“False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.”
In this digital era, the media plays a crucial part in molding and influencing society. We rely on the information published on various platforms, be it television, newspaper, social media, or media in any form. This dependence of the public, to believe what media projects to the nation, has enabled media to control the personalities of the majority.
The phrase trial by media is a common annotation given to the actions of the media, that while attempting to cover a sensational story on a gruesome or mundane situation, it goes over and past the scope of news and rather ends up making a major quarrel out of the casualty’s misfortune. Furthermore, all such actions, allegations, and passing judgments are often done before reporting the crime to the authorities or before the judicial machinery can perform its function.
The inception of media trials –
Media is said to be the fourth pillar of democracy, which functions as a control coordinator for the other three bodies of the government. Everything is good and indispensable when done within the boundaries, the same is with media and its activism.
When the media goes over and beyond the extent of reporting news and starts passing judgments and starts giving a one-sided opinion on the situation, it is said to be a media trial.
Everybody has their own opinion an assessment on news reported by media houses. The concept of trial by media in certain situations where media activism is needed and acts quintessential for the effective functioning of democracy.
The media works as a watchdog for the audience and its duty is to educate its audience by publishing true and fair content. Though trial by media gives us, as an audience, an opportunity to judge and give our verdict over the matter, this trial often influences the perspectives of various groups of people who in actuality may be the decision-making authority in the situation.
These media trials violate the principle of natural justice and create the need for protecting the right to a fair trial. Media trials additionally influence the life of the person accused, as the allegations perceived ultimately put their life at risk. They may lose their job; their mental health gets disrupted which leads them to take drastic steps.
Looking into the recent case of BOIS LOCKER ROOM, several chats were leaked where rape culture was promoted by adolescent boys. It was also brought to light that one of the screenshots shared on social media was from a fake Snapchat account made by a girl.
Manav Singh, a 17-year-old student was accused of molesting and raping a girl, this whole story was uploaded on social media by the girl accusing him, due to this he was under tremendous pressure and harassment which led to the accused committing suicide because of an allegation put on him.
Another famous case is the trial of former National Football League player, broadcaster, and actor OJ Simpson who was tried and acquitted on two counts of murder in the year 1994, for the deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman. But the media influenced the mind of viewers and declared Simpson guilty. Media trials had caused wrongful portrayal of the accused and helped in destroying his careers.
We see these days that the media tends to broadcast only the eye-grabbing subjects of the country and disregards the real issues. 80% of the newsreaders are unaware of the facts and the media tends to hype the matter which sometimes acts as a way to control the crowd.
Such news projects pessimism, and spreads disdain for the individual blamed without uncovering legitimate facts. In a very recent incident, late actor Sushant Singh Rajput, his girlfriend, Rhea Chakraborty was held as the driving force behind the case by the media which caused the crowd to accept the potential culprit, whereas, in reality, nobody knows the actual facts of the case and the late actor’s girlfriend was alleged for the crime.
Media houses sometimes tend to have a biased stance towards some political parties which prompts bias and likely illegitimate depiction of individuals engaged with the matter. This bias and tendency may change the brain of the legal executive bodies included which may thwart the cycle of reasonable dynamic during the decision-making process.
Legal perspective –
Judiciary works on the principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty, in the case of media trials a person guilty until proven innocent.
The Right to information and the right to communicate the information via media is guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, but does the media show us the right content?
Media being the manager for the crowd is answerable for posing inquiries, yet the media houses have bowed to an unheard-of disgrace where they are preferably following the TRP of their channel over presenting the significant news.
This act on biased views of their favoritism, tends to only cover the current most popular topics, which soon fades away from the limelight and rather have no effect or are not of any public importance.
It will not be right for us to charge media houses on the off chance that they cover some sensational topics that support their business since they are additionally a business industry and need assets, funds, ratings, and appraisals to work.
In any case, it is additionally not reasonable for them to just cover certain subjects and swing by on the subjects of public significance, similar to the passing of significant bills and how they affect us, or certain disturbance/protests by individuals in various parts of the country, who might be bringing their voice up for public interest.
The media works as the fourth pillar of democracy. Ideally functioning to keep checks and balances of bureaucrats, legislatures, and judiciary.
It is also responsible for asking the difficult questions to the government and as a responsible government, it is the duty of the head of the state to give the appropriate answers and information, so that the people may be aptly informed regarding the decision their elected leaders are making on their behalf. It is also the role of the media to ask the people regarding the decisions being taken on their behalf by their elected representatives, whether they actually want it or it is a political agenda? When the media does not do its job of asking the difficult questions, the executives and legislatures get away with their personal agendas, which may or may not be in the public interest.
Media houses are indeed liable for posing the troublesome inquiries and questions, however at what cost and what is the degree of opportunity that they appreciate and when do they surpass this opportunity and fall into the criminally responsible wrongdoings of maligning, defamation, slander, or sedition?
The Indian Constitution has bestowed upon us certain fundamental rights, like the right to life and liberty, right to religion, and amongst these the one concerning us and media is the right of freedom of speech and expression. But as all is in a democracy, it too comes with a sub-clause of “reasonable restrictions”.
The word “reasonable” implies intelligent care and deliberation, that is, the choice, of a course which reason dictates.
If we were to further elaborate upon this a reference ought to be made to “Romesh Thappar vs The State Of Madras” where it was observed that -“Freedom of speech and expression of the press lay at the foundation of all the democratic organizations, for without free political discussion no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the process of popular government, is possible.”
This reiterates the importance of free speech. Although, there is no exact standard or general pattern of reasonableness that can be laid down for all cases. Each case has to be judged upon its own merits. That is the working function of the judiciary and not any other media house.
Within the territory of India, any individual has an absolute right pertaining to a fair trial under Article 14, Article 19, Article 20, Article 21 & Article 22 of the Indian constitution. When the media telecasts these trials, they violate and compromise with the principles of “Presumption of innocence until proven guilty” and “Guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Media has such a high influence on the people that even the judiciary (being a human, After all) may be affected after watching these telecasts.
Sensational criminal cases that created a huge impact in the court of law:
- Aarushi Talwar Murder Case
- Priyadarshani Mattoo Case
- Jessica Lal Murder Case
- Jasleen Kaur Murder Case
This is simply not worthy, to make a fight about a case and toss their contrary opinions over an individual and ruin their lives. It’s not demonstrated if they are blameworthy of an offense. The media needs to not overlook the difference between an ‘Accused’ and a ‘Convict.’
Ethics in media houses are at an all-time low. This is high time something is done about it. But one may ask a question: Who will bring this change?
Well, the answer is simple, we the people. We, the citizens of the great Indian democracy, shall bring this change. There is a need for laws to be instituted that are a touch more severe and more clear to the comprehension of a common man. These laws ought to be to such that they don’t hamper freedom of speech and expression yet they don’t permit the media to run so free and wild, that it annihilates every one of the limits and destroys all that we know as the equity framework and majority rule government
By Yesha Raval, 4th year B.A.LL.B (Hons.), Faculty of Law, The Maharaja SayajiRao University Baroda, Vadodara.