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Media Trails in India

An article on how media trails having a great impact in the society and on the decision of judiciary in India.


To comprehend the idea of media trails we must first consider what a media is. When we look into the actual meaning of media, it is observed that media is the plural form of medium that elucidates (roughly speaking) any channel of communication. This may range from printed paper to electronic media, including art, entertainment, education, and many other types of information. Digital networking, which is an extremely important part of electronic communications, consists of intricately programmed signals distributed through multiple types of physical and interactive media, such as fiber optic cables and computer networks. The media is considered to be the 4TH branch of a democratic structure of a government with the remaining three being the assembly, the executive, and the judiciary. If the legislative prepares the statute for the state, and the executive takes measures to enforce it, the third stage is the judiciary, which needs to ensure that all acts and rulings are lawful. Under the scope of these laws and statutory law, the Fourth Estate, i.e. the newspaper, shall exist and behave in the public and national interest. Press freedom is considered “the mother of all freedoms in a democratic society”.

A conscientious press is a handmaiden to the productive administration of justice. Media has large positions and plays a critical role in influencing society’s opinion, just like all other rights and liberty, speech and expression freedom is often seen as being misused by the media. Any institution is liable to violence, and if left unbridled, any liberty appears to become a license that would lead to chaos and anarchy. ‘Media trail’ is a newly developed word that is used to describe a facet of ‘media advocacy.’ It means ‘the effect of television which newspaper reports on a person’s image by generating a widespread perception of guilt irrespective of any decision in the Court of Justice.’ Particularly in high-publicity court proceedings, the media frequently provoke an environment of public outrage equivalent to a lynch mob that not only makes a fair prosecution unlikely but also ensures that, because of the outcome of the trial, the perpetrator is now convicted due to mass opinion and cannot spend the remainder of his life without extreme public attention. There is no judicial framework in which the media have the right to pursue a lawsuit. The trial is a procedure to be undertaken by the judiciary and is related to the judicial process. That the convicted should get a fair hearing is the essential feature of every justice system.

Media trials in India have taken on enormous proportions. There have been many cases in which journalists are tasked with covering the accused’s trial and delivering the ‘verdict’ well before the court passed its decision.

Historical Background:-

Indian Media is made up of various forms of communications: television, radio, theatre, newspapers, magazines, and websites/portals focused on the Internet. Indian media has been operating since the late 18th century with print media beginning in 1780, radio broadcasting beginning in 1927, and the projection of moving pictures in Bombay by Auguste and Louis Lumiere began during July 1895. It is one of the world’s oldest, and largest newspapers. Media in India has been free and autonomous for most of its history, long before Ashoka the Great founded the Indian empire on justice, equality, honesty, and spirituality. In 1799 Lord Wellesley enacted the Press Regulations Act prohibiting the mandatory publication in journals of the details like names and addresses of printers, publishers, and publishing houses. Then, in 1857, a gagging act was passed which made it necessary to acquire a license to operate a printing press and gave the government broad powers to ban the publishing or display of material that, in its view, was against the government. Then come the Press Registration and Books Act of 1867 which remains in effect to this day. Once again, the vernacular press act of 1878 granted the British government the power to enforce controls on news reporting and at the same moment maintaining the unprecedented influence of the media when it is assumed that people quickly accept what is presented rather than getting their views and a desire to know the truth. But it is the media’s responsibility to demonstrate what’s right, as it forms people’s minds. A variety of laws came to limit the media’s power while gaining further British authority. The emergency era (1975–1977), proclaimed by P.M. Indira Gandhi, was the brief time in which India’s media threatened possible backlash from the government. The media has been recognized in India’s history as a strong, democratic, and trustworthy in the nation’s cultural, technological, and political environment. The laws relating to media control can be dated back to the British period.

Laws controlling media in India Pre and Post Independence:-

The following are the list of some of the legislation which controls the media in India:-

Legislation on pre-independence-

  • The Legislation of Censorship of Press Act, 1799.
  • The Legislation of Licensing Regulations, 1823.
  • Legislation of the Press Act of 1835 or Metcalfe Act.
  • The Legislation of Licensing Act, 1857.
  • Legislation on the Vernacular Press Act, 1878.
  • Legislation on the Newspaper (Incitement to Offences) Act, 1908.
  • Legislation on the Indians Press Act, 1910.
  • The Legislation of Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act, 1931.

