TRIAL BY MEDIA – LEGAL DILEMNA
The media is the gatekeeper and watch dog of the society. The media acts as multifaceted institution with multiple activities.
It takes the message simultaneously from all the parties involved and builds the opinion on an issue, with definitely threatens the establishment from violating rights with the growth of the number of news channels and in increasing popularity of” breaking news”
Electronic Media has come to play a major role in stirring public opinion and consciousness public advocacy outside the court through well- established mechanism like lobbying, negotiations and mobilization of public opinion has been effectively undertaken by the media.
The current trend of media on reporting cases commonly known as “Trial by media” has witnessed the sensation of self- manifested stories, half- baked truth resulting in the violation of right of individuals, resulting media reporting transforming into media circus.
Trial by media is a phrase popular in the last few decades to describe the impact of television and print media coverage on a case by creating a wide spread perception of guilt on part of accuse regardless of any verdict in a court of law and hence the accuse is held guilty even prior to his trial. The blatantly violate the code is sell their story and boost their TRP, leaving far reaching injury to the reputation of the accused. The media involves itself so intensely and during such high publicity court cases the media sensationalises the case and provokes atmosphere of public hysteria which not only makes a free and fair trial impossible but also maligns in the reputations of the accused to such degraded level that their rest of life comes under public- hatred and had scrutiny.
Suspects and accused apart, even victim and witnesses suffer from excessive publicity and invasion of their privacy rights.
On the other facet, the trial by media interferes with the administration of justice and tends to lower the authority of courts and finally hampering the functioning of democracy because an independent judiciary to dispense justice without fear or favour is necessary and it strength is the faith of the public in general in that institution.
Further the media meddles with into the investigation thereby, misdirecting the investigation or hindering the functioning of investigating agencies.
The media has effectively undertaken the cause of justice for the cases of Jessica Lall, Priyadarshini Mattoo, Nitish Katera, BMW case, Arushi murder case and many more simultaneously, it has on one hand without considering about the inherent or intended effect interfered with the rights of people involved in the case and on the other hand tried to usurp the prerogative of the courts to try the cases.
Freedom and restrictions on freedom of press–
In words of Blackstone “The liberty of press indeed essential to the nature of a free state. Every free man has an undoubted right to lay what sentiment he pleased before the public, to forbid this is to destroy the freedom of the press. But if be published what is improper, mischievous or illegal he must take the consequence of his own temerity.”
Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution of India grant freedom of speech and expression to the citizens of India. The freedom of press is a necessary concomitant of the freedom of expression that involves a right to receive and impart information without which democracy becomes an empty slogan.
But the right is not absolute and is subjected to the reasonable restrictions of defamation and contempt of court among other mentioned in clause(2).
The law of defamation seeks to protect individual reputation. Its central problem is how to reconcile this purpose with the competing demands of free speech. Both interests are highly valued in our society, the one as perhaps the most dearly prized attribute of civilised man, the other foundation of a democratic community.
Without restriction under article 19(1) it is well settled principle of equity at that once freedom to move his arm ends where somebody’s nose starts.
The freedom of speech and expression does not entitle the per cent to injure another in his trade and or to lower him in the esteem or the fellow- beings or to expose him to hatred ridicule or justification.
Truth is the defence in a suit of defamation, but truth cannot be pleaded as defence for publishing derogatory, scurrilous and defamatory material against a private person where no public interest is involved.
The media has to publish that is in public interest and not what “public is interested in.”
Contempt of court and right to free and fair trial–
Under the cover of freedom of speech and expression know no party can be given a licence to misinterpret the proceedings and order of the court and deliberately paint an absolute wrong and incomplete picture which has to tendency to scandalize and bring it into this repute and ridicule.
Lord Denning in Times case observed-
“We must not allow trial by a newspaper, a trial by television or trial by any other medium other than a court of law. But in so stating the law, I would emphasise that it applies only when litigation is spending and is actively in suit before the court.To which I would add that there must appears to be a real and substantial danger of prejudice to the trial of the case or the settlement of it”.
A judge is not immune from the society and he’s also suspect able to aura created by the media against the accused.
There is immense likelihood of bias creeping into judges’ mind subconsciously. A judge has to guard himself against any such pressure and he is too guided strictly by rules of law. The malicious and slanderous publication inculcates in mind of people a general dissatisfaction on the judicial determination and indisposes year their elegance to obey them, if the people allegiance to law is fundamentally shaken, it is the most vital and dangerous obstruction of justice.
Right to privacy–
The right to privacy an independent and distinctive concept, like the concept of defamation originated in the field of ‘Torts’.
In trial by media the trend shows that suspects and accused apart even victim and witnesses suffer from excessive publicity and invasion of their privacy rights.
If a private person or agency unilaterally conducts a string operation, it would be violating the privacy of another person and would make it liable for action at law.
Media should refrain from making public any activities or materials related to an individual’s personal and private affairs or which invades an individual’s privacy unless there is an identifiable large public interest.
Media forms the backbone of the society, as many authors say “eyes and ears of the general public”.
A responsible media needs to take into the consideration the reliance intrusted on it by the general public and confidence and faith as to blindly accept that truth of the news published by media.
In doing so the media should follow certain norms in reporting a crime which is globally accepted:
- Accuracy and fairness shall be maintained in reporting.
- Factual accuracy of the report shall be verified before publication.
- Every caution shall be undertaken against defamatory writings.
- Right to privacy shall not be intruded or invaded unless over weighted by genuine overriding public interest.
- Due care shall be exercised in making fair criticism of judgement and reporting court proceedings.
- Reports shall not be published based on conjecture or surmises or in suspicion.
- Glorification of an act of violence shall be forbidden.
- The heading shall not be sensational or provocative and it must justify the matter printed under them.
- Correction shall be made or published without any delay in cases of error.
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