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  • Mohini Trivedy


Updated: Jan 16

Author: Mohini Trivedy

Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies


The term "trial by media" became used in the period of 20th to 21st centuries to describe the way in which a person's reputation may be damaged by media coverage, especially television and newspapers, even if the individual is found not guilty in a court of law. Supporters of an essentially unfiltered free press and those who priorities people's right to privacy and a fair trial are always at odds in democracies. The media has reinvented itself as a 'public court' (Janta Adalat), and its members have begun meddling with trials. The fundamental differences between the one wo has been accused of an offence and the one who is convicted for the offence on which rest the twin pillars of “presumption of innocence until proved guilty” and “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,' are ignored. What seen instead is a "media trial," in which inquiry is conducted by media itself and works to sway opinion of the public against the suspect prior to the court hearing the case. As a consequence, the accused, who ought to be deemed innocent, is treated as a criminal, with all his liberties and rights unrestricted, by a biased public and, in some cases, a court. It is an unreasonable interference with the "Administration of Justice" and grounds for proceeding of court contempt towards the media if pre-trial media coverage of a suspect or accused person causes prejudice to the trial or leads to a characterization of him to be an individual who has committed the crime. There ought to be more regulations on journalists to protect civil and human rights, but the current system is insufficient.


Within the framework of the system of criminal justice that we have been seeing, no doubts of reasonable nature must be there when guilty proven, and the law is based on empirical evidence rather than subjective interpretations. The media and the public tend to show their feelings without realizing how much strain it puts on the judge presiding over the case. A judge who is under a great pressure of delivering a decision which is just and fair and which such pressure from the society, it is quite tough to form a decision. While in most places a suspect is believed innocent until proven guilty in court, in this country it has been common practice to assume guilt upon an individual's first detention. The media's role is to inform the public of events and bring attention to important public concerns; it is not to make value judgements.

'Trials by the media' have "three fundamental flavors," as described by Ray Surette: the ‘Sinful Rich type,” the “Evil Stranger, psychotic murders,” and the “Abuse of Power” trial. For example, the chief priest of Kanchi Kamakoti, Jayendra Saraswati, was accused of murdering two mill employees and offering their bodies as a sacrifice, all because of what was written in the newspapers[i]. In Labor Liberation Front v. State of Andhra Pradesh, the Andhra Pradesh, High Court ruled that the writ petition filed to compel an investigation was based on unchecked assumptions. The judge said, "Once an event involving a renowned person or institution occurs, the media immediately springs into action, basically leaving little less for the prosecutors or the Courts." As examples of the "Sinful Rich type" and the "Abuse of Power trial," the media frenzy around the Jessica Lal and Priyadarshini Mattoo cases serve as illustrative examples. Here, we get into the meat of our study, discussing how media coverage of trials affects both the legal system and human rights.


Through the use of a media trial, we have begun to put pressure on the attorneys so that they will even refuse to take on the cases of the accused, which would ultimately result in the accused having to stand trial without a defense. No one has the authority to prevent another individual from exercising their constitutionally protected right to have a lawyer of their choosing represent them in a legal proceeding and give their side of the argument to the judge or jury presiding over the case. When the prominent lawyer Ram Jethmalani agreed to represent Manu Sharma, a major accused in a murder case, he was the target of public ridicule. This happened since the case included a murder. A prominent editor for the television news station CNN-IBN described the move to represent Sharma as an effort to "defend the indefensible." Sharma has been accused of sexual misconduct. This was only one instance of the campaign that was organized by the media against the accused. Since we were all aware of the fact that in that case, we had one of the most talented lawyers in the nation, Gopal Subramaniam, representing the state, but the case of Manu was allotted to a lawyer who was considered to be below average. As soon as Mr. Jethmalani accepted the case and portrayed his client in a negative light, the media erupted into a frenzy. Have we completely lost trust in the legitimacy of the judicial system, or do we not want to provide the defense with a fair chance to make its case? Before it's too late, the media has to realize they have a limit to what they can cover. In addition to suspects and accused, victims and witnesses also have their private rights violated by an excessive amount of media attention and other forms of invasion. The media consistently portrays law enforcement in a negative way, which has a detrimental effect on morale inside the force. The next day after the news of the incident is released, the media reports that "Police have no idea." The media then offers such prominence in regards to the data that the individual by whom the crime was actually done may move to an area much safer. This is true regardless of the gossips that the media acquires about the line of inquiry being conducted by the authorities. The police are placed under increasing pressure from the media on a daily basis, and this pressure eventually arrives a point where the there is a feeling of obligation on the part of the police to speak to the common public in order to have a maintained image.

