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Role Of Media In Juvenile Justice

Juvenile delinquency has in recent years seen an ideological battle between the supporters of the reformative approach and those that want tougher laws bereft of separation between the Juvenile system and the regular criminal justice system. The media has been seen to play a pivotal role in this battle of ideologies. It has been a significant player in shaping the Juvenile Justice landscape across nations. This paper seeks to study the role of media in influencing the initiation of delinquency ,in the shaping of legislation and the creative use of media in the process of juvenile justice .

Media with its alluring mix of audio-visuals and special technological features has immense role to play in the development of our children.Media can, hence, give us a forecast of what the nature of our future society could be. The role of the media with respect to juveniles can be understood in many dimensions. This paper seeks to understand media influence on juvenile justice system in three aspects- one, the impact of mass media on children , two , the role played by media in shaping the legislation of juvenile laws and third, the use of media in the process of juvenile justice.

Media influences delinquency
The UNICEF in its State of the World's Children Report of 2017[2] , while taking a 360 view of children's interplay with media, apart from the questions of access and opportunity to children of safe engagement and learning vis a vis media, stresses the risks to which children are vulnerable when engaging with media in the digital environment of modern times. The report classifies risks into the broad categories of content risks ,contact risks and conduct risks involving a child as a recipient, as a participant or as a victim.

Content risks are those risks emanating from a situation where a child is exposed to unwelcome and inappropriate content such as sexual, pornographic and violent images, some forms of advertising and the advocacy of unhealthy, dangerous behaviours such as self-harm, suicide. In fact in recent years an online gaming programme called Blue whale was banned in India precisely because it's content encouraged suicidal behaviours. Contact risks involve risky communication, such as an adult seeking inappropriate contact or soliciting for sexual purposes, or with attempts of radicalization , etc. Conduct risks are the risks that arise when the child behaves in a way contributing to risky content or contact. Children writing or creating harmful material about children, inciting racism, etc.

In fact, child psychologists and researchers have for a long time voiced concerns as to how the media can have negative behavior on a child's development and behavior. Children, who observe (in the media or in the environment around them) others exhibiting a specific aggressive behavior, e.g. hitting, are more likely to perform the same aggressive behavior immediately. Exposure to media violence has been positively related to subsequent aggressive behavior, ideas, arousal, and anger. Jennings Bryant of the University of Alabama warns of the stalagmite effects, whereby cognitive deposits build up almost imperceptibly from the drip -drip- drip of television's electronic limewater.

Children cannot discriminate between reality and fantasy. They lack adult reasoning abilities and may perceive TV shows as being realistic and shape their behaviours accordingly�Adolescents who are exposed to violence or are victims of violence in their 40 homes or communities are more likely to use violence themselves .This goes to show that witnessing of violence is an important determinant of violent behaviour and media violence represents the witnessing of violence in a very explicit and graphic fashion.[3]

Media influences legislation
The media also influences how legislation has taken place over the past in respect of juvenile laws. We have seen that punitiveness is sought for delinquents and given the role of the media in shaping public opinion and lobbying for stringent laws has in fact led the legislative organs of the state to give in this clamour on account of vote bank politics. The traditional reformists who stand for reformative approach find themselves sidelined by the get tough lobbyists.

In the aftermath of the Delhi gangrape case of 2013, it was seen that the government rushed in with hasty amendments to the Criminal law in the form of the Criminal law amendment Act of 2013 as well as the Juvenile Justice Act in 2015. The result is that a juvenile between 16 and 18 years of age can now be treated as an adult in heinous offences. Even though experts in the field of Juvenile laws , including the academia did not support such unscientific emotional approach of the legislature that got swayed by mass protests in the Nirbhaya aftermath. Dr. Faizan Mustafa opined that The violation of the cardinal principle of classical juvenile justice jurisprudence is justified due to the consequences attached to heinous crimes committed by a few juveniles in the age group of sixteen to eighteen. But then the State's response in terms of repressive laws in violation of international law is a case of the remedy being worse than the disease.[4]

However the problem of populist law making is not just confined to India . The ame has been seen across jurisdictions. In the USA , for example ,in the immediate wake of the April 1999 shoot Littleton, Colorado, the Senate and the House of Representatives abruptly began to draft extensive juvenile justice reform measures .The massacre at Columbine High School was one of the worst episodes of school violence in U.S. history, and it, along with a number of other killings by juveniles, confirmed the public's worst fears and dire predictions concerning juvenile crime.

