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Prelims Capsule

Other Aspects of Governance

Media Trial in India and its impact on judicial system explained – Role of media in democracy

Media Trial in India and its impact on judicial system explained – Role of media in democracy


  • GS 2 || Governance & Social Justice || Other Aspects of Governance || Good Governance


  • Trial by Media generally refers to a practice where the media start doing its investigation and forms a public opinion against the accused even before a trial commences.
  • In this way, it prejudices the trial, thereby infringing the rights of the accused to a fair trial. Thus, the accused that must be considered as innocent until proven guilty is now presumed as guilty thereby violating his rights.
  • Trial by media is still a debatable term and is used to denote a facet of media activism.

Why in the news?

  • Recently Aryan Khan Son of the popular actor Shahrukh khan was arrested in a drug abuse case and since then he is facing a media trial.
  • Sometimes, a media trial is necessary. In those cases which are being kept a secret from the general public, media trial plays a very important role. Media is the only platform through which a person can know what is happening around him.

Social Media and Deepening of Democracy

  • Aiding C-Governance:Social media has led to the emergence of citizen-led governance (C–governance) in India.
    • Social media platforms help to create awareness from one another to a million and be united for any social cause. In the process, the existence of social media can nudge citizens to seek solutions. Also for C-governance, people need to have information and be able to convey it to others. Social media platforms make that ton easier.
    • Given this, social media is gradually being accepted as the fifth estate of democracy.
  • The democratization of Expression:Social media has made Indian politics more inclusive by allowing citizens, who were traditionally excluded from politics due to geography and demography, to gain direct entry into the political process.
    • It has also allowed for a diversity of viewpoints and public engagement on an unprecedented scale.
  • An instrument for Bringing Behavioral Change:The use of social media for policy crowdsourcing and publicity is evident in the success of pan-India campaigns such as Swacch Bharat Abhiyan and the recently-launched Fit India Movement.
  • Making political communication people-centric:Social media has been increasingly used by Indian political actors for routine political communication between elections to provide unmediated and direct communication to connect citizenry.
    • Also, social media has changed the power of political messaging and has moved away from the mass media model and places it firmly into peer-to-peer, public discourse.

Role of media

  • Media plays a crucial role in shaping a healthy democracy. It is the backbone of a democracy. Media makes us aware of various social, political, and economical activities happening around the world. It is like a mirror, which shows us or strives to show us the bare truth and harsh realities of life.
  • The media has undoubtedly evolved and become more active over the years. It is the media only who reminds politicians about their unfulfilled promises at the time of elections. T.V news channels’ excessive coverage during elections helps people, especially illiterates, in electing the right person to power.
  • This reminder compels politicians to be up to their promises to remain in power.
  • Television and radio have made a significant achievement in educating rural illiterate masses in making them aware of all the events in their language. Coverage of exploitative malpractices of village heads and moneylenders has helped in taking stringent actions against them by attracting government attention.
  • The media also exposes loopholes in the democratic system, which ultimately helps the government in filling the vacuums of loopholes and making a system more accountable, responsive, and citizen-friendly. A democracy without media is like a vehicle without wheels.
  • In the age of information technology, we are bombarded with information. We get the pulse of the world events with just a click of a mouse. The flow of information has increased manifolds. The perfect blend of technology and human resources (journalist) has not left a single stone unturned in unearthing rampant corruption in politics and society. We all are well aware of what Tehelka did. Thanks to technology that has brought a kind of revolution in journalism.
  • Diversion of media from their core democratic responsibilities is inevitable as its existence depends upon high ratings of TRP. In recent times, the electronic media showing their programs in principle with truth, information, logical debating, and aiming to create awareness receive a low rating of TRP which subsequently leads to huge financial loss.
  • Therefore, locating space for autonomy and freedom appears like an outrageous practice for media as its existence and survival always depend upon corporate and business entities.

Right to a Fair Trial

  • The right to a fair trial is safeguarded by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, along with Article 14 of The Indian Constitution.
  • Balancing one’s right to freedom of speech and expression is the right of an individual to live with dignity.
  • In Zahira Habibullah Sheikh V. State of Gujarat and Ors, the Supreme Court held that the concept of fair trial teaches and energizes other aspects of the law.
  • A fair trial requires the removal of bias or discrimination for or against the accused and the witness.
  • This right to a fair trial can also be violated if the media use such language when reporting a problem that can have an effect on a judge’s brain or in some way affect the judicial process.
  • In today’s times, the media have started to label and blame the accused with the ultimate goal of sensationalizing news items and increasing the news channels’ commercial popularity.
  • Few cases-A few of such cases where persons were declared as guilty by the media even before the actual trial began to include the Jessica Lal case (2010),  PriyadarshiniMattoo case (2006) and Bijal Joshi rape case (2005), AarushiTalwar’s Murder (2013), and the very recent media trial of Rhea Chakraborty, etc. Though, the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Sahara vs. SEBI (2012) strongly observed that such trials by the media are likely to affect the reputation of the judiciary and judicial proceedings adversely. While on one hand, a large number of media editorial teams have been covering issues keeping high TRP in mind, on the other hand, issues of national interest and societal importance do not find enough time on TV news channels as even the audience chooses news of sensation before news of sense.

Way Ahead

  • Ideally, the media should be impartial and free from propaganda mechanisms. It should provide a balanced account to the people. Media educates and keeps the public informed about the national and international political and other human realities taking place in everyday life. The purpose of media is to highlight the trouble spots in society and press the government and public to devise suitable mechanisms to eliminate those troubles.
  • However, the potential of media as a force multiplier and a weapon of war must be realized. Failure to recognize and counter the enemy’s usage of media could lead to unprecedented military and national failures. It must be realized that today’s decisions are no longer based on events but on how the events are presented.
  • Though India is not a surveillance state and there must not be any kind of illegal and un-constitutional check on the freedom of media provided that media sticks to the core principles like truth, accuracy, transparency, independence, fairness, and impartiality.
  • At the same time, there must be the professional strengthening of the institutional and regulatory framework, namely the Press Council of India, News Broadcasters Association (NBA), PIB, etc. to bring Indian news media to the forefront of the world ranking. Therefore, it’s high time for Indian media to prioritize truth and professionalism over TRP while covering the issue.
  • Case law: Kishori Mohan v. State of West Bengal
    • In this case, it was mentioned that the media has a good impact that due to this, common people can raise his voice against the injustice done, and too he can check up on all the activities of the government.
    • Though the media has great power to influence anything, it has started to misuse its power. Instead of taking serious issues, the media is now engaged in those issues of celebrities with which their TRP can be raised. Though we can’t forget about the advantages of the media, its misuse should be controlled too.
    • The media should be sensitive towards the news, what they are showing. Before declaring anyone a culprit! The media should think twice. It’s the work of the court to decide who is the culprit.

Mains model question

  • Media is labeled as the fourth pillar of democracy. In this context, discuss the significance of media ethics in contemporary times.
  • The media does play a vital role in our democracy, and if we cannot depend on journalistic ethics, the nation’s in trouble. Comment.