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Famous Cases of Media Trail

Media was once a boon that enlightened people and made them aware of what is going around in the world. The Indian media has to follow the principles laid down in the Constitution of India. There are essentially three pillars of democracy that are the legislature, executive and judiciary and now the media has become the fourth pillar of democracy. It highlights the social, legal, economic and cultural problems of the society.

Media has now transformed itself into a Janta Adalats or 'public court' and started intervening in the proceedings of the court. The vital gap between the convict and accused is completely overlooked by the media by keeping at stake the cardinal principles of 'presumption of innocence until proven guilty' and 'guilt beyond reasonable doubt'.

Now what is being observed is a separate investigation done by the media itself which is called a media trial. Along with investigation, it includes forming public opinion against the suspect or the accused even before the court takes cognizance of the case. As a result of this, the public is prejudiced due to which the accused who should have been assumed innocent is presumed to be a criminal abandoning all his rights and liberty unrepressed.

Medial Trail Defined:

Whenever there is any sensitive case that comes to be tried before the court, then among the people there is an anticipated upsurge in curiosity. Always looking forward to sensational news, Media including newspapers, television channels, news websites, etc. start publishing their own interpretation of facts. It is called investigative journalism and is not prohibited in India. The influence of media coverage via newspapers and television on an individual by creating a perception of innocence or guilt even before the Court of law announces its judgment, it is called as Media Trial or Trial by Media.

Famous Indian Cases of Media Trial:

There have been multiple cases which have been tried by Media, few of the famous cases have been discussed below:

Sanjay Dutt Case:

After the Supreme Court sentenced Sanjay Dutt to 5 years imprisonment, he had to serve in jail due to his involvement in the 1993 Mumbai Serial Blast. In 1994, Sanjay Dutt was arrested at the airport and he confessed that in January, 1993 Abu Sale, Mafia Don had visited his home with Hanif Kadawala and Samir Hingora, they were Magnum proprietors and alleged close associates of Dawood Ibrahim, who is an underworld don. In his statement, Sanjay Dutt also said that these people along with ammunition had got three AK-56 rifles with them, out of which one was kept by Sanjay Dutt.

According to him, he kept the gun in order to protect his family because of the threats that he had received during the riots in Mumbai which was followed by the Babri Masjid demolition in December, 1992. After Sanjay Dutt heard the arrest of Hanif Kadawala and Samir Hingora and the serial blasts in Mumbai, Dutt asked his friend Yusuf Nulwalla to destroy the rifle. Though, the statement was later withdrawn by him. After this, he was soon charged and arrested under Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), 1987 for receiving ammunition from Abu Salem and his involvement in the blasts.

However, after 18 months of imprisonment, Sanjay Dutt was able to secure a bail. The TADA court after 11 years acquitted Sanjay Dutt of all charges made against him after observing that he had acquired guns for self-defence and he was not a terrorist. He was sentenced to six years in jail for conviction under the Arms Act, for which Sanjay Dutt had managed to secure a bail from the Supreme Court. On 31 July, 2007, he was sent to Pune's Yerawada prison. However, he was later out on bail. On March 21, 2013, the Supreme Court had further cut short his term to five and which ended on February 27, 2016.

Being a famous actor, this case was highlighted by the media to an extent, the media portrayed the picture of Sanjay Dutt as a terrorist, which was later held by the Court that he was not accused of those charges. After this incident, being an actor he had to suffer a lot of problems and outrage and his reputation got depleted.

Sheena Bohra Murder Case

In the year 2012 Indrani Mukerjea was arrested for the murder of Sheena Bora, the shocking news, in this case, was that Sheena was the daughter, not the sister as claimed by Indrani Mukerjea. The media highlighted the case and even after her arrest Indrani never accepted that she had two children and was stuck to her statement claiming Sheena as her sister. The murder also brought into light the murky financial dealings of Indra Mukerjea and her husband Peter Mukerjea. They successfully manipulated facts hence no trail was initiated against them for three years.

The personal life of Indrani Mukerjea had been pierced by the tormenting eyes of the media which paved the way for fresh debate in the murder trial issue of the accused. Indrani's character and personal life, all the aspects which have no ration with the investigation of the murder of Sheena were under the public lens of scrutiny through media. The journalism ethics had been again under the controversial debate due to their meddling with the personal matter of the accused.

