Media is regarded as one of the four pillars of democracy. Media plays a vital role in molding the opinion of the society and it is capable of changing the whole viewpoint through which people perceive various events. The media can be recognized for beginning a trend where the media plays an active role in bringing the accused to hook. Particularly in the last two decades, the advent of cable television, local radio networks and the internet has greatly enhanced the reach and impact of the mass media. The flow of newspapers and magazines in English as well as the various vernacular languages has likewise been consistently developing in our nation. This ever-extending readership and viewership combined with the utilization of present day advances for newsgathering has given media associations an unprecedented job in molding prevalent opinions. However, media freedom also entails a certain degree of responsibility.


Trial by media' is an expression that has been worn popularly in the last few decades to depict the effect of television and print media coverage on a case by an endeavor made by the media of holding the accused guilty or blameworthy even prior to his trial and regardless of any verdict in the court of law. Nevertheless, there are always two sides of a coin. With this expanded job and significance connected to the media, the requirement for its responsibility and professionalism in reportage can't be accentuated enough. In a civil society no right to freedom, howsoever important it may be, can be viewed as outright, boundless, or inadequate in all conditions. The freedom of the media, similar to some other opportunity perceived under the Constitution must be practiced inside sensible limits. With great power comes great responsibility. Thus, the opportunity under Article 19(1) (a) is correlative with the obligation not to disregard any law.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of Independent India said-“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.” But he didn't anticipate the peril or jeopardy involved as he didn't anticipate that the press should get included into something which is past its limits and ethics as well and which further obstructs the 'administration of justice' which is the very embodiment of the natural justice and rule of law.


The Indian Constitution under its Article 19(1)(a) grants freedom of speech and expression to its citizens. The freedom of press is a necessary element of the freedom of expression that involves a right to receive and impart information without which democracy becomes an empty slogan. But this right is not absolute and is subjected to the reasonable restrictions of defamation and contempt of court among others mentioned in clause (2) of the above mentioned article, which clearly states that “this right can be restricted by law only in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with Foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.”


The impact of media has been observed in full swing in the cases of Jessica Lall, Priyadarshini Mattoo, Nitish Katara, BMW and Aarushi murder.


Media has now resurrected itself into an 'open court' which can likewise be referred as "Janta Adalat" and has begun meddling into court procedures to such an extent that it articulates its own decision even before the court does. It totally neglects the fundamental 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’.

These days what we really notice is a trial by media, where the media itself leads a different examination or investigation, constructs a public opinion against the accused even before the court takes cognizance of the case. By this way it biases the public, because of which numerous a time it could happen that the accused, who ought to be expected guiltless or innocent, is presumed to be a criminal leaving all his rights and liberty unredressed. At the point when unnecessary exposure about a case and the suspect involved in the case by the media prejudices a fair trial or results in describing the accused as an individual who had indeed committed the crime, it amounts to undue interference with the “administration of justice”, calling for proceedings for contempt of court against the media.

To a degree it can be agreed that the media, by publicizing certain realities or facts , as it was best observed in Jessica Lall case goes about as an impetus or catalyst which is helpful for the fast advancement of the trial and media activism of this nature is satisfactory and accepatable. However, when the trial has commenced, the media has no privilege or right to articulate dependent on its perception the innocense or guilty of the person associated with the case. Determination of the guilt or innocence of the person under our well established constitutional scheme is the function of the courts, and not the media. Furthermore, unsalvageable harm can be caused to an individual's reputation by rashly making a decision and prematurely judging him or her as guilty.

In this context, a distinct observation was made by a Division Bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justices P. Sathasivam and Swatanter Kumar in their judgment in the Jessica Lall case whereby the duty and role played by the media while reporting a case was brought out stating that “Presumption of innocence of an accused is a legal presumption and should not be destroyed at the very threshold through the process of media trial and that too when the investigation is pending. In that event, it will be opposed to the very basic rule of law and would impinge upon the protection granted to an accused under Article 21”. The Bench cautioned that, “every effort should be made by the print and electronic media to ensure that the distinction between trial by media and informative media is always maintained”1. Media will render great service if it observes the lakshman rekha charted by the Supreme Court. By sating the above the court clearly spoke about the responsibility shouldered to media and the limitations to be kept in mind by the media while reporting a case.


Media, as attributed to by many as the "eyes and ears of the general public". It shapes the foundation of our general public and forms the backbone of our society. What's more, a responsible media is required is to take into consideration the reliance endowed on it by the general public and certainty, faith and confidence endowed whereby common man/public blindly acknowledges the truth of the news distributed or published by media. This really calls for the existence of a responsible media.

-Soumya Thakur-

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