If you are someone who is always up to date with current issues would know that for quite some time this topic ‘MEDIA TRIAL’ has always created some national-level discussion and comes into the limelight. But still, not a lot of people know what exactly a media trial is, in the simplest way it is a trial done by the media. The trial is a formal examination of any civil or criminal matter which takes place in the judicial system of our country, but when the media takes this matter and starts examining it assuming it’s their responsibility this trial turns into a Media Trial.
When this kind of trial takes place it also has a lot of repercussions, especially on the accused who is going under the trial. His or her fundamental rights like right to privacy and right to fair trial becomes questionable.
Right to privacy comes under Article 21 of the India constitution act as a guaranteed fundamental right. Right to privacy should be understood in the context of two fundamental rights: the right to freedom under article 19 and the right to life under article 21 of the constitution. Right to privacy can be infringed if the following distinct rights are of an individual have been infringed during media trial, the rights are as follows
Right to prevent public exposure
Prohibition of intrusion into an individual personal matter
If a person’s name or likeness is used without prior permission, and when the media in order to increase publicity do any of the above acts, a person's right to privacy gets adversely affected.
Right to privacy is a matter of concern not just for the accused but also for the victims or survivors, unnecessary media interference in sensitive cases, especially sexual exploitation and harassment matter, has always proved to be fatal to survivors’ mental health. They put the private life of survivors on a public platform which could add to mental trauma. Although section 228 of IPC forbids disclosing the survivor’s identity, the media exactly do that most of the time. For example, in the Delhi gangrape case of 2003, Nirbhaya’s real name and photograph were running in the public forum. In Nipun Saxena & Anr. V Union of India & ors., attended to this issue regarding what circumstances can the survivor identity be revealed. The judgement said that “no person can print or publish in print, electronic, social media, etc the name of the victim or even in a remote manner disclose any facts which can lead to the victim being identified”.
The Article 21 of Constitution talks about the free and fair trial of the accused, whereas Article 19of the Constitution recognised some media rights. But a media trial infringed an individual fair trial because media reporting can impact the sentencing process. The supreme court has been relying on tests such as “the society’s cry for justice” and “the collective conscience of the society” to determine whether death sentences should be imposed or not. Although the “test” was proposed in the early 1980s, the reliance on it in the recent past has increased. In some cases, the supreme court seems to have implicitly relied on media portrayal of a particular incident to assess whether “collective conscience” has been shaken. Death sentences have been imposed in cases where the media seemed to suggest that for a crime or a particular nature, the death sentences is warranted. Due to this individual right to fair trial can be affected.
Criminal cases which gets special attention by the people comes under the purview of media trial and it cause violation of natural justice, for example cases like Sushant Singh Rajput case and Aryan Khan case, these cases are so sensitive that it requires a lot of time by the judiciary to understand that cases in-depth and when media get involved it damages the prosecution-defence case and it pressurizes the subconscious minds of our learned judiciary in a high profile criminal case which makes it difficult for them to find the actual truth and give fair justice.
Though the media in cases such as Jessica lal case and Priyadarshini mattoo case has brought justice which has been eluding the deceased victims for years. Media trials bring justice in cases involving rich and influential accused, where chances of ‘fair trial’ without vigilance do not subsist. Like in Jessica Lal case, accused Manu Sharma’s son of Vinod Sharma, INC Minister of Haryana was acquitted by trial court mainly due to ‘police failure to establish a complete chain of evidence leading to incident’ and ‘all three-eye witness listed by the police in charge sheet turned hostile during the trial’. But subsequently, through media's extensive coverage of the matter the Delhi high court reversed the decision of the trial court. In this case, the media brought the issue to the forefront of public discourse and facilitated the justice delivery system.
Even though freedom of press is essential, it cannot be deduced that collective rights like freedom of press is greater than individual rights like right to privacy and fair trial. Media is recognized as the fourth pillar of democracy; it is considered to be the main aspect of maintaining transparency for the citizens of this country. In today’s time, the media is not only a medium to express once feelings and views but it is also responsible for building opinions, it mobilizes the thinking process of millions. Media while enjoying the freedom of speech and expression, should not forget that they have social responsibility to follow. It will be always appreciated how the media have sent many people behind the bar but the real solution would be to draw a line between the interference of media and judiciary.
Freedom of press is integral in reporting judicial proceedings, because without which the proceedings would be conducted secretively. In order for complete justice to be served, freedom of press is crucial. However, the press should only give out information and then it is the court that decides whether the accused is innocent or guilty. Nevertheless, it is the duty of the press to not banquet on the mob mentality and only provide the public with the facts.
This article is written by Asma khan of ILS Law College Pune.