Jessica Lal Murder:

In 1999, Jessica Lal (model turned barmaid) working in a restaurant owned by socialite Bona Ramani in Mehrauli, South Delhi's, was shot dead by Manu Sharma (alias Siddharth Vashisth), son of Congress former Union Minister, Venod Sharma after Jessica refused to serve liquor to him and his friends. This case immediately gained media coverage after the murder when the accused was acquitted by the trial court.

This case became one of the top cases where the public pressure and media compelled the justice system to take a second look at this case. Though Manu Sharma was acquitted initially in the year 2006 as the Delhi police failed to sustain the grounds on which they had built up their case after public outcry due to the media coverage of the case, the Delhi High Court sentenced him to life imprisonment.

The Tikku, Kakkar double murder case:

This was a very sensational case where two Delhi residents were murdered by a money-crazy criminal and his female associate. Police said that Vijay Palande, prime accused and former gangster used his wife, Simran Sood, who was a model as a 'honeytrap' to commit the crimes for confiscating the victim's properties. In April, 2012, Palande along with his mates Manoj Gajkosh and Dhananjay Shinde murdered businessman Arunkumar Tikku who was a resident of Delhi.

The police said that Palande had encouraged the son of the victim, Anuj Tikku who was an actor with a motive that Tikku can acquire Palande's apartment which was located in the Lokhandwala Complex in Mumbai's upscale. The Mumbai crime branch had arrested the trio along with Simran Sood in connection to the abduction and murder of Delhi-based aspiring producer Karankumar Kakkad. Palande made a confession that he suspected Kakkad was an underworld mole, who would kill him, so Palande had to kill Kakkad. The police also said that Simran had acquainted Palande as her "brother" to Tikku and Kakkad.

In 1998 Palande had been convicted of a double murder and then again in the year 2002, he jumped parole in 2003, went for a cosmetic surgery to Bangkok to change his features and in 2005 he returned to Mumbai.

In 2012, this double murder case shook the nation and made its way to TV and newspaper headlines as one of the most chilling murder mysteries in valuing a sophisticated serial killer in recent times in India. He was arrested for masterminding the murders of Tikku and Kakkar. On November 18, 2011, Palande was given a life sentence for the murder of the two men.

The Delhi rape case:

The brutal gang rape on the night of 16 December 2012 of a 23-year-old physiotherapy intern who besides being raped was tortured and beaten in a private bus in which she was travelling with her male friend. Including the driver, six men on the bus who raped her and beat her friend. She was admitted to the hospital and after eleven days she was shifted for an emergency to the hospital in Singapore but died after two days.

Since the laws in India do not permit the press to reveal the name of the game victim, the victim has become widely known as Nirbhaya, meaning "fearless", and the girl's struggle against the incident and her death has become a symbol of resistance by the women in the world.

This incident inflamed extensive national and international coverage. The incident was criticized widely, both in India as well as abroad. Thereafter, there were multiple protests in different parts of the country against the central and state governments for failing to provide proper security for women.

Due to so much outrage in the media, there were multiple amendments in the laws including the Juvenile Justice Act, where for the heinous crime the age for punishment had been reduced to from eighteen to sixteen.

Neeraj Grover Murder Case:

The case received much media attention due to its extremely gruesome nature. In May, 2008, Neeraj who worked in a Mumbai-based production house was found dead. The dead body of Neeraj was chopped into pieces and then stuffed in three garbage bags and then they took the body to the forest and set it on fire. A police complaint was filed by one of Neeraj's friend, Maria Susairaj that he was missing but later it was found that Maria was involved in the murder.

It was discovered that Maria's boyfriend Lieutenant M.L. Jerome Mathew was behind the murder of Neeraj because he suspected Maria having an affair with Neeraj and killed him in a fit of rage. The killing and subsequent trial attained significant media coverage in India which reported public outrage on the verdict given to the accused who had chopped the body into multiple pieces and set it on fire. One of the news channels had criticized the defamation of the accused, claiming that the accused was under a lot of stress.

