Privacy and the Media: A Critical Analysis

In England too, the House of Lords in the celebrated case of Attorney General v. British Broadcasting Corporation14 has agreed that media trials affect the judges despite the claim of judicial superiority over human frailty and it was observed that a man may not be able to put that which he has seen, heard or read entirely out of his mind and that he may be subconsciously affected by it. The Courts and Tribunals have been specially set up to deal with the cases and they have expertise to decide the matters according to the procedure established by the law.

Similarly there have been a plethora of cases in India on the point. The observations of the Delhi High Court in Bofors Case [Kartongen Kemi Och Forvaltning AB and Ors. v. State through CBI] 15 is very much relevant, as the Court weighed in favour of the accused’s right of fair trial while calculating the role of media in streamlining the criminal justice system. Media’s trial is just like awarding sentence before giving the verdict at the first instance.

Even The 200th report of the Law Commission dealt with the issue of Trial by media: Free Speech vs Fair Trial under Criminal Procedure. The report, focused on the pre-judicial coverage of a crime, accused and suspects, and how it impacts the administration of justice.  The rights of an accused are protected under Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to fair trial. This protects the accused from the over-zealous media glare which can prejudice the case. Although, in recent times the media has failed to observe restraint in covering high-profile murder cases, much of which has been hailed as media’s success in ensuring justice to the common man.

For instance, in the Jessica Lal murder case, the media took great pride in acting as a facilitator of justice. The media in the case whipped up public opinion against the accused and held him guilty even when the trial court had acquitted the accused. The Apex Court observed that the freedom of speech has to be carefully and cautiously used to avoid interference in the administration of justice. If trial by media hampers fair investigation and prejudices the right of defence of the accused it would amount to travesty of justice. The Court remarked that the media should not act as an agency of the court.16

The media trials have very negative effect as far as the society is concerned. As the media has this ample power in influencing the mindset of the people, so before even going to the court, a person is made convicted in the eyes of the society thereby disrupting his reputation, image, privacy etc. His survival becomes jeopardized which is against the Right to personal life and personal dignity. And the sad part is that if that individual comes clean out of the court then there is no apology from the media. The irreparable loss which they make in a person’s life doesn’t become a concern for them anymore. And somehow, the media today to obtain interest of the public have started dramatic representation of any news coverage, irrespective of how sensitive the issue is.

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