Legislation on post-independence-

  • The Press Enquiry Committee, 1947.
  • Legislation on The Press (Objectionable Matters) Act, 1951.
  • Legislation on The Press Commission under Justice Rajadhyaksha in 1954.
  • Delivering of Books and Newspapers (Public Libraries) Act, 1954.
  • The Working Journalists (The Conditions of Services) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955.
  • Legislation of The Newspaper (Price and Page) Act, 1956.
  • Legislation of The Parliamentary Proceedings (Protection of Publications) Act, 1960.

Media role and the reason for losing its legitimacy and integrity:-

Media is the guardian of democracy’s three foundations, media can’t turn white into black and black into white, but white is always white for them, and black is always black. That is the media’s grandeur, strength, and potency. It is worth noting here the words of the author and playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton “Pen is mightier than the sword.” A journalist should be honest and creditable, feasible, and definitive. There can be no bit of deception, bribery, or grafting, but honesty, precision, and consistency should be the hallmark of one’s vocation. The heart and essence of a journalist are humility and morality; propriety and integrity. Democracy is deemed to be the rule of people through their elected representatives. One of the advantages of a democratic culture is the speech freedom and the forum that multiple parts of society have for dissent. It has four elements, namely: judicial, legislative, executive, and media. In the Indian background, the three former enforce a system of doctrine of checks and balances. Whereas Media is the most powerful force on earth. It ensures all three systems have accountability. It’s like a mirror, revealing the true side. It makes one aware of the different socio-economic, and political issues affecting a nation. What we are looking at now is nothing but unfair rivalry and crazy discourse between the journalists and the media. From the vocation of journalism the principles and opinions, ideology and viewpoints slowly and gradually disappear and evaporate. People are gradually losing faith in the media. The fourth pillar was meant to be the watchdog but sad and painful to suggest they wait and watch for the bone to chew and crack.

At times, journalism’s holiness and sanctity are stinking and putrid. The media and publications have stolen and recorded their stance to support the faith and political parties. The subsequent news reports and columns are painted and arranged in line with their godfathers’ dictum and maxim. The key and top job today are to satisfy and gratify the donor and patron, with a few exceptions to be reckoned with. If the media lacks legitimacy so the whole blame will be on the shoulder of democracy’s fourth pillar. Principles are distorted, the reality is concealed, honesty is accommodated, speech is choked, stifled and strangled, pure air is gushing in the system. The accessible democratic procedures and constitutional authorities are tragic to say bought and procured for one’s benefit to meet the secret, unseen invisible agenda. This is the moment where the media should independently stand on their own feet and clear the air and provide the public with reality.

Media: Democracy Watchdog;-

No question media has played a tremendous role in bringing justice to the underprivileged. Thanks to its valiant position in cases widely known as ‘Billa Ranga case,’ ‘Baba Nirankar,’ ‘Sudha Gupta’, and ‘Shalini Malhotra,’ one cannot muzzle the press.

Without an influential media, the appeal of Haryana’s victims of horrific khap killings would have gone unheard. The fear of khap and the help of police and politicians allowed this brutal practice to survive for a long time until they emerged across the media and to the public.

Several other cases, such as the Arushi Murder Case, Jessica Lal Murder Case, Ruchika Girhotra Case , and even the games played in IPL Row, were taken out into broad daylight due to the praiseworthy media efforts. Certainly, this is a very optimistic and welcome media act. Today the media is a full-fledged business. The game that they play to address is ratings, viewership, eyeballs, and publicity. News in the scheme is whatever it sells. That means anything that catches and captures people’s attention. Or to put it another perspective way, ‘sensationalism.’ The current trend in news reporting points to the difference between journalism and ethics. Journalists and media people are supposed to be distinctive facilitators for the unhindered functioning of the democratic process. The ethics to be embraced by the media include virtues such as reliability, sincerity, truth, rationality, fairness, accurate reporting, respect, and autonomy. These values constitute much of a part of the political process. Sadly, these days the media people are overwhelmed not by moral integrity and honesty for the profession, but by materialistic motives. Journalists and editors are forced to reach deadlines, achieve increasing goals, and so on to appease media managers. There is also decreased rivalry between various publishing houses and newspaper associations under this. To win the race, they started publishing and reporting what’s important in the ‘press’ rather than what’s for ‘general benefit.’


Media is playing a significant role in trying to shape society’s opinion, and it has the potential strength to change the whole point of view by making people understand different events. Media Trial shows the effects of channel and newspaper coverage on a person’s identity, character by creating a wide-ranging perception or context of guilt regardless of any court verdict.