Nitish Katara Murder Case:

This was a case of honour killing, Vikas Yadav, son of famous politician DP Yadav had brutally murdered Nitish Katara. Nitish had an affair with Bharti Yadav who was the sister of Vikas Yadav, Vikas never approved of their love. At the mutual friend's wedding where both Vikas and Nitish were present, Vikas took the opportunity and killed Nitish by taking him for a ride. According to the autopsy report, Vikas had badly beaten Nitish that even his digestive system had fallen apart and a DNA test was conducted for identification. Vikas was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Sometimes in the media trial, the accused is even not given proper conviction which he is entitled to.

Nithari Kand:

In 2007, dead bodies of children and adults were found in the house of Moninder Sinh Pandher situated in Nithari village of Noida. It was revealed as soon as the investigation begins that servant of Pandher, Surender Kohli had been involved in raping and killing women which included minors and even used to eat their body parts, there was one case where he even cooked the body parts. Moninder Sinh Pandher was acquitted in 2009 of the charges against him in one case but he is still a co-accused in other case and his death penalty has been overturned.

The Allahabad High Court commuted Surender Kohli's death sentence to life imprisonment. After that, the CBI Court had pronounced both Surinder Koli and Moninder Singh Pandher guilty in the attempt to rape and murder of Pinki Sarkar who was 20 years old. This was the eighth murder committed by them out of sixteen murder cases in which judgement has been delivered. The case got highlighted by the media and the accused was served the punishment.

Influence of media on the accused:
  • If a suspect or an accused has already been projected by the media as guilty even before the trial in the Court, then there are possibilities of serious prejudice to the accused.
  • If the person who is suspect or an accused is acquitted by the Court after the due process, even the acquittal may not prove to be helpful for the accused to rebuild his image in the society.
  • Exaggerated and unreasonable publicity in the media, characterizing the person as guilty, even when the verdict is still pending, amounts to undue influence with the "administration of justice", which called for proceeding against the media for contempt of Court.
Influence of media on the witness:
  • If the identity of the witness is revealed, then there is a possibility that the witness will be under pressure from the police as well as the accused or his associates.
  • The witness at an early stage wants to withdraw and get out of chaos soon.
  • Then the protection of the witness is a serious issue. This brings a question about the admissibility of the evidence of a hostile witness and whether there should be an amendment in the law for the prevention of witnesses from changing their statements.
Influence of Media on Judges and Court:
  • Even Judges come within the purview of criticism which can either be on their judicial conduct or conduct in a purely private capacity. But it becomes a matter of concern when the criticism about the Judges is ill-informed or entirely not on the foundation which may have a tendency to undermine the faith of the people in the judiciary.
  • A Judge has to protect himself from such media pressure which can 'unconsciously' influence the juries or the judges and as human beings, the judges are prone at least subconsciously or unconsciously to such indirect influences.
In the case of State of Maharashtra v. Rajendra Jawanmal Gandhi, 1997, the Supreme Court held that a trial by electronic media, press or by way of public agitation is anti-thesis to the rule of law and can lead to a miscarriage of justice.

There have been numerous instances where the media has been blamed and accused of conducting the trial of the accused by passing the "Verdict" according to their investigation before the judgement is passed by the Court. It is essential that the trial must be carried out by the Court and not the media. The trial by the media is certainly an undue interference in the procedure of delivery of justice.

The legislature has a great responsibility to perform while drafting laws on media, ensuring that their freedom is not curtailed. Media has the right to discuss and comment on the case judgments but they have no right or freedom to start a trial on sub-judice matters. The right of the accused to have a fair trial is always more important than the freedom of media before starting the trial of the pending case. Media trial hinders the purpose of justice.

It becomes clear that the influence of the media had a more negative effect rather than a positive effect (except for a few exceptions). The Courts should properly regulate the media. The Courts should not grant free hand to the media in the Court proceedings as they are not some event of the sport.

The most favourable way for legislating the media is by exercising the contempt of court to penalize the ones who interfere with the basic code of conduct. The Supreme Court has approved in a number of cases the use of contempt powers by the Courts against the newspapers and media channels. Freedom of speech and expression cannot be allowed to the media to an extent to prejudice the trial itself.

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Sachin Kumar
Awarded certificate of Excellence
Authentication No: MR208076925312-21-0322

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