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Media Trial

The expression "Trial by Media" was common in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries to characterize the influence of newspaper and television exposure on the reputation of a person by producing a broad sense of guilt irrespective of a court's verdict.

The Press Regulations, established by Lord Wellesley in the year 1799, was the first enactment, setting previous limits on a fledgling newspaper publishing sector. The rigour of the rules were reduced by Lord Hasting's government in 1813. Following the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the government outlawed the publishing of seditious publications and imposed harsh penalties on printers and publishers who refused to comply. In the year 1880, Lord Ripon was appointed Viceroy.

When Ripon took office, one of his first tasks was to abolish the controversial measure. With the formation of the Indian National Congress (INC), newspapers started to take a more assertive attitude, causing conflict between the media and the govt., which resulted in increasingly restrictive regulations aimed at restricting press freedom. Following the conclusion of WWII, discussions on the transition of authority started, and most restrictions on the media were lifted. The country's press freedom has increased following independence and the establishment of the Constitution. Even during 1975 emergency, the press was subjected to heavy restrictions.

In "Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras" and numerous following judgments, the Legislative powers to abrogate the privilege given by Article 19(1)(a) have been severely limited. In "Express Newspapers Ltd v. UOI", it was decided that the mechanism and manner in which the limitation is imposed must also be equitable, fair, and rational. The Supreme Court went into great detail on press freedom, but concluded that it cannot be unrestrained, like other privileges, can be subjected to legitimate limitations.

Free press and Free trials:

The rights of the citizens in a democracy to be active in current events that affect them is the foundation of "freedom of press". People cannot effectively impact decisions that impact their livelihoods unless they are sufficiently informed on the essential facts and reasoning. Much of this fact-finding and reasoning must be done in the shadows, with the public press serving as a key tool.

This is also why investigative and political journalism are important. The "right to a fair trial" is protected by clauses in the Indian Constitution and the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. The discussion or publishing of matters pertaining to the merits of a case proceeding before a Court is restricted.

The issue is not with the media exposing a flaw in a police investigation or the failure of government workers to do their jobs, but with the media acting outside of its lawful authority and doing what it is not supposed to be done. Bringing sub-judice problems to the attention of public puts the integrity of judicial proceedings and the "right to life with dignity" of accused at risk. The media has reborn as a "public court" (Janta Adalat).

It entirely ignores the crucial distinction between an accused and a convicted person. The golden rules of "presumption of innocence until proven guilty" and "guilt beyond a reasonable doubt" are ignored. The media's role is to report the truth and news, as well as to highlight public concerns; it is not to pronounce judgement.

Influence of media on accused:

If the media portrays a suspect or accused like he would have already been found guilty before the court hearing, the accused may suffer substantial prejudice. Even if the individual is finally released after going through the proper legal channels, such a release may not be enough to enable the accused reclaim his lost reputation in society.

Overwhelming media coverage portraying him as a person who must have committed the crime amounted to improper intervention with the "administration of justice" necessitating contempt of court actions against the press/media.

Influence of media on witness:

If the identities of witnesses are made public, the witnesses may face pressure from both the accused and his associates, as well as the authorities. The witnesses want to withdraw and get out of the confusion at this point. Witness protection becomes a severe casualty as a result. This raises the question of whether or not hostile witness testimony is admissible and if the law should be changed to prohibit witnesses from altering their testimonies.

Influence of media on judges and court:

Judges are not exempt from criticism, whether it be for their judicial or personal conduct. However, there is cause for worry when critiques of them are unfounded or ill-informed, as this has the potential to erode public trust in legal system. A judge must protect himself from the pressure that a media outlet can exert on judges or juries, and if judges, as fellow humans, are subject to such indirect effects, at least on some level subconsciously or unknowingly.

In "state of Maharashtra v. Rajendra Jawanmal Gandhi", a trial by electronic media, press or public activism, according to the Supreme Court, is the contradiction of the "rule of law", and can result in a travesty of justice. The contempt of court legislation distinguishes between civil and criminal contempt. There are three different categories of criminals namely scandalizing, prejudicing trial and hindering the administration of the justice respectively.

Criticism of Media Trial:

In a democratic society, the media plays a critical role. All of the democratic pillars should be fully independent without interfering with the operations of others. In elevated criminal trials like as the Indrani Mukerjee case, Jessica Lal case, and others, the media has trampled on the sacredness of judiciary. Because of the media's intervention, several of the accused have been released.

With the passage of time, the aim of the media has shifted. In most circumstances, the media interferes with the job of the judiciary rather than just reporting the details of the case. In the greatest democratic setup, the beetle of corruption has devoured the core structure of the justice process.

Litigants take unethical methods to rescue the accused from conviction, such as buying public officials to falsify the evidence, pressuring the defence to abandon the case, and so on. Because of this massive institutional mismatch, criminal cases have been pre-emptively covered by the media. By using dramatic journalism, the press has been efficient in instilling prejudice in the people's thinking.

Justification by Media:

At every stage of some criminal cases, the press did us feel proud and honoured. The Courts are likely to stay under the media's scrutiny indefinitely and now that they have come under scrutiny. More Indians are conscious of their basic constitutional privileges than ever before as a result of developments sparked by the media and handled by the courts. There have been both positive and bad outcomes from this.

International Efforts:

The "International Commission of Jurists", its "Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers", and the "Spanish Committee of UNICEF" assembled a gathering of 39 eminent legal professionals and media professionals in Madrid, Spain, for 3 days in the year of 1994. The participants came from various and different countries.

The main goal of the meeting was to analyze the media's connection with judicial independence, define guidelines to assist the media and the judiciary, and create a connection that benefits both freedom of speech and judicial independence.

Law Commission 200th report:

The below suggestions were provided in August, 2006, that was headed by Justice M.Jagannadha Rao:
  1. To counteract the negative impact of sensationalized press reporting on justice administration.
  2. A prohibition on the dissemination of material that is harmful to the accused, effective from the time of detention.
  3. The High Court should have the authority to order the delay of publishing or transmission in criminal cases, as well as to prevent the media from doing so.
  4. In a criminal case, the moment of an accused detention must be the launching point, not the day of the charge sheet's submission.
Such an amendment, according to the Commission, would forbid the media from stereotyping or attempting to influence the case.

The media has a larger audience and a more effective and relevant approach to the public. It is for this reason that it is referred to as a central component of the society. The media frequently acts as, and should function as, the society's alter ego, authentically reflecting its attitude, thoughts, and concerns, as well as reporting events of national good. While providing facts, it is necessary to provide context and analyze their benefits and drawbacks in order for people to understand their relevance and make educated opinions about them.

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