ARE MEDIA TRIALS IMPACTING THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY AND THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE JUSTICE SYSTEM?

INTRODUCTION

The press and media have been recognized for many decades as one of the four pillars of the nation's governance or democracy. The freedom of the press is of utmost significance, undoubtedly, and is a fundamental right under the realm of freedom of speech and expression that is cherished under Article 19 (1) (A) of the Indian constitution.

In the last three decades, we all have witnessed massive growth or revolution in the distribution and broadcasting of entertainment and information through satellite cable and internet-based networks, channels, and social media platforms. They have literally taken over the day-to-day lives of all of us. They, dominantly influence our minds, thought processes, opinions, and eventually our beliefs. There have been so many instances and matters concerning people's lives, liberty, honor, prestige, and more in the past that were attempted to or perhaps even, they got prejudiced because of a media trial. In this article, we are talking about print media and electronic media. Some people were actually able to get orders against the media trial, whereas many others continue to suffer the stigma. It was like a double jeopardy trial by the court and a parallel trial by the media.


LEGAL PERSPECTIVE ABOUT MEDIA TRIALS AND THE FREEDOM OF THE PRESS

Recently, we have seen a new phase of media, media investigation going parallel, parallel to the investigation by the government agencies. We always compliment investigative journalism, so long it is unbiased and does not hold any vested agenda. The objective of electronic media is to inform the people not to miss inform the public at large. The courts of law, right from the bottom to the top, have both complimented as well as criticized the media wherever the need arose, they even gag them. Yes. Ideally, a Delhi based District Court had restrained media houses from publishing unsubstantiated uncorroborated information against a former civil aviation minister regarding his alleged involvement in a money laundering case pending investigation. The court in that matter had observed that the plaintiff was someone to the court as a witness, and therefore publishing any information based on unsubstantiated and corroborated facts about the plaintiff cannot be set to be justified. That was set by a district court of Delhi.

In one of the cases the Madras High Court appealed to the members of print, visual, and social media not to misinterpret the proceedings or observations of the court with regard to a hearing related to the horrific custodial death of a father and son. In that state, the court had further urged that the media trial should not be conducted as it may affect both the prosecution as well as the accused.[1]

Even the highest court of India, the Supreme Court, has frequently and consistently underlined the role of media in a democracy and upholds the freedom of speech and expression and the freedom of the press. They have complimented them but at the same time, the Supreme Court has also stressed and underlined the need for the media and the journalists as a whole to embark on responsible coverage, not irresponsible or reckless coverage. In one of the cases, the Supreme Court observed that it was imperative that the electronic and news media should play a positive role in presenting to the public what actually transpired during the course of hearings which should not be publicized in a banner, so as to garner publicity for its own paper or news channel.

In another case, the Supreme Court observed that there was a danger of a serious risk of prejudice. If the media, you know, published statements, which would outrightly hold the suspect or accused guilty even before a certain order has been passed by a court. Moreover, the Supreme Court, also asserted that it was required from persons at the helm of affairs to ensure that a trial by media would not hamper fair investigations. They need to be sensitive, way back in 1988, the High Court of Kerala Re M.V. Jayarajan case made an excellent ruling, where they equated the press with the public at large. The court said that the existence of a friend of a free press is an inevitable necessity in maintaining parliamentary democracy. The Press occupies the courts in an unenviable position because the media are the eyes and ears of the general public. They act on behalf of the general public. The right to know and the right to publish is neither more nor less than that of the general public for whom they are trustees. The court has not basically settled the color code that the media does not enjoy and does not enjoy any power larger than that of the general public whom they represent and the media is subject to all the restrictions to which every member of the general public is subjected to. [2]

In fact, the journalists are encumbered with additional accountability, the court said, for what they write, because it is likely to influence the public to a greater degree, in comparison to an ordinary citizen writing or saying something. So, not only, the courts of law, even the code of ethics and broadcasting standards issued by the news broadcasting Association, emphasize the principles of self-regulation, impartiality, objectivity, neutrality, and privacy. The Bombay High Court urged the media to exercise restraint while reporting, pertaining to the investigation of the unnatural death of Sushant Singh Rajput because that would have brought prejudice to the ongoing investigation, so some restraint should be exercised by the media.

CONCLUSION

Nowadays when we watch the news, and the panel debates these days we usually find people from all walks of life present on the panel, be it commentators, lawyers, former judges, activists, politicians, film stars, former bureaucrats, police officers, and so on. There's a big list and each one is aggressively contending, trying to oppose each other expressing their views and opinions on any matter.

And the panel discussion gives a look of a courtroom or disorganized one which has no rules or regulations. And they are discussing every concerned person who is under investigation declaring that person is guilty or convict, time and again. So yeah, the freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right no doubt, but it comes with a blade of restrictions. With every right you must accept there is a corresponding duty while running a media campaign, one should be mindful that they have a duty towards the right to the reputation of the concerned person. The right to privacy, decency, morality, and the law, pertaining to contempt of court


-- [1] Registrar (Judicial) v. State of Tamil Nadu, 2020 SCC OnLine Mad 1332 , decided on 9-07-2020 [2] Re M.V. Jayarajan 1988 (3) All E R 545



This article is written by P Sanskar Naidu of Symbiosis Law School Nagpur.

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