Researchers and scholars have cautioned this populist approach of legislatures.
Commercial pressures are determining the news media's contemporary treatment of crime and violence, and that the resulting coverage has played a major role in reshaping public opinion, and ultimately, criminal justice policy. The news media are not mirrors, simply reflecting events in society�the market driven treatment of crime in the news media has the potential to skew American public opinion, increasing the support for various punitive policies such as mandatory minimums, longer sentences, and treating juveniles as adults.[5]

Professor Sacha M. Coupet in her article, What to Do with the Sheep in Wolf's Clothing: The Role of Rhetoric and Reality about Youth Offenders in the Constructive Dismantling of the Juvenile Justice System opining that the public's misguided perceptions of a national increase in juvenile crime are largely a product of the media , observes:
The "politicization" of crime appears to have forged an unbreakable link between the mercurial nature and often inaccurate rhetoric of public opinion, the desire to garner votes, and the resulting juvenile justice policy.[6]

Innovative use of Media in Juvenile Justice process
Technological developments have placed in the hands of human beings tools that have made old methods obsolete and difficult tasks simpler than ever. The same is being seen increasingly in terms of the innovative use of digital and social media in dispensation of cases by law courts. Not just in the maintenance of case records or efiling of cases , the technology has permeated even the merits of a case in terms of evidence and establishment of necessary facts, particularly in cases involving juveniles.

In USA , a number of judges use social media to keep the minors appearing before them on the straight and narrow. Michigan Judge A. T. Frank uses social networking sites to monitor offenders on probation under his jurisdiction, occasionally finding photos on MySpace or Facebook pages in which the defendants are engaging in drug use or other prohibited behavior. Juvenile Court Judge Kathryn Lanan has employed a similar tactic, requiring all juveniles under her jurisdiction to friend her on Facebook or MySpace so she can review their postings for any signs of inappropriate conduct that might warrant a return visit to her court. [7]

The acceptance of facebook status and IP address for establishing alibi as evidence in law courts began with Rodney Bradford's alibi in Brooklyn Robbery case (2009) , emphasizing how useful media can be when harnessed for the right purpose. In October 2009 Facebook status updates were used as alibi evidence for the first time. With the prevalence of social networking, and an apparent willingness of people to reveal more of themselves online, there is a greater cybertrail to follow than ever before. For many, those digital footprints have led to criminal convictions. For Rodney Bradford, they led to exoneration. Bradfords case may have been the first Facebook alibi, but it isnt likely to be the last.[8]

As we have already that the media per se is not intrinsically harmful. The harm emanates from the use to which it is put. Given that children are gullible to fall into harm's path , the media exposure of children to harmful content should be minimized by synergizing the efforts of policy makers , media, civil society and schools and community. The major role in development of children is played by family but given that the media has become all-pervading the role of the family has become circumscribed by the fact that it cannot in isolation check the enabling conditions that foster delinquency It is a collective effort.

It is unjust to expose children to unhealthy influences and later on label them as criminals denying them the opportunity to live a full life .At the same time, the use of digital resources and media is pivotal to a child's development in the modern times, and may even be an accelerator of a child's creative abilities.. Having tough laws in a society with weak institutional networks and moral foundations is unlikely to bring about a change.

  1. Rameen Rashid Khan , LL.M Scholar , SLS, Central University of Kashmir
  2. UNICEF Children in a Digital World , State of the World's Children (2017) Chp.3
  3. Vivek Agarwal, Saranya Dhanasekaran,  Harmful Effects of Media on Children and Adolescents vol 8(2) Journal of Indian Association of Child Adolescent Mental Health p.39-4 (2012)
  4. Faizan Mustafa, Trial of Juveniles The Statesman , May 5, 2015 , available at ( seen at 2.57 on 14/08/2021)
  5. Sara Sun Beale The News Media's Influence on Criminal Justice Policy: How
    Market-Driven News Promotes Punitiveness Volume 48 ( 2) William & Mary Law Review p. 397-398 (2006-2007)
  6. Sacha M. Coupet What to Do with the Sheep in Wolf's Clothing: The Role of Rhetoric and Reality about Youth Offenders in the Constructive Dismantling of the Juvenile Justice System vol.148( 4) University of Pennsylvania Law Review p.1330 ( 2000)
  7. John J Browning The Impact of Online Social Media and Networking in Juvenile Law: Admissibility and Discoverability ,State Bar of Texas 26th Annual Robert O Dawson Juvenile Law , held on (February 11-13, 2013, San Antonio) available at ( seen at 2.55 pm , 14/08/2021)
  8. Id. 8

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