Trial by media is a phrase popular in the late 20th century and early 21st
century to describe 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. Media has been the voice of
thousands through which a platform is provided for the common man.
changing socio economic conditions like in India (largest democratic country)
media has gained prominence and hence referred as a fourth pillar of democracy.
Of course sometimes a drop of ink dropped down from the journalist's pen might
be more powerful than a bullet from the soldier's gun. According to criminal
jurisprudence a suspect/accused is entitled to a fair trial until proven
guilty/innocent by the court of law.
Impact Of Media Trials
Media Trials v/s Freedom Of Speech And Expression
Freedom of speech plays a crucial role in the formation of public opinion on
social, political and economic matters. Similarly, the persons in power should
be able to keep the people informed about their policies and projects,
therefore, it can be said that freedom of speech is the mother of all other
In Printers (Mysore) Ltd. v. CTO
the Supreme Court has reiterated that though
freedom of the press is not expressly guaranteed as a fundamental right, it is
implicit in the freedom of speech and expression. Freedom of the press has
always been a cherished right in all democratic countries and the press has
rightly been described as the fourth chamber of democracy.
In R. Rajagopal v. State of T.N
the Supreme Court of India has held that freedom
of the press extends to engaging in uninhabited debate about the involvement of
public figures in public issues and events. But, as regards their private life,
a proper balancing of freedom of the press as well as the right of privacy and
maintained defamation has to be performed in terms of the democratic way of life
laid down in the Constitution.
Therefore, in view of the observations made by the Supreme Court in various
judgments and the views expressed by various jurists, it is crystal clear that
the freedom of the press flows from the freedom of expression which is
guaranteed to all citizens by Article 19(1)(a). Press stands on no higher
footing than any other citizen and cannot claim any privilege (unless conferred
specifically by law), as such, as distinct from those of any other citizen. The
press cannot be subjected to any special restrictions which could not be imposed
on any citizen of the country.
Media Trial v/s Fair Trial
Trial by media has created a problem
because it involves a tug of war between
two conflicting principles: free press and free trial, in both of which the
public are vitally interested. The freedom of the press stems from the right of
the public in a democracy to be involved on the issues of the day, which affect
them. This is the justification for investigative and campaign journalism.
At the same time, the Right to Fair Trial
, i.e., a trial uninfluenced by
extraneous pressures is recognized as a basic tenet of justice in India. A
journalist may thus be liable for contempt of Court if he publishes anything
which might prejudice a 'fair trial' or anything which impairs the impartiality
of the Court to decide a cause on its merits, whether the proceedings before the
Court be a criminal or civil proceeding.
In Zahira Habibullah Sheikh v. State of Gujarat
, the Supreme Court explained
Fair trial obviously would mean a trial before an impartial Judge, a fair
prosecutor and atmosphere of judicial calm. Fair trial means a trial in which
bias or prejudice for or against the accused, the witnesses, or the cause which
is being tried is eliminated.
Media Trial v/s Right To Be Represented
Through media trial, we have started to create pressure on the lawyers even: to
not take up cases of accused, thus trying to force these accused to go to trial
without any defense. Is this not against the principles of natural justice?
Every person has a right to get himself represented by a lawyer of his choice
and put his point before the adjudicating court and no one has the right to
debar him from doing so. For an instance, when eminent lawyer Ram Jethmalani
decided to defend Manu Sharma, a prime accused in a murder case, he was subject
to public derision. A senior editor of a television news channel CNN-IBN called
the decision to represent Sharma an attempt to defend the indefensible
Is Media Trial A Contempt Of Court?
Trial by Media is Contempt of Court and needs to be punished. The Contempt of
Court Act defines contempt by identifying it as civil and criminal.
Criminal contempt has further been divided into three types:
Prejudice or interference with the judicial process:
- Prejudicing trial, and
- Hindering the administration of justice.
This provision owes its
origin to the principle of natural justice; 'every accused has a right to a fair
trial' clubbed with the principle that 'Justice may not only be done it must
also seem to be done'. There are multiple ways in which attempts are made to
prejudice trial. If such cases are allowed to be successful will be that the
persons will be convicted of offences which they have not committed. Contempt of
court has been introduced in order to prevent such unjust and unfair trials.
publication, which is calculated to poison the minds of jurors, 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.
Bed Impact of Media trial
Pro-Plaintiff Media Bias
Litigation involving well-known companies or individuals always has grabbed the
attention of the news media, especially when it involves sensational charges.
The magnitude of the coverage and the filter through which the media reports on
litigation can create a clear plaintiff bias in civil cases
companies can find themselves under the media spotlight in a particularly novel
or bet the company suit, the media tends to focus on allegations against
established and respected corporate defendants. These larger companies tend to
have household names, and allegations against them can make good copy: even
if the allegations are seemingly spurious, commonplace or unproven. The same is
true for litigation involving celebrity defendants.
The Nature of Bias in High-Publicity Cases
A larger issue is the complex nature of juror bias and how that bias predisposes
a juror toward one side in a case. It is no secret that we all have biases. The
difficulty comes from understanding how those biases may ultimately affect the
viewing of evidence and the deliberations in a case. Judges are also Human
Beings they too care about the reputation and promotion. That time is gone when
judges are not considered as social because it will harm their reputation.
days Judges are social and being an human being they care about their promotions
and remunerations. In high profile cases they tend to be bias and give verdict
as per as media reports just to be in lime light. This will surely help them to
get a promotion before other competitive judges. Media is so much into our daily
life's that judges too can't stay away from it and they usually tend to give
verdict as per media reports.
The Additional Pressure on Judges in High-Publicity Trials
The media create a series of unconscious pressures on a juror in a high-profile
trial. Jurors know that they are being watched by the world. They are not only
making a decision for themselves, but they are making a statement for their
family, co-workers, community, and society as a whole. This elevates their
verdict to a level beyond the evidence.
Though media act as a watchdog and act as a platform to bring people voice to
the notice of society and legislatures. But now days media is so much
sensationalized and they just do for their salaries and TRP's. There are few
reporters those showing only those news for what they have been paid by
From the above account it becomes clear that the media had a
more negative influence rather than a positive effect (except for a few
exceptions here and there). The media has to be properly regulated by the
courts. The media cannot be granted a free hand in the court proceedings as they
are not some sporting event.