Media plays an essential role in the process of justice as under trial by media, it starts its own investigation even before the trial starts. Trial by media is still debatable as it questions the power and rights of the media. In its own way, it is detrimental to the trial as it infringes the rights of the accused to a free trial. At times the accused is presumed guilty by the media even before the trial begins.
Media is recognized as the fourth pillar of democracy after legislative, Executive and Judiciary. To ensure democracy, there is a need for free and independent media. It is an important communication medium from person to person and forms an integral part of society. Freedom of thought and expression and freedom of speech are not only valuable freedoms in themselves but form the basis of a democratic form of government which goes on the theory that to solve the problems in the government, speech is necessary.
Role of Media in Delivering Justice
Earlier, media have played a vital role in spreading awareness and ensuring justice is delivered. In cases like the Jessica Lal murder case and the Priyadarshini Mattoo case, the media pointed out that justice was delayed and denied. In Jessica Lal’s case, it took 7 years for the court to conclude that the evidence was refutable and therefore cannot punish Manu Sharma, a politician’s son. The family of Jessica Lal had lost all hope. However, the media took the initiative to get Justice for Jessica. They picked up right from the point where the police had left. The cry for justice demanded by the public put pressure on the police, administration, and the government to solve the case quickly. Ultimately the accused, Manu Sharma, was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Another high-profile case where credit should be given to the media was the Priyadarshini Mattoo Case. In this case, a 23-year-old law student from Delhi University was raped and then brutally murdered by her senior Santosh Singh, the son of a senior IPS officer. When after 3 years of court proceedings, the court acquitted Santosh Singh, it seemed that Priyadarshini Mattoo would never get justice; however, the media initiated a widespread effort for investigative journalism to find out the loopholes in the police investigation, and it was ultimately due to their effort that CBI was able to arrest the culprits. In such cases, responsible media contributed to the cause of justice; media have shown that responsible media can play a positive role in society and contribute to the cause of justice.
Cases where Media Influenced and Played a Negative role
Till now media has not been given the power to try a case. There has been no legal system where the media has been given absolute power. There are two sides to every coin, and so is the case with media trials and journalism. The media already decides the image of the accused in a pre-decided motion, which might affect the trial and judgement.
In the Sheena Bora murder case, the personal life of the accused, Indrani Mukherjea, was thrown open to the eyes of the public by the media. It was debated and judged by many ‘experts’. Indrani Mukherjea and her first husband, Sanjeev Khanna, were accused of murdering their daughter Sheena Bora. She was killed in 2012, and the case came to light in 2015 after a confession from their driver. It caused a huge furore and debate on various channels and was highly debated.
In actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s case, who died of suicide, his girlfriend and actress Rhea Chakraborty’s life was turned upside down by the media. It was alleged that she had a role to play in his suicide, and the whole death was murder, not suicide. There were allegations of tampering with the scene, and she and her brother were sent to jail. The media was criticized for painting a negative picture of the actress without valid ‘proof’ solely based on their judgement
The ethics of journalism are questioned after the manner in such cases.
There are both positives and negatives to ethics in journalism and media trials. It is proven that media plays a vital role in influencing the public’s minds.