Contempt of Court for Meddling in Judiciary for Media Trial: Bombay HC; Sushant Singh’s Case

Author- Ayushi Kashyap, Senior Associate, All India Legal Forum

In this instance, the lawsuit is based on the period of Covid 19 when the nation was experiencing unspeakable chaos, as the blood bath of innocent peoples and some were suffering from mental anguish. The result landed as incredibly stressful environment across the whole wide world. In this abysmal situation, the news stations kept playing photos of the corpse on the broadcast of the famous actor, whose death became the “talk of the town “in the case of Shri Nilesh Navlakha & Ors v. UOI & Ors, whose Judgement then served on the plate of the court.

Media kept on playing the death picture of the reputable ones along with the shower of running headlines about the Mumbai Police’s attitude while they were adjudicating the case. Some News stations even went as far as to ask for public feedback on the actor and actress’s alleged suicide case. Media is the 4th pillar of our running society. It’s the utmost responsibility of the media to be mature and serve what they have.

Because of this folly behaviour a total of Five writ petitions in the Public Interest Litigation authority were filed with the Supreme Court, seeking a variety of reliefs, because the death occurs on June 14, 2020. In one of the writ petitions, common concerns were voiced about the electronic media’s function and how it covered the actor’s premature death and the media trial.

Media Trial refers to the effect that media coverage has on a person’s reputation by instilling broad guilt perceptions independent of any judicial ruling. Media trial mentioned in many pages of the various cases, started with the journey from the case of Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle (1921). Another well-known event was the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995, where the media heavily marketed the case and shaped viewers’ opinions much beyond the authority of the court. It is apparent that the media strongly promotes or impacts the public’s opinions.

There has never been a judicial system that gives the media the authority to decide a dispute. If there is cons there is pros, and media trials are no exception. In certain cases, journalists depict an accused person in a predetermined light, damaging his or her reputation and perhaps jeopardising the trial and the outcome. The Sheena Bohra murder case is a well-known example of how the media’s prying eyes negatively impacted the private affairs of the primary accused, Indrani Mukherjea, and sparked a discussion on whether or not the accused should be subjected to a media trial. In the wake of such events, journalistic ethics were frequently questioned.

JUDICIARY V. MEDIA TRIALS:

Media trials have grown in importance in India. On several occasions, the media took matters into their own hands and rendered verdicts against an alleged perpetrator in defiance of legitimate legal proceedings. The Jessica Lal case (2010), in which the media celebrated their efforts to deliver justice to Jessica Lal and the trial court had exonerated the accused of all charges, is one of many notable incidents that shocked the public and had an influence on the judiciary. The Priyadarshini Mattoo case (2006), in which a law student was raped and killed, and where it is believed that Media Trial may have impacted the verdict.

Both the Nitish Katara murder case and the Bijal Joshi rape case granted media credit when the accused might have escaped punishment if media hadn’t stepped in. However, the media also identified innocent persons in the Maria Susairaj case and the Malegaon bomb case, disregarding the significance of accuracy.

Even the judiciary has its share of flaws. Due to their human nature, judges and other judicial officials also have flaws. Additionally, they may be unconsciously affected by media coverage or trials. As a result, it is critical to enact laws governing media coverage while a trial is ongoing or pending.

ARTICLE 19(1)(A) V. MEDIA TRIALS:

The freedom of expression, as defined by Article 19(1)(a), is crucial in forming public opinion on social, political, and economic issues. As a result, it might be claimed that the right to free expression is the foundation for all other rights. In accordance with what was said in Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Pvt. Ltd. v. Union of India (1984), Justice Venkataramiah of the Supreme Court iterated: “The core of socio-political discourse is freedom of the press. In the developed world, although access to media and other contemporary communication tools is still not universal, the media has now assumed the efficiency of the government educator, making formal and non-formal education practicable on a global scale.”

When court cases have received a lot of attention, the media has occasionally played a significant role in frightening spectators and making a fair trial all but impossible. There have been reasons why certain incidents have attracted extraordinary amounts of media attention. The reasons are:

  • Cases may include children or be so cruel or savage that the media feels compelled to sensationalise them.
  • A prominent celebrity might be a victim or an accuser in the case.

In situations involving prominent celebs, the media’s sway might significantly alter the perception of these celebrities’ “fans.” Rhea Chakraborty v. State of Bihar, 2020 (Sushant Singh Rajput Death Case) is one such instance in which the journalists played a significant part and the convicted brought up the topic of media trials.

FAIR TRIAL AND MEDIA TRIAL INTERACTION:

In addition, India recognises the “Right to Fair Trial,” or the right to an impartial trial, as a fundamental principle of the administration of justice. The Indian Constitution’s Articles 129 and 215 as well as the 1971 Contempt of Courts Act includes legal measures aimed at protecting the aforementioned privilege (Contempt Jurisdiction that is; Power of Supreme Court and High Court to punish for Contempt of itself respectively).

