SOCIAL MEDIA TRIAL
By- Sneha Khandelwal
“I would rather have a completely free press with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of that freedom than a suppressed or regulated press.”
-Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru
Media is regarded as one of the pillars of democracy. It has wide ranging roles in the society and plays a vital role in molding the opinion of the society and capable of changing the whole viewpoint through which people perceive various events. Mass media is a double edged weapon. On one side it plays an important role in strengthening democracy while on other it could be misused by those with vested interest. The media can be proposed for starting a trend where the media plays an active role in bringing the accused to hook.
A recently happened phenomenon in which Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari was in the news for wrong reasons following the publication of a report that he and his family enjoyed a Mediterranean cruise in February this year. Gadkari sought to play down the news by declaring that the trip was just out of curiosity and had no business angle.
Freedom of media is the freedom of people as they should be informed of public matters. Article 19 of the constitution provides right to freedom of speech and expression but the freedom is not absolute as it is bounded by the sub clause (2) of the same article. This right does not embrace the freedom to commit contempt of court.
There are several cases that are proof to the pressure that false reporting and social media campaigns just not divet the general public but also the judiciary. The first example to come to mind is the Aarushi Talwar case in which the parents of the deceased were portrayed by the media in all shades of grey even before a verdict was reached. Another example is that of Jagadguru Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal’s case in which the people were made to believe through aggressive reporting that the holy man was in fact a murderer much before the courts had concluded their proceedings. But also there are several cases, several instances in which pressure from various forms of media has lead to a positive outcome. Jessica Lall’s murder case is one such example. If the media would not have been constantly intervening the perpetrators of the crime would have gone scot free. Similarly, in the case of Priyadarshini Mattoo, the murderer, a highly influential man’s son, was finally put behind bars after years of persistent pressure from the media and the masses.
Media has now reincarnated itself into a ‘public court’ (Janta Adalat) and has started interfering into court proceedings. It completely overlooks the vital gap between an accused and a convict keeping at stake the golden principles of ‘presumption of innocence until proven guilty’ and ‘guilt beyond reasonable doubt’. Now, what we observe is media trial where the media itself does a separate investigation, builds a public opinion against the accused even before the court takes cognizance of the case. By this way, it prejudices the public and sometimes even judges and as a result the accused, that should be assumed innocent, is presumed as a criminal leaving all his rights and liberty unrepressed.
One such recent case happened is “Bois Locker Room” in which the girl herself made the fake id with the name of “Siddharth” to talk vulgar about herself, she tempted to talk about molestation of herself but before this truth came out, social media viral the screenshots and the boys in that chat were caught and social media criticized them too much. Everyone’s story contained this news with words damaging the reputation of related boys, but when the truth was unveiled, social media went into shock.
Also, recently, a girl shared a story and accused a boy “Manav” for molesting her years back. Social media again viral this too much without knowing the truth or proof that Manav committed suicide.
Can we say if viraling in media provides justice then doesn’t it took one life ? or maybe more of lives and emotional peace we are unaware of.
Though media act as a watchdog and act as a platform to bring people voice to the notice of society and legislatures. But now days media is so much sensationalized and they just do for their salaries and TRP’s. there are few reporters those showing only those news for what they have been paid by political parties. From the above account it becomes clear that the media had a more negative influence rather than a positive effect (except for a few exceptions here and there). The media has to be properly regulated by the courts. The media cannot be granted a free hand in the court proceedings as they are not some sporting event.
The most suitable way to regulate the media will be to exercise the contempt jurisdiction of the court to punish those who violate the basic code of conduct. The use of contempt powers against the media channels and newspapers by courts have been approved by the Supreme Court in a number of cases as has been pointed out earlier. The media cannot be allowed freedom of speech and expression to an extent as to prejudice the trial itself. Certain cases are so hyped for a day or two, so much so that you switch to any channel, they all will be flashing the same story but then when the heat is over there is no following of the case. The news then bumps in space with other stories that are carrying the heat then. Media just sensationalized the case for few days and leave it as they find other “masala” news irrecpective of how much importance earlier news was.
Trial is very much effected by the Media sensation. Judges while making decision start considering Media criticism if they goes opposite from the view of the Media that’s why in mostly high profile cases verdict passes by media becomes the final verdict in trial courts.