Media Trials can be dated back to the 20th century as the term “Media trials ”had been developed lately because the concept had derived its meaning from the case of Roscoe“ Fatty ”Arbuckle (1921) who was released by the court of law, but had ruined all his reputation & credibility along with his work after the media had pronounced him “ guilty”. Another famous example was the conviction of O.J.Simpson (1995), where the media had supported the case and had a tremendous impact on the viewers’ minds even beyond the legal level. It is clear the media actively fosters or affects societal opinions.

No legal system existed where the media were granted or issued any right to prosecute a lawsuit. Each coin has two sides as is the case with media trials and journalism, in some instances journalist depicts a pre-decided portrait of an accused thus breaking his / her integrity which could inevitably influence the trial and the verdict, henceforth media trial. The Sheena Bohra murder case is a famous case where the media’s prosecuting eyes have affected the personal life of the main accused Indrani Mukherjea that erupted a controversy about the accused’s media trial. The principles in journalism are widely debated amid such events.

Media Trials v. Judicial Trial:-

Media trials have gained growth in India. There have been many instances in which the media took the matter into its own hands and proclaimed a verdict on an accused in court as opposed to fair trials. There have also been very notorious cases that have shocked the public and influenced the courts, such as The Jessica Lal case(2010), where the media rejoiced at their attempts to deliver justice to Jessica Lal and the trial court acquitted the accused on all the charges. The Priyadarsini Mattoo case (2006), in which a law student was assaulted and murdered and Media Prosecution was accused of having affected the decision of this court.

The case of Bijal Joshi rape and the case of Nitish Katara murder received media awards in which the perpetrator would have went unpunished could have the media not intervened. In the case of the Malegaon blast and Maria Susairaj case, however, innocent citizens were still found on the other side media missing the significance of accuracy.
And the judiciary is not fault-free. As human beings, judges and other judicial officials cannot be said to be immune from errors either. They can also be “influenced subconsciously” by media trials or coverage in the mainstream. Therefore, when a trial is going on or proceeding, it becomes necessary to pass legislation on media coverage.

Freedom of Speech V. Media Trails:-

Freedom of Speech, i.e. Article 19(1)(a) has a significant role to play in influencing public opinion on social, political, and economic topics. So it can be said that freedom of speech is the mom of all other freedoms. Abiding with the Supreme Court’s declaration of Justice Venkataramiah in Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Pvt.  Ltd. v. Union of India(1984) has evaluated:

“Press freedom is at the heart of socio-political interaction. The media has now taken on the public educator’s position to make formal and non-formal education possible on a large scale, especially in the developed world, where television or electronic communications technologies are not yet available to all parts of society.”Often, when court cases were highly publicized, the media played a crucial role in causing fear among viewers; There have been grounds for sensationally high public coverage in such events. The reasons are:

  • Cases include children or they may be so cruel or grotesque that sensationalization of those cases is made compulsory by the media.
  • The case may refer either to a leading star as a suspect or as an accused.

In cases where leading celebrities are concerned, media control may dramatically alter the “fans” perception of those prominent celebrities. One such case was Rhea Chakraborty v. Bihar State, 2020 (Sushant Singh Rajput Death Case), in which the media played a pivotal role and the defendant raised the issue of media trials.

In Romesh Thappar v. Madras State, Patanjali Sastri, CJ observed that “Freedom of expression and the press laid at the base of all democratic organization for without free political debate no public education, so important to the proper functioning of the mainstream government structure, is possible.”

At Press Tata Ltd. V. Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd., The Apex Court held that a commercial advertisement or political dialogue was also part of the freedom of speech and expression which would be limited only within the limits of Article 19(2). The Supreme Court held that advertising, which is nothing more than a commercial transaction, is nevertheless the dissemination of information concerning the advertised product.

The fact that press freedom is necessary for the proper functioning of the democratic process is thus crystal clear. And thus press freedom flows from the speech freedom which Article 19(1)(a) guarantees to all people. And it is the responsibility of the press to propagate actual and all kinds of information within the limits laid down in Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India,1950.

In a recent appeal demanding action against media houses to criminalize the coronavirus pandemic, the Supreme Court reported CJI SA Bobde “We can’t muzzle the newspapers. We are not going to pass temporary directives/instructions.

A Media Prosecution v. Fair trials interplay:

Our criminal code mandates that a person’s guilt be proven beyond reasonable doubt and the accused be believed to be guilty before the opposite is proven in a court of code, following all the procedural protections provided to a victim. In certain cases, the media people have served as self-proclaimed prosecutors.