Both the rule of law and the function of law are crucial in a contemporary state. While the law protects some freedoms and guarantees certain rights, it also imposes responsibilities and limits on the enjoyment of such privileges. According to Kant, the law itself is interested with the exterior practical connections of an individual to the other. This concept may be found in Ray Surette's book The Media, the Public, and Criminal Justice Policy (2003). In light of the idea of freedom, the ordering of these ties requires the ordering of the arbitrary nature that each individual imposes on the other individuals. Therefore, although it is true that one is free to voice his wants, put his will into action, and express his rights, it is equally true that it is obligatory upon that person to abide by the constraints that have been set down by the law. The traditional understanding of the concept of liberty maintains that it is appropriate for the state to intervene in an individual's behavior when such behavior poses a risk to the freedom of other people. Absoluteness is not compatible with human experience in any way, thus this must be kept in mind as an important caveat. No right or liberty may be considered absolute, whatever the significance of the issue at hand. The purpose of law is to regulate people's lives so that society may function in a way that allows individuals to fully exercise their rights without excessive governmental intrusion.

The courtroom has been replaced with the family room as the venue for trials today. And as a consequence of such a transition, the rights of individuals face a chance of being influenced in a way that has never been seen before in the history of the world. The media in our day and age is highly marketed and internationalized. Their principal objective is to enhance both their profits and their total rating points (TRP). One just cannot conceive of any kind of social duty being inside the modern commercialized media. Making a profit is their major objective. However, in the current world, everything comes at a cost, and the process of producing a profit also has certain associated expenses. And the price to pay is the accused person's human rights. Because of the role the media plays, innocent individuals have been victimized, and their basic human rights have been violated as a result. Even before the trial begins, the accused person is presumed to have committed the crime. For example, the current troubles that have surfaced in the wake of the Jamia Encounter[ii] have prompted a great deal of debate and inquiry on the function of the media in situations like these.

The idea of human dignity, which is at the center and essence of the concept of human rights, is being violated and frustrated. There are dozens of incidents that grabbed the attention of the media in the not-too-distant past and led, in some of those situations, to the unwarranted, unwelcome, and undeserved attention of the general public in general. These cases may be found. A 'media trial' followed his arrest. One week later of assault on the Parliament of India Afzal 'incriminated himself' in front of the media in a gathering of press that the cops organized. The media had a detrimental influence at affecting the conscience of the general people before Afzal was even convicted. In a similar vein, S.A.R. Geelani, one of Afzal's co-defendants in the Parliament Attack Case of attack on attack on parliament, was first condemned to death for his claimed participation in the attack, despite the shocking lack of evidence. Geelani's conviction was later overturned. It was made clear to the general public that he was a potentially lethal terrorist. While reversing the decision of the lower court, the High Court of Delhi The case of the prosecution was characterized as "at best, ludicrous and sad" in Geelani's conviction, which he received.

