A free press that is neither directed by the executive nor subjected to censorship, is a vital element in a free State, in particular, a free, regularly published, political press is essential in a modern democracy. Democracy can thrive under the care and guidance of public opinion and media is the vehicle through which an opinion can articulate. In molding, the opinion of social media plays a vital role and it is also capable in changing the viewpoint of society. Press provides the information, adopts its own point of view, and thus works as a direction giving force to the public debate. Freedom of the press is not limited to newspapers only. But, as regards their private life, a proper balancing of freedom of the press as well as the right of privacy should be maintained. Therefore, media plays a significant role in forming the opinion of the public in the society. Press includes broadcasting as well as television. The liberty of the press implicit in the freedom of speech and expression gave under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. Media is called one of the pillars of democracy. Through media, people come to know about the current information which is happening all around the world.
TRIAL BY MEDIA
Trial by media before or after the judgment of the Court has become a fashion these days to increase the TRP of their news channel. The trial is a process that is generally carried out by the Court and not by the media. Sometimes media acts as a court and tries to blame a person without giving him a chance to speak for himself or without any proof. Media also distort the facts to make it interesting just to grab the viewers. This results in defamation of a person even without any fault as today the person’s reputation is very important to live in the society. It is true that the media has given justice to many victims like in Jessica Lal's murder case but also it does not conduct fair trial for the victim like doing immature judgment just as blaming Aarushi’s parents in the Aarushi Talwar case.
Today, media also started creating pressure upon the lawyers not to take the cases of the accused. Media, themselves declare them accused without any evidence just on doubt and as a result, society did not treat them with respect, and even without any fault, they have to bear society’s disrespect. Declaring the people accused and publishing them on the television or newspaper is obviously an illegitimate use of freedom of speech and expression. The Supreme Court said that the press should "draw a line" and strike a balance as media trial of cases cannot be allowed. The former chief justice of India also said that the Supreme Court would draw the line on how much policemen can tell the media about the case investigation.
Freedom of Media has to be exercised within reasonable boundaries. The restriction mentioned under article 19(2) of the Constitution of India can only be imposed by law and not by the executive or any department. The word ‘reasonable’ implies intelligent discrimination, the discrimination by the legislature as what is reasonable restriction and it is not final and conclusive but it is subject to the supervision by higher courts.
Over the years Government has enacted laws which sought to regulate the functioning of media like laws affecting revenues particularly advertising revenues, laws in the nature of Labour Regulation for the Welfare of Journalist, import rules imposing restriction on newspaper, Right to get Raw Materials like News Print (Foreign), etc.
IMPACT OF MEDIA TRIAL
Freedom of Press is considered as the heart of social and political intercourse in Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Private Ltd. v. Union of India. In Printers (Mysore) Ltd. v. CTO, it was reiterated by the Honourable Supreme Court that the freedom of press is not expressly guaranteed under article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India as a fundamental right, but it is implicit in the freedom of speech and expression. For all democratic countries, freedom of the press has always been a cherished right and the Press has rightly been described as the fourth chamber of democracy.
However, there are always two sides to the coin. Trial by Media is contempt of Court and needs to be punished. In Y.V. Rao v. K.R. Pattabhiram and Anr. , it was observed by the judges that if the litigation is pending before the court, no one shall comment on that matter even if the person making the comment honestly believed it to be true.
The judicial process owes its origin to the principle of natural justice, every individual has a right to a fair trial. It was explained by the Supreme Court that a fair trial would obviously mean a trial before an impartial judge, a fair prosecutor, and atmosphere of judicial calm in Zahira Habibullah Sheikh v. the State of Gujarat.
Justice Sikri said that in this digital era judging is ‘under stress’, on social media people start discussing on the case what the outcome ‘should be’ which is not even taken up by the court and also discusses who has an influence on the judge.
MEDIA TRIAL VS FAIR TRIAL
The Constitution of India has given each citizen to have a right to a fair trial by an impartial judge in a Court of law. In both civil and criminal laws, guilt has to be proved. The difference is that in criminal laws, the standard of proof is higher than civil laws i.e. beyond a reasonable doubt. Before that, the person will be presumed to be innocent as per the doctrine of presumption of innocence. But in media trials, the media only tries to grab the attention of the viewers by blaming any person without any proof. For rule of law and orderly society, a free responsible press and an independent judiciary are both indispensable and both have to be, therefore, protected. One of the fundamental Principles of a fair trial is Audi alteram partem which means no man should be condemned unheard. Before any action is taken against an accused, he should be given a chance to speak for himself. The principle is followed in the Court of law but during the media trial, the media does not listen to the person on whom the claim has been put. The media presents the case in such a manner to the public that if a judge passes an order against the ‘media verdict’, he or she may appear to many either as corrupt or biased.
We are living in the era of paid and fake news where stories are created but it can also be not deniable that the free press plays an important role as a watchdog in democratic country. Though media act as a platform through where people come to know about all the important information but today media works only for money. There are many cases where media intervene like the Priyadarshini Mattoo case, Jessica Lal case, Nitish Katra murder case, etc. but these cases have gone unpunished by the court. It wholly depends upon the general public that they should have to be more media literate and understand facts from fiction and it is also the responsibility of media that they ensure the administration of justice is not undermined. Sometimes media has a negative influence and the viewers trust them easily without thinking once. Therefore, it is important that media should be regulated by the Courts and no such information should be given to the media which is false or incomplete as we know that incomplete truth is dangerous than the whole truth.