LEGAL POSITION IN INDIA:- Extensive use of television and cable services, has changed the whole pattern of publication of news and several such publications are likely to have prejudicial impact on the suspects, accused, witnesses and even Judges and in general, on the administration of justice. Sensationalized news stories circulated by the media have steadily struck at the guarantees of a right to a fair trial and posed a grave threat to the presumption of innocence. The pervasive influence of the press is increasingly proving to be detrimental to the impartial decision-making process of the judiciary.
In the case of Zahra Habibullah Sheikh v. State of Gujarat, the Supreme Court explained that a “fair trial obviously would mean a trial before an impartial Judge, a fair prosecutor and atmosphere of judicial calm. Fair trial means a trial in which bias or prejudice for or against the accused, the witnesses, or the cause which is being tried is eliminated.” According to our law, a suspect/accused is entitled to a fair procedure and is presumed to be innocent till proved guilty in a Court of law. None can be allowed to prejudge or prejudice his case by the time it goes to trial.
Right to a fair trial is absolute right of every individual within the territorial limits of India vide articles 14 and 20, 21 and 22 of the Constitution. Needless to say right to a fair trial is more important as it is an absolute right which flows from Article 21 of the constitution to be read with Article 14. Freedom of speech and expression incorporated under Article 19 (1)(a) has been put under‘reasonable restriction’ subject to Article 19 (2) and Section 2 (c) of the Contempt of Court Act.
INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM VIS-A-VIS INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS:-The right to a fair trial is at the heart of the Indian criminal justice system. It encompasses several other rights including the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, the right not to be compelled to be a witness against oneself, the right to a public trial, the right to legal representation, the right to speedy trial, the right to be present during trial and examine witnesses, etc. The media assumption of guilt clearly encroaches upon the right to legal representation — a critical component of the right to fair trial — and may also intimidates lawyers into refusing to represent accused person. Supreme Court and House of Lords in U.K. accept that prejudicial publications may affect Judges subconsciously. The Indian print media have reported trials but rarely taken positions on verdicts after they were delivered. In cases of fake drugs, rape, especially of children, selling drugs without prescription, stealing entitlements from poor beneficiaries etc. positive role of the press is desired.
+VE AND –VE ASPECTS: - In India, trial by media has assumed significant proportions. Some famous criminal cases that would have gone unpunished but for the intervention of media are Priyadarshini Mattoocase, Jessica Lal case, Nitish Katara murder case and Bijal Joshi rape case. The media however drew criticism in the reporting of murder of Aarushi Talwar, when it preempted the court and reported that her own father Dr. Rajesh Talwar, and possibly her mother Nupur Talwar were involved in her murder.Print and television had tarnished reputations of accused people before trials, later proved innocent, other issues about the privacy rights of individuals or defendants may also arise. Public figures, with slender rights against defamation are more in danger and more vulnerable in the hands of the media.
Media has now reincarnated itself into a ‘public court’ and has started interfering into court proceedings overlooking the golden principles of ‘presumption of innocence until proven guilty’ and ‘guilt beyond reasonable doubt’.In the present day media trial, the media itself does a separate investigation, builds a public opinion against the accused even before the court takes cognizance of the case which is no doubt an illegitimate use of freedom and transgressing the prudent demarcation of legal boundaries. It is necessary to check prejudicial publicity of the subject matter pending before a court. It should be legally permissible to pass restraint order on the media.
CONCLUSION: - Journalists need to be legally trained in certain aspects of law relating to freedom of speech in Art.1 9(1)(a) and the restrictions which are permissible under Art. 19(2) of the Constitution, human rights, law of defamation and contempt. Norms of the Press Council emphasize the importance of accuracy and fairness and encourages the press to “eschew publication of inaccurate, baseless, graceless, misleading or distorted material.” The norms urge that any criticism of the judiciary should be published with great caution. and are largely observed in breach.
It is true our system of investigation, prosecution and trial is slow, many times corrupt. But the process exists, and works. It should have a proper chance. Print media in India, have rarely crossed the line, though they do express strong political opinions. It will be dangerous to gag the press in the name of contempt of court. If the appellate court feels that the media publicity affected fair trial, it can always reverse the decision of the lower court. Interference with the due administration of criminal justice will have to be remedied by Parliament.