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Media Trial is the effect of television and newspaper coverage on a person's prestige by establishing a common perception of guilt in the minds of people, irrespective of any verdict of a court of law. In the cases like Aarushi Talwar's case, Jessica Lal case, the media has played a major role in pointing towards the guilty. It can change the whole way of perceiving a case. Trial is necessarily a process to be conducted by a court of law.

A person is entitled to a fair trial. This right is also recognised under the International framework. Several provisions in International law that ensure fair trial are: -

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (UDHR)

  • Article 10 - This article states that every person is entitled to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.
  • Article 11 - Everyone charged with a penal offense has a right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a public trial.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

  • Article 14 (1)- This article has insisted the objectives of UDHR and states that ' Everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.'  
  • Article 14(2) - This article states that there should be a presumption of innocence.

Fair Trial is one of the most extensive human rights and all international human rights instruments enshrine it in its articles. Various rights to a convict for fair trial are: -

  1. the right to be heard by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal
  2. the right to be heard within a reasonable time span.
  3. Presumption of innocence.
  4. the right to a public hearing
  5. the right to counsel
  6. the right to interpretation

In the contemporary media era, under the pressure of the 24/7 news environment, competitive media market and High TRPs, media has taken away two important rights of the convict i.e.

  • Trial to be conducted by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law. The notion behind this provision is to avoid the arbitrariness and biasness.
  • Guilt must be proved of the convict beyond a reasonable doubt.

Media completely ignores the vital difference between an ' accused' and a ' convict' and hence forgets the golden principles of 'presumption of innocence until proven guilty' and 'guilt beyond reasonable doubt'.

Newspapers offer all the information about the suspect, accused, witnesses. They provide with the newsworthy evidence which may not be even admissible in a court of law. During high publicity court cases, the media often provokes an environment of public hysteria akin to a lynch mob which makes a fair trial nearly impossible. Regardless of the court verdict, in the public perception, the accused is already held guilty and would not be able to live the rest of their life without intense public scrutiny.


State of Maharashtra v. Rajendra Jawanmal Gandhi, 1997 (8) SCC 386

In this case, the Supreme Court held that a trial by press, electronic media or by way of a public agitation is the very anti-thesis of rule of law and can lead to miscarriage of justice.

M.P. Lohia etc. Vs. State of West Bengal and Anr, AIR 2005 SC 790

The Supreme Court of India warned media on one sided reporting of criminal trials and termed trial by media as a `distributing factor' in the administration of justice' . The court further stated that these kinds of practices are deprecated, and the court caution the publisher, editor and the journalist for indulging into such media trials when the issue is sub judice.

Media Trial and Contempt of Court

In the case of A.K.Gopalan v. Noordeen , 1970 AIR 1694, the Supreme Court held that the publications made after the arrest of a person could be a criminal contempt if such publications prejudice any trial later in a criminal court.

Section - 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 defines Criminal contempt which means the publication which

  • Scandalises or tends to scandalise the authority of court.
  • prejudices, or interferes with the due period of judicial proceeding.
  • Obstructs or interferes with the administration of justice in any other manner.

Role of contempt of court law is to apply the sub judice rule i.e. no interference in judicial proceedings of a pending case. Several examples of violations this rule is: -

  • Publication which abuses a party to a case which restrains them from attending the proceeding.
  •  Publication of matters which are not admissible as evidence in the court.
  • Publication which may create bias in a judge, such as previous convictions of the accused.
  • Publication which anticipates the issues in a case.

 Guidelines on preventing Pre-trial publicity.

  1. Protecting and isolating the witnesses during the trial.
  2. Efforts to control the release of leads, information to the press by police officials, witnesses, and the counsels of both sides.
  3. Reporters who write or broadcast prejudicial stories can be warned.
  4. If publicity during the proceedings threatens the fairness of a trial, a new trial can be ordered.

The principle of Natural Justice itself expects court to decide purely on the basis of evidence they hear in the court, as well as the arguments from the prosecution and defenses.

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