Journalistic Ethics (Media Trials)

In the modern era of nationalism of 21st century, the role of media has been considered important from the viewpoint that media is regarded as one of the pillars of the democracy. Media plays the most crucial and vital role in moulding the opinion of the society and has the ability to mould the viewpoint of whole society through which people perceive through certain happening and events. Media has always been justified in calling for the perpetrators to be punished by law without actually knowing the cause behind the development of such events. However, media cannot deviate from its objectivity and cannot seize the power as well as the function of Judiciary in imparting “Justice”. The concept of media is important for free and democratic society and if media has been shackled by the government regulations is unhealthy for democracy. The strength and importance of media is well recognised in each and every sphere of life and for country like India it is essential that there exist free, independent and powerful media which at times has always been considered as the cornerstone of democracy. Media is not only the medium which expresses thoughts, emotions, opinions and views but also act as a medium in building the thoughts and opinion of all, on various topics of regional, national and international agenda. The increased role of media was aptly put in the words by Justice Billings Learned Hand judge of the Supreme Court of America that “The hand that rules The Press, The Radio, The Screen and the far spread Magazine, rules the country”. Freedom of media is indeed the integral part but it must always be obligated to respect the rights of individuals so that the right of privacy of an individual is not infringed unnecessarily at any cost.

John Hofsess once said that “The demi-world of journalism is like the fun house of mirrors that one finds on carnival midways. In one reflection you are too fat, in another you are absurdly thin, in another reflection you appear to have an elongated neck, in another a flat head, in still another you have next to nobody. Yet there you are, standing in front of bizarre reflection, fully formed and hearing little resemblance to any of the images before you. The difference is however, that unlike the fun house of mirrors, the distortions of media are rarely a joke[1].

The term “media” are composite of print, sound and electronic. Print media remain as powerful as ever long with newspapers, magazine, books, periodicals events etc. But electronic media offer a rich mix of that is available around the world. News of crime is always available and media starts giving its opinion even before the police interrogate the suspect at the scene of incident. Thus such crime news generates many legal problems for the media and accused, especially when overzealous media goes beyond its limit. In the past few years there are many instances in which media has conducted the trial of an accused and passed their verdict much before the court passes its judgement. This phenomenon is particularly known as Media trials. Some examples of media trials can be the Jessica Lal Murder case, Priyadarshini Matto, the Nitish Katara murder case and the Ayushi murder case. Such trial by media always creates an impression in the mind of people about the character of the parties to the case irrespective of the decision of the court. Thus between the advantage and disadvantage of the media trial, the debate about the constitutionality goes on.

Constitutionality of Media Trials.

*Freedom of Press; The press as well as media has gained freedom from international conventions and charters as well. Article 19 of Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, 1966 embodies the right “that everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information of all kinds in any form or through any media. But this freedom comes under certain restrictions with special responsibilities and duties and is subjected to “right or reputation of others”. In Re: Harijai Singh and Anr. And In Re: Vijay Kumar[2], The Supreme court held that the freedom of press can be recognized as, “an essential prerequisite of a democratic form of government” and regarded it as “the mother of all other liberties in a democratic society”. The Supreme Court of India in Anukul Chandra Pradhan v. Union of India[3], observed that “No occasion should arise for an impression that the publicity attached to these matters (the hawala transactions) has tended to dilute the emphasis on the essentials of a fair trial and the basic principles of jurisprudence including the presumption of innocence of the accused unless found guilty at the end of the trial”

*Immunity under Contempt of court Act 1971;Under the Contempt Of court act 1971, all the pre trials and publications conducted by press and media was held unconstitutional as they destroy the dignity of the court and more or less harm the reputation of the parties to the particular case. Thus any publication or pre trials that tend to obstruct the course of justice in connection with civil and criminal proceeding which is pending in the court constitutes the contempt of court under section 3(2)(b) of this act. For example in the murder case of Ayushi Talwar[4] the media came up with different reports like the character of the parties, strength of parties and with different evidences, which proved pre judicial to the case of the parties. In spite of this, these publications were granted immunity. This publication may harm the judicial system if they are not restricted to certain level.