Parties have a fundamental right to get a fair hearing in court, before a neutral jury, uninfluenced by the dictation of the press or a common appeal. Fairness and justice the two key pillars on which the whole democratic structure depends.

The concern in all cases of opinion on the litigation underway is not whether the report interferes with the proper course of justice, but whether it appears to intervene. In Anukul Chandhra Pradhan v. Union of India, the Supreme Court noted that “there should be no reason to think that the attention attached to these issues appeared to dilute the focus on the fundamentals of a fair trial and the fundamental principles of jurisprudence, including the presumption of innocence of the convicted unless proven guilty after the trial.

News, social media or mass protests are rather anti-thesis of the rule of law which can contribute to obstruction of justice. Press freedom is essential to the administration of justice. At the same moment, the “Right to Fair Trial,” i.e. a hearing untouched by external coercion, is accepted as a fundamental tenet of justice in India. Judicial provisions aimed at protecting the right are laid down in the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 legislation and in Articles 129 and 215 of the Indian Constitution (Contempt Authority, that is, the ability of the Supreme Court and the High Court to prosecute Contempt of itself). The main problem of media is the limitations that are placed on the review or announcement of issues relating to the merits of a case pending before a Judge. A journalist can be found liable for contempt of the Court if he reports something prejudicial to a fair trial that undermines the impartiality of the Court of Justice in determining the facts of the prosecution, irrespective of the essence of the action, both civil or criminal?

Infringement of Human Rights:-

The media’s duty is larger than that of the citizen and there is a broader audience in the community. The freedom of the press does not degenerate into an offensive litigant’s warrant, nor should the right to damage the image of decent people be included in it.

The infringed anonymity and credibility of certain individuals is an undesirable by-product of excessive media snooping. And the victims and witnesses are convicted and accused of deceptive advertisement and violation of the freedom of privacy.

In the famous case of Jessica Lal Murder in which Manu Sharma was charged and convicted for murder, the court held that “there is a significant risk of bias if the media exercises unlimited and unchecked independence to circulate images of the suspects or the person who has been accused before the parades of identification are established or if the media circulates statements that correctly keep the suspects or Culpable convicted, long before the court passed such an order. In this situation, certain publications created uncertainty in the public mind as to the identification and number of alleged attackers/perpetrators shortly after the day of the incident. It is not at all fair, irrespective of the decision in a case, to defect the person’s credibility by generating a widespread sense of guilt. In recent years, after reports of his sexual success and molestations became public, a congress minister in the government of Jammu and Kashmir had to resign. The same explanation was noticed in the dock by Tarun Tejpal and Justice AK Ganguly. These ‘trial by media’ forms have been popular and normal as the media has been deregulated and the digital media proliferated.

It is utterly unacceptable to harm a person’s integrity by simply perceiving blame, independent of a court’s decision. The defendant is portrayed unfairly, and later on, his status is unclear, even though the court judges him innocently.

The protection of witnesses is often endangered by misleading news. If the witness’ name is revealed, there is a possibility that both the perpetrator and his supporters will place his victim under threat. This is among the key reasons that almost everyone hesitates to investigate or witness a crime. Could witness wishes to escape from the muddle with the uncompromising intervention of the media. Sting operations are carried out in inquiries and prosecutions to find out the inconsistencies before sufficient progress has been achieved in the inquiry or the prosecution. This affects the morale of the police and others. A scapegoat is also produced by the police. The optimistic media also forces the police to hurry up the investigation even faster than is appropriate. Speedy demand investigation will result in innocent people being arrested.


Weakening foundations is often counterproductive in any society. We have to enter the main trunk to eliminate the ferocious aerial roots which spread and intoxicate society. In short, the media would also be a government marionette. You can’t go against the law, you can’t challenge them. If the government’s actions should automatically obey this. Although in this manner, the people would be unlikely to know the facts and the actions of the government. The watches of democracy have a connexion between political parties, corporations, and large organizations in the secret field of speech freedom with their small benefits. The media aren’t going to decide what to think. The media’s trying to tell you what to think. In other terms, the media does not shift one’s viewpoint on an issue, but the media has the implicit ability to make one think about a matter. If the government begins controlling the media, this will negate the whole aim. Instead, the people’s vigorous and democratic involvement with their polity and political elite will be the best choice. In other terms the adversarial and constructive interaction. A trained, developed, and active civil society will be the best guard dog for regimes and the media. This will rebuild and stabilize the polity, and give the country’s institutions a sense of normalcy.

Author –

P.BHUVAN DEEPAK, [ B.B.A,L.L.B.], Gitam School Of Law.
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