In addition, there are a great deal of inquiries that have not been resolved. To begin, the question has to be asked: are members of the media and journalists qualified to cover a trial in the manner in which they do? This is something that may be questioned more and further. The vast majority of journalists lack the appropriate education and are not familiar with legal concepts. To pursue a career in journalism, obtaining a degree in law is not necessary. For example, the media often portrays an accused person's confession to the police or other law enforcement officials as evidence that the accused person committed the crime. This demonstrates the media's lack of understanding of the fundamental concepts underlying the legal system. The Indian Evidence Act of 1872, Section 25 expressly forbids the admission of a confession made to the police as valid evidence in a court of law. In this way, evidence that would be excluded from consideration in a court of law might be sufficient to convince the general public that the person being charged is guilty. It is quite rare to locate a single news outlet that provides an explanation for the reasoning for such unacceptable behavior or even makes a passing reference of the part in their reporting

The increasing irresponsible behaviour of the media is a cause for severe worry for both those who work in law enforcement and those who do not work in the field since both groups are being impacted. It gives the wrong impression to the general public and treats the accused in an unjust manner. Therefore, the issue that has to be answered is, to what extent is it just?? The media has a positive role to play as a contributing member of civil society to ensure that their irresponsible method of operation does not lead to a breach of the individual’s rights, which are colloquially known as 'human rights.'

In conclusion, one of the topics that has generated a lot of discussion is the impact that the media has had on the way the judges make their decisions. The judicial system has also been influenced by the trend towards sensationalized reporting in the media. The collaborative consciousness of the society can only be content if the perpetrator is given the death penalty. In the case of Priyadarshini Mattoo, Santosh Kumar Singh, the son of a Police Inspector-General, was the person responsible for Mattoo's rape and murder. The accused individuals were found not guilty by the trial court.

The judges are not left unaffected by the commotion produced by the media. Without a question, judges are human beings, and as such, they are susceptible to the pressure that is generated by the media. As a result, their effect is fundamentally human. According to a decision handed down by the Supreme Court, a trial that is conducted via the press, electronic media, or by means of public agitation is the antithesis of the rule of law and may result in a miscarriage of justice. A judge must protect themselves from being subjected to such pressure.


When it comes to informing the general public about everything that goes on inside of the courtroom, the media plays a crucial part by reporting on all of the events that take place. The norms of the legal process are meant to guarantee that justice is served, and the coverage in the media needs to be tailored in such a way that it fits in well with those principles. In the administration of criminal justice, there are often impartial third parties involved, whose behavior may be influenced by how the case is covered in the media. The parties may be intimidated by the media, or they may be exposed to future insecurity as a result of their actions. In the past, reporting in the media has been fraught with challenges due to the fact that the people concerned have either been affected in one way or another. Therefore, in order to maintain the integrity of the legal process, it is necessary to implement measures that will assure media coverage that is impartial.

Both the "guilt must be proven beyond reasonable doubt" and the "presumption of innocence until proven guilty" are foundational tenets of the criminal justice system in India, which together provide the framework upon which the system is built.

The Supreme Court of India stated once again in the case of T. Nagappa v. Y. R. Muralidhar[iii] that "An accused has a right to fair trial." As a component of his human rights and a basic right, he is entitled to the right to protect himself, which is spelled forth in the 21st Article of the Indian Constitution.

The judicial system has also been influenced by sensationalist reporting in recent years. For example, a "trial by media" started very soon after Afzal's detention in the assault on the Indian Parliament case. This case involves the assault on the Parliament of India. A week after the incident, on December 20, 2001, the police convened a press conference during which Afzal 'incriminated himself' in the presence of the national press. Before Afzal was ever put on trial, the media had an outsized and unfavorable impact on the formation of the general public's conscience. If the general public thinks that justice is going to hang Afzal Guru for the attack on the Parliament, then the absence of proof against him will not be sufficient to justify his acquittal under any circumstances. The increased public outcry that is caused by the media ultimately leads to a conviction in "the court of public opinion," which is a prerequisite for a conviction in a legal court.


One of the main concerns and accusations made during a media trial is that the judges sitting over the case were biased because of the coverage. The American perspective seems to hold that jurors and judges are not subject to liability to be affected by publications of the media, whereas the Anglo-Saxon perspective holds that judges are still susceptible to being at the subconscious level influenced, and that the public may mistakenly believe that court is directly impacted by such publications. As a result, Lord Denning argued in the Court of Appeal, and was rejected by the House of Lords, that judges would be unaffected by media attention.


