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Trial by Media, Is it fair?

'Trial by media is a term which came into light in late 20th century and used frequently in 21st century. Actually, Trial by Media means judgment given by media (electronic/ paper) before the pronouncement of that respective judgment by the honorable court. The issue is very serious since it involves the clash of two Fundamental Rights. Those freedoms are 'Freedom of Press' and 'Right to have Fair Trial'.

Though in Constitution of India freedom of press is not explicitly provided but with the pronouncement of a judgment named Indian Newspaper v Union of India (1986 AIR 515). It is provided under Article 19(1) (a) which says that 'all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression', but this freedom is in way is overreaching or clashing with the right to have a fair trial which is again touched upon by various articles like Article 14(Equality before law), Article 19(Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech etc), Article 21(Protection of life and personal liberty), Article 22(Protection against arrest and detention in certain cases) of the constitution and also by procedural law (CrPC).

An open and strong media is needed in a democracy for checking the works of every organ as well as keeping public well informed. In fact a healthy press is indispensable to the functioning of democracy. In a democratic setup there should be an active participation of people in all affairs, it is their right to be kept informed about the social political condition prevailing in their country. The media should be commended for this job but when this job of checking and informing becomes diverted and starts interfering in the administration of justice; in that case it becomes unhealthy for the working of democracy.

If we go according to criminal jurisprudence, a suspect / accused is entitled a fair trial and is presumed to be innocent till proven guilty by a court of law, None can be allowed to prejudge or prejudice his case till the completion of trial, but nowadays since too much coverage is provided by the media, so many things which should not be told are uttered in the public openly which prejudges the conviction while the matter is still going on in the court of law. If this particular thing continues there will be confusion regarding the judgment, since media has already passed the judgment which pushes the honorable judges in a situation of enigma keeping the judgment at stake. Here comes the idea of reasonable restriction, it is well known that article 19(1) (a) provides freedom of speech and expression and 19(2) provide the concept of reasonable restriction where one of the basis is Contempt of Court which means that any interference in administration of justice will lead to criminal contempt of court as defined in Section 2 of Contempt of Court 1971(). So logically if there is any kind of interference in the administration of justice that will be considered as valid restriction.

If we see from another point of view trial by media influence many entities directly or indirectly. Beginning from the accused to the honorable judge everyone is influenced. It can be i) image of accused, ii) opinion of public, iii) honorable judges However, the importance of media cannot be ignored, there were some cases in the past where media played a very important role as in Jessica Lal murder case and many others. But the whole thing comes to a point that every institution be it The Executive or The Legislature or The Judiciary or Media must remain within their legislative jurisdiction once they will come out of their respective domain clashes will arise and the clashes hinders the growth of a democracy. Media is considered as the fourth pillar of the democracy. So it should not interfere (interference is different from checking) with other pillars otherwise the base will collapse with frequent imbalance.

Abhilasha Singh