EVIDENTIARY VIEWPOINT OF CASE:

There must be “proof” that certifies the presence of the element, the occurrence of a certain event, or the confirmation to establish these things. The laws governing how to prove facts in any judicial procedure are collectively referred to as the law of evidence. These guidelines determine which factors the trier should examine and which ones they should ignore when coming to a decision. This trier is repeatedly alluded to as the judge presiding over the trial. Additionally, this collection of guidelines aids in determining the kind and amount of evidence that can be allowed in court.

When a case or disagreement is brought before a court for trial, there are several issues that a party must establish or refute for the court to provide a decision. This fact-supporting or fact-dispelling is done using testimony.

INDIAN JUDICIARY OPINION:

Prejudice is produced because of the complete process of media affecting the general audience. This preconception is formed not just in the eyes of the audience or spectators, but also, and largely, in the imaginations of the judges. It is now the duty of the judges and the courts to prevent the blind things that have been broadcast in a relatively elevated case from influencing the decision. However, there have been instances in India’s judicial history where the tendency was significantly more in favour of what was persuaded to be believed than the actual evidence discovered.

In the notorious Aarushi-Hemraj double murder case, a teen was discovered dead with blood bath. The same day, the housekeeper who was accused of killing her was also discovered dead on the patio.

The media did everything they could to praise and portray such a serious situation to the broader audience. Even though it was determined from the case’s facts that there were no witnesses to the occurrence, the public is fully aware of every detail of what took on that evening.

CONCLUSION:

In this instance, it was argued that the media outlet needed a suitable process for issuing information. Since the actor’s passing, the media outlets have gone berserk and have released information that was not supposed to be released. The public was affected by the publication of the dead man’s body-marked photographs. The court’s principal concern was supporting a good equilibrium with the media while disseminating truthful information. The news stations set up debates and other conversations during which the matter was investigated live on television. The TV talk might have had a direct or indirect impact on the inquiry.

In the current ruling, the Bombay High Court provided several reporting criteria that must also be followed by electronic media, including: –

  1. Avoid publishing a supposed confession made by an alleged criminal as if it were acceptable evidence without informing the public of its eligibility.
  2. It shouldn’t be said that the individual in question had a poor character.
  3. Interviewing eyewitnesses and disclosing private information need to be avoided.
  4. There shouldn’t be any official news from the side of the investigating agencies.

In addition, HC included a list of reports that may taint an inquiry and, even if they did, would constitute “contempt of court” and violate the terms of the programme code as outlined in Section 5 of the Cable TV Network Act. Examples of these reports include: –

  1. The seclusion of the dead, the bystanders, and anybody else involved in a suicide death cannot be invaded.
  2. the reputation of the perpetrator or victim can up bias for both parties by making comments.
  3. Interviewing the victim, eyewitnesses, and/or either of their relatives, then showing the footage on a screen.
  4. Examining the testimony of witnesses whose testimony could be crucial later of the prosecution.
  5. Announcing a statement that an accused person is claimed to have made to a law enforcement officer and leading the public to assume that this is proof.
  6. The publication of an accused person’s photos to aid in his authentication.
  7. Critiquing the investigative organisation based on inaccurate information without conducting adequate inquiry.
  8. Creating a crime scene or rebuilding one while showing the accused’s path to the location.
  9. Speculating on a planned or future course of action, including the activities that should be performed to conclude the research in a certain way.
  10. Leaking private information from documents the investigative agency has gathered.

Electronic media are now so powerful and have such a strong hold on people’s thoughts. Given their potential to affect individuals, news outlets not held accountable. Considering recent years, the right to an impartial trial and correct information has been hampered by hate speech, sponsored news, media manipulation, and media trials. Reporting by electronic media outlets might be characterized as irresponsible since it has an effect and impedes the course of an investigation. In my opinion, the media shouldn’t go too far while informing the public. They are governed by a law that is suitable for releasing proper news.

They need to have adhered to the correct programming code that The Cable Television Act of 1995 specified. The news broadcasters and various media outlets held debates and discussions that may have influenced the inquiry. These actions form media trials or cross-examination and process interference. Avoid any issues, I would want to stress that news outlets and journalists should respect people’s privacy in addition to using the right reporting algorithm.

Media trials frequently evoke the ambiance of a mob lynching or affect the public’s view, but they also play a very important part in shaping the attitude of the youth today and excel at putting the offender on the rack. Even though the media just serves to express the pre-existing beliefs of the people, the groupthink still prevails. By bravely exposing the truth in accordance with fairness, media also helps with issues brought about by famous persons or dishonest individuals manipulating officials to avoid court cases.

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