Media is the foundation of every democracy which operates for the greater interest of society. Media considered as fourth pillar of democracy is the very fabric and mirror of the society. Media from the very beginning has played a vital role in smooth functioning of democratic systems. Many crimes be it socio-economic crimes or many other high profile crimes has been exposed by media from time and again. It has the power to influence and revolutionize the masses. From the ink of its pen to the sound of its mike, media can build and malign image of a person simultaneously. In fact, it can change the governments! A free media is a prerequisite to democracy. Though India has the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression along with the freedom of press under the clause 19(1) (a) of Indian Constitution, but the limitations to its absolute freedom are stated in its very next clause. Media has been termed as a magic bullet that directly hits the mind of the people. We automatically believe what media show us. Media plays an energetic role of a conscious keeper, a watchdog of the functionaries of society and attempts to attend to the wrongs in our system, by bringing them to the knowledge of all, hoping for correction. Undeniable reality is that in many dimensions the unprecedented media revolution has resulted in greater public accountability. Even the judiciary is benefited from the ethical and fearless journalism as it takes suo-moto cognizance of the matters in various cases after relying on their news reports highlighting grave violations of human rights. However, there are always two sides of a coin. With this increased role and importance attached to the media, the need for it’s accountability and professionalism in reportage cannot be emphasised enough. In a civil society no right to freedom, howsoever invaluable it might be, can be considered absolute, unlimited, or unqualified in all circumstances. The freedom of the media, like any other freedom recognized under the Constitution has to be exercised within reasonable boundaries. With great power comes great responsibility. Similarly, the freedom under Article 19(1) (a) is correlative with the duty not to violate any law Media Trial is a phrase which has become popular in 21st century. These days, the media often conducts their own investigations and influences public opinion against an accused person even before the Court of law takes cognizance of the matter and sometimes even before a person is charged with an offence. In present epoch, there are number of news channels competing with each other for TRP. A crime scene is presented in such a way that even before a criminal charge is framed against an accused, he is treated as convict, and the character and image of that accused is assassinated in a brutal way. In an increasingly competitive market for grabbing the attention of viewers and readers, media reports often turn to distortion of facts and sensationalisation. The quest of commercial interests also motivates the use of intrusive newsgathering practices which tend to impede the privacy of the people who are the subject of such coverage. The problem finds it’s worst manifestation when the media extensively covers sub – judice matters by publishing information that are clearly prejudicial to the interests of the parties involved in litigation pending before the Courts.
Media, known as fourth pillar of democracy has also certain obligations like other three pillars of democracy. Separation of Judiciary from other pillars is also a basic feature of democracy itself. Although media acts as a watch dog for every action of government which is a commendable job, but at the same time media must not act like a court because job of media is to highlight every issue which is against democracy and public order but not to pass verdicts. The rule of law must prevail and the mandate of freedom of press must be construed to be limited to placing a matter in the consciousness of the society without any presumption being given. The Court is a competent forum for such decisions and these forums must be allowed to function without spreading prejudice in the public opinion. Media is bold! It is powerful! Media is a callous reality! Media is exposing scams! But Media should maintain it’s code of laws and ethics, social responsibility and credibility by not interfering in the matters of court so early. Instead, media should do the research, keep a check on high profile cases, find the evidences and keep it with them until and unless they find the truth suppressing. “Freedom of speech” is a fundamental right as well as a basic Human Right which has been recognised by almost all the countries but at the same time “Free and Fair Trial” is also a basic Human Right which must not be ignored. Fair trial is possible only in a court of law where basic principle of Natural Justice “audi alteram partem” which means “let the other side be heard as well” is followed, which is not followed in a Media Trial.
( The author is a Lecturer at Sopore Law College . Views are exclusively his own)