that there were no witnesses for the incident still, in spite of that, the public is well aware of every detail that had happened that night.

The evidentiary perspective of the case was compromised in a manner:
  1. It was alleged that the father (Mr. Rajesh Talwar) had seen both the deceased in a 'compromising position' in her bedroom and out of grave and sudden provocation he killed them both. Then the incident followed up with the dressing up of the crime scene by the Father with the help of his wife. However, if refer to the report given by the CBI, there was no evidence at all that could prove the presence of Hemraj's blood in Aarushi's room which directly questions the motive of grave and sudden provocation.
     
  2. Another fact that was established was that since the door was locked from the outside and it was alleged that the apartment was no accessible for entrance from any other side, not even the terrace. And so a conclusion was reached that there was no signs of forced entry in the apartment, and hence, the only ones who could make the murders happen were Mr. Talwar assisted by Mrs. Talwar.
The incomplete and unreasonable trial done by the media resulted in to convincing the viewers about the guilt of the parents to such an extent where they demanded for a trial of the case by the Judiciary not to examine the evidence (since they were already examined by the media) but just for a legal formality done to convict the murderers i.e. the parents. This projection also helped the prosecution to prove their point who also started to demand a 'speedy justice' even if the evidence that was produced by them was insufficient to hold up the scrutiny.

In another infamous case i.e. Jessica lal murder case, the epitome of media trial was seen to be established in this country. In this case, one night, at a very high profile party which was attended by all the A list businessmen, industrialists, fashion tycoons etc, when a spoilt 20 years old who was also a party leader's son was refused to be re-served with alcohol by the deceased who was the bar-maid there, he took out a pistol from his pocket and air shot the first time to scare her, but when she refused doing that in spite of that, he shot her in the head and she died on the spot.

The media channels in this case, started its trial by scooping out the truth behind the rumored commissions and bribes which were taken by the father of the accused. However, the media did not stop here. At a point, they themselves started to gather the evidence and began to pick up where the police had left off.

They also called out to the public to act upon the situation and encouraged them to write emails and send texts directly to the station regarding their approach related to the trial. The major question here is that why the accused was acquitted by the Trial court and then convicted by the High court without any changes in the facts.

When looking into the evidentiary perspective of the case:
  1. The car which was used by the accused to reach the restaurant was not recovered on the spot and so the court had no evidence regarding the means through which the accused got to the spot;
  2. The alleged weapon that was used by him to shoot the deceased was never recovered from the spot; and so the court has no evidence to equate he fatal bullets with the gun that the accused owns;
  3. The floor of the restaurant was washed all clean and so there was lack of evidence to show if there was pool of blood;
  4. There was again lack of evidence to prove that whether there was any celebration going on at the said time and day at that place.

The trial court, even in the absence of conclusive or any hard evidence, had reached a conclusion by factually wrong finding to the effect that she thought that he had fired a shot at the deceased so the High court had to undo all the errors that Trial court had done as a result of the facts which were presented by media channels. These channels however, were rejoicing about the 'success' that they had achieved by bringing justice to the Jessica lal's case.

The Supreme Court however approved the High court's judgment and that it has analyzed all the evidence aptly and arrived at a correct conclusion and that there had been a few interventions by the 'trial done by media' but it could be believed that it did not affect the decision of the Hon'ble court.

Is media trial justifiable under law?
The framers of our Constitution gave a large importance to the concept of democracy. In fact, Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution ensures the freedom of speech and expression which also includes freedom of press within its scope. This article has given rise to a fourth pillar of democracy i.e. Media or press. It is very important for the media of a country to function in a very independent, free and powerful manner as it forms the basic essence of a democratic country.

Also, the media is not only in charge of being a platform where an individual can express their feelings but also accountable to build views of people on various topics which are of national interest and also the international agendas. It is the watchdog of different functionaries of the society and also an important element to eliminate the wrongs in our system by getting them to everyone's knowledge.

In few cases, even the judicial part of the state has benefited from the ethical and fearless journalism which resulted in taking cognizance of the matters.

Hence, the role of media is indubitable when it comes to being a strong representative of the democracy.

However, it still does not justify the unreasonable dealings.

An individual has an absolute right to free trial which cannot be denied. There are ways in which media has also resulted in prejudice fail. The media channels also try to create a prejudice in the minds of the viewers and readers and probably, also to the minds of the judges to a great extent. It also results into creating 'contempt of court', which is a concept established as a result of such unfair and unjust trials. No publication, which is calculated to poison the minds of juries, intimidate witnesses or parties or to create an atmosphere in which the administration of justice would be difficult or impossible, amounts to contempt.

Commenting on the pending cases or abuse of party may amount to contempt only when a case is triable by a judge.

No editor has the right to assume the role of an investigator to try to prejudice the court against any person.

As guaranteed by the Constitution, the parties to a case have an absolute right to fair trial by a tribunal which is completely impartial and not influenced to any extent by the media channels or newspapers. This right is sure going to be affected when the press starts to use a language that results in influencing and control the judicial wing. The concept of 'denial of a fair trial' has been established by the authoritative judicial pronouncements as a safeguard in a criminal trial.

Conclusion
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. There have been so many cases that provided for instances of media trial in this country.

The recent on was the Sushant Singh's death case where the alleged accused i.e. his girlfriend rhea was forced to file a plea in the Supreme court against the unfair media trial and that how she had been projected by the media as the murderer of the deceased. The media channels had projected the mysterious death of the actor as a 'murder' and rhea as the 'murderer' up until the day the Viscera reports had given an affirmation to the death being a suicide.

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.

Hence, it can be said that if given with a responsibility, one has to use it responsibly.

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