The aggressive position of the media is starting to interfere with the administration of justice as a result of the high-powered salesmanship of ideas that is taking place. The cops are under an unreasonable amount of strain. A recent instance of media interference would be the killing of a Reliance Infocomm employee named Anandita Mishra. As a direct result of stories in the media, the primary suspect in the killing managed to elude capture and go away.

The safety of witnesses has been put in jeopardy. In the case of State (N.C.T. of Delhi) v. Navjot Sandhu[iv], the court disapproved of the practice of revealing the suspect to citizen eyes through TV. As a result, the case gets severely affected due to the constant opinions of the public and media. In the present case, the Test Identification Parade was held, and the alleged perpetrator was identified by witnesses. The public ridicules the attorneys who represent unpopular accused individuals because of lies spread by the media. No one has the authority to prevent another individual from exercising their constitutionally protected right to have a lawyer of their choosing represent them in a legal proceeding and give their side of the argument to the judge or jury presiding over the case. When the prominent lawyer Ram Jethmalani, often known as the Indian Clarence Darrow, made the decision to represent Manu Sharma, a major suspect in a murder trial, he was met with public contempt and ridicule by the media.

These are only a few instances that demonstrate the function of the media in the legal system. Cases that include prominent and influential individuals as the accused parties, such as the murder situations of Jessica Lall and Nitish Katara, do benefit from such persistent media exposure. This is especially true in cases like the ones mentioned above. The mother of Nitish Katara, who was killed in the Nitish Katara murder case, Neelam Katara, was successful in gaining a verdict from the lower courts thanks to the assistance of the media and the public opinion that was formed via print and electronic media. As per this article published that was published in a newspaper, Praful Kumar Sinha v. State of Orissa[v] was a case that was brought before the Supreme Court to protest the sexual abuse of blind girls while they were attending school. On the basis of the report that was filed, the Supreme Court issued directives to the institution for the correct handling of the situation, despite the fact that proving sexual assault was difficult. Famous journalists such as Sheela Barse, who is a supporter of human rights, have often knocked on the doors of the Supreme Court in an effort to get the court to take note of the situation of those who are disempowered and disadvantaged. In the case of Sheela Barse v. Union of India[vi], a journalist sent a letter to the Chief Justice of India to bring the Supreme Court's attention to the horrible circumstances at which a mentally disabled lady was being held in the Presidency prison in Calcutta. The letter was filed as part of the case. Commissioners were recruited as a result of this effort in order to evaluate and report on the circumstances of jails where women and children were being held.


One may argue that the effects of Trial by Media are self-evident. It must use extreme caution and attention in all of its actions. The answer is not to suppress press freedom completely, but to work towards making it more accountable. The media should not pass judgement on someone accused of a crime until their guilt has been established in a court of law. Anyone who comes to the courthouse seeking justice must be given a fair trial, since this is both their right and a requirement of the rule of law. How judges’ rule on cases "matters," to use a phrase from Ronald Dworkin. Furthermore, in light of the current social climate and previous documentation presented here, it is possible that media, by generating a "pressure situation," may limit the efficacy of the judicial process. The judiciary must ensure that the media are controlled in an appropriate manner. In addition to the above, judicial procedures are not a sports event, and the media should not be given full reign to report on them. A report was formulated by the Law Commission on ‘Trial by Media: Free Speech vs. Fair Trial under Criminal Procedure (Amendments to the Contempt of Court Act, 1971)’

REFERENCES [i] Ray Surette, the Media, the Public and Criminal Justice Policy, 2003 [ii] Del Vecchio, Philosophy of Law, 103(1953), The Catholic University of American Press, Washington, DC [iii] 2008 (6) SCALE 642, (2008) 5 SCC 633 [iv] AIR 2005 SC 3820 [v] AIR 1989 SC 1783 [vi] (1995) 5 SCC 654

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