The Public Right to Know; The Supreme Court of India has expounded the fundamental principle behind the freedom of press that is the people right to know the certain facts which still are unrevealed[5]. The Supreme Court observed that “The primary function therefore of the press is to provide comprehensive and objective information of all the aspect of country’s political, social, economic and cultural life. It has an educative and mobilising role to play in moulding public opinion[6].

200th Law Commission Report; The law commission in its 200th Report has referred a special reference towards “Trial by Media; Free Speech versus fair Trial under criminal Procedure (amendment to the contempt Of courts act 1971), has recommended a law to debar the media from reporting anything prejudicial to the rights of accused in a criminal case, from the time of arrest to investigation and trial. The commission in its report ales said that “ that there is a view of the extensive use of television and cable services, the whole pattern of publication of news has changed and several such publications are likely to have a prejudicial impact on the suspects, accused, witnesses and even judges in general administration of justice”[7]. The Supreme Court in the best bakery case[8] contended that the concept of fair trial is a constitutional imperative recognise under Article 14, 19, 21, 22 and 39(A) of the constitution of India. The Supreme Court in the Rajendra sail case[9] observed that “for rule of law and orderly society, a free press and independent judiciary are both indispensible”.

Media Trial; A necessary evil. Trial by media has been regarded as necessary evil. But many big scams were uncovered by media and judiciary merely followed them up. One of the advantages of having strong and independent press is that people are now aware of their rights owing to the fact that these people are exposed to lot of information as being provided by media. But the fact remains that media in the 21st century are regulated by some other means and completely involved them in profit oriented business. The Supreme Court stated that it is acceptable that the media should be independent and free but they can’t come in the way of judiciary in exercising its function in the judicial process. Therefore it is in the media interest to ensure that the administration of justice is not undermined.


From the above account it is clear that modern media has more negative role to perform in the modern society in transforming the opinion of the people. Media has been entrusted with the right of freedom of speech and expression but they cannot be given free hand in exercising the function of judiciary. It is the moral duty of the media to acknowledge everything before publishing and moreover reveal the truth in each and every case rather than manipulating words for the business purpose. The most suitable way of restricting media from exercising trial is to exercise contempt of court those who violate the basic conduct of the court.The observation of Mr. Andrew Belsey in his article “Journalism and ethics” quoted by Delhi High Court[10] aptly describe the state of affairs of today’s media. He says that journalism and ethics stand apart. While journalistic are distinctive facilitators for the democratic process to function without hindrance the media has to follow the virtues of accuracy, honesty, truth, objectivity etc. But the practical considerations that is to be taken up are namely as pursuit of successful career, promotion to be obtained are recognised as the factors “for temptation to print trivial stories salaciously presented”. In the temptation to sell stories, ‘what is presented is what public is interested in’ rather than ‘what is in public interest’.


[2] (1996) 6 S.C.C. 466(India).

[3] 1996 (6) S.C..C 354(India).

[4]  Dr. Rajesh Talwar and another v. Central Bureau of Investigation, 2013(82) A.C.C.303(India).

[5] A.G. v. Times Newspaper, (1973) 3 All E.R. 54; Express Publications (Madurai) Ltd. v. Union of India, A.I.R. 2004 S.C. 1950, para 29; Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India v. Cricket Association of Bengal, A.I.R. 1995 S.C. 1236, para 4.

[6] In Re: Harijai Singh and Anr. In Re: Vijay Kumar, (1996) 6 S.C.C. 466, para 10(India).

[7]  200th Law Commission Report on 3rd November 2006.

[8] (2005) 2 S.C.C. 75(India).

[9]  (2005) 6 S.C.C. 109(India).

[10] Mother Dairy Foods & Processing Ltd v. Zee Telefilms 2005 (80) D.R.J. 74 (India).

Pranav Kaushal

Pranav Kumar Kaushal, Content Writter, Law Corner, Student B.A., LLB 7th Semester, School of Law, Bahra University, Shimla, Himachal Pradesh.

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