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Media Trial – Essential or Ethical?

Introduction

Media Trial a circumstance of declaring the accused as a convict even before the real judgment is delivered by the court. Media is considered as one of the important pillars of a democratic country like India along with Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary. In simple words, Media Trial is the procedure where the media takes a case, and makes it public by declaring whether the accused is guilty or not. In most cases, Media plays an important role in a fair trial. The major task of the Media trial is to work as an inquiry system and present the real facts to the public without any partiality towards or against the accused in any sense. Generally, the media also is to follow the Constitution of India’s principles that are already laid down.  Media Trial in India is also known as investigative journalism. The media can sway through newspapers, television, and other places they try to reach towards. This part of journalism is not be forbidden by India and Indian Courts. 

The Positive Aspect

In some cases, Media Trial plays an important role because they tend to bring the non-disclosed facts or secrets to the general public as it is the only platform where the general public can know about particular cases. Hence, making it a watchdog and voice of the society. In the Jessica Lal Murder Case, the victim was a model and used to work as a waitress in social parties in New Delhi. She was shot dead at one of the parties when the accused Manu Sharma and his friends asked for a drink and she denied as there were no liquors in the party. Dozens of witnesses blamed Manu Sharma and his friends for the murder. The primary accused, Manu Sharma was a son of an influential political leader of the Congress Party and it was believed that with the influence of his political powers, some witnesses backed out from their confessions, and due to the murder weapon not being found by the police led to the accused getting acquitted for the particular case. At this stage, the media took things into their own hands and disclosed the case proceedings, facts, and events as a public figure. The Media talked about the bribery factor of the case, offered by the father of accused Manu Sharma and the evidence shared by the media through platforms like newspapers and magazines led to further investigations in the case from where the police left off. NDTV News asked the viewers to express their opinion about the trial publically and demanded justice for the victim and the society. The media focused on the protests carried out nationwide regarding the trial. Further, Tehelka Magazine carried out a sting operation of the witness who backed out at the last minute which helped in the further investigation of the case. Fortunately, the investigation done by the media found that some witnesses were bribed to turn in their testimony and those who couldn’t be bribed were threatened to change their testimonies. An audio recording was found of the accused confessing that he was at the party and demanded alcohol from the victim. When his demands were not met, the accused felt humiliated and in anger, shot her dead. With the immense pressure of media and the public altogether, the case went to the Supreme Court, and on 20th December 2006, the accused Manu Sharma was punished with life imprisonment and fine, and other accused, Yadav and Gill were imprisoned for four years along with fine. The media played the biggest role of bring justice to Jessica Lal. They helped in acquitting the accused Manu Sharma and his friends of all the charges 

The Negative Impact

In certain circumstances, media trial can also be considered as contempt of the Court. Sometimes, the media interference in the matters of certain case proceedings and declares their judgments in the pending cases before the courts that violate the principle of presumption of innocence until proven guilty and guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Nowadays, it is visible that investigation in the court proceedings and the media coverage tends to go opposite from each other which leads to miscommunication among the general public. In the Arushi Talwar Murder Case, a 18-year-old girl was found dead in her bedroom in Noida. Initially, the prime suspect was the family’s live-in domestic help Hemraj Banjade but the very next day, he was also found dead on the terrace of the same flat. The entire case was botched up by the media interference and the police’s non-concentration over the case. With the inability of the police, some evidence was compromised at the crime scene. It was noticed in an interview that the victim’s mother, Nupur Talwar was not appearing as a grieving mother and the rumors of the parents being the murderers were circulated by various news channels to improve the TRPs impacting the case immensely. With no evidence in the hands of U.P. Police, the case went to the CBI and they suspected Hemraj’s friends Krishna, Raj Kumar, and Vijay Mandal due to the lie detector test. In that test, Krishna admitted to murdering Aarushi and Hemraj but was later quashed away due to the non-admissibility of the lie detector test. Later, the second team of CBI was formed and they suspected the victim’s father Rajesh Talwar of killing his daughter due to him finding his daughter in a compromising position with the domestic help leading towards the Honor killing but this theory was based on circumstantial evidence and was later dropped out. The CBI mentioned their theory in their closure report and then the case was closed. Then, the case was reopened by the Ghaziabad Court where the parents were convicted for the trial of their daughter’s murder. The court found the Talwars guilty, but after four years of imprisonment, the case was overturned and they were acquitted. In this particular case, the media declared that the parents were guilty of their daughter’s death before the trial even commenced. The presumption of innocence until proven guilty is an important guideline for justice in the society which was compromised by media by tarnishing the parent’s character from the beginning which resulted in a negative impact on the Aarushi Talwar Case and is still not certain about the real murderer for the daughter and the domestic help.

An Overview

From the researcher’s point of view, media trial should be banned due to the ethical standards being crossed by them for the sake of increasing their TRP and not focusing on the real culprit(s) of the case. Media Trial can provide the unfair portrayal of the accused and acquit the wrong people in the country. Most of the time, Media does not look for real proof of the ongoing process and with half information prepare their own judgments of the cases leading the public wrong about the investigations going on. Interference of media in some cases leads to a mistrial due to their theories of misconception about the case proceedings which in turn affects the general public, accused, and victim(s) of the case. It is also been proved in many cases that interference of Media results in more negative effects than a positive one. Hence, media shouldn’t be allowed freedom of speech and expression that could also impact on preconceived opinion which is not based on respective case. 

As already discussed between the bench and bar, media will not be able to be stopped from coming to courts and record the oral observations for particular cases of the trials as public should be accessed how are judicial process is going in the courtroom of India. Government of India should declare that the media cannot make statements that can be defamatory to any of the parties present in a courtroom unless the judgment is given by the Judge or the Bench. If any statement given, the respective channel should be rewarded with some punishment, or penalty, or both. Media can also be sometimes partial towards specific party and not look at their accountability in a case, that can result in false statements in national television. 

The court hasn’t explicitly told that Trial by Media is unconstitutional but according to the Constitution of India, media is violating Right to Privacy and hence it could be considered unconstitutional to by the courts of India. 

“The problem with the electronic media is all about TRPs, leading to more and more sensationalism, damage reputation of people and masquerade as form of right”

This Article has been written by Riya Lal, from Amity Law University, Noida. 

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