Law and Media Trial in India

Published date01 June 2020
Date01 June 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Law and Media Trial in
Shazia Shaikh1
The media is the most powerful entity on Earth. They have the power to make the inno-
cent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. They control the minds
of the masses
—Malcolm X
Media is often termed as the fourth pillar of India; it is an indispensable part
in keeping democracy alive and reaching out to the masses. The media plays
an instrumental role in educating and delivering the truth to people. However,
in recent times, the media has exceeded its role by bringing its lens into the
courtrooms and setting up its own trials, parallelly. The transition from responsible
reporting to investigating various high-profile cases or cases of infamous crimes
has made the media trial a common practice. From aiming to grab the highest
television rating points to trying to stay relevant in the changing times, the media
has overstepped its own boundary. The unconscious transition in its role has
not only interfered with the fair administration of justice but also pressurised
the judiciary to act in a certain way. It has, also, hampered the fundamental and
constitutional rights of both the accused and the victim of a crime. The courts
have always, unfailingly, guarded the freedom of press, and they continue to do
so. However, the judiciary sensed trouble in certain cases when the media began
to deliver its own verdict before the evidence was verified or the guilt proved.
It is here that the need to demarcate a line arose in order to ensure the media
remains well within its job of fair reporting. In an attempt to contain this adverse
effect of the media, the legislature and the judiciary have attempted to frame
rules and guidelines to that effect. This article attempts to discuss the various
facets of media trials and the laws pertaining to them.
Media ethics, media trial, media and law, legal remedies
Journal of National
Law University Delhi
7(1–2) 76–93, 2020
© 2022 National Law
University Delhi
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/22774017221096889
1 St. Joseph’s College of Law, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India.
Corresponding author:
Shazia Shaikh, 4, S K Mansion, 6th A Cross, Kodihalli, Bengaluru, Karnataka 560008, India.
Shaikh 77
An important identification of an ideal democracy is the prevalence of a free
press. A press functions autonomous of the government and not as a mere puppet
at the hands of those governing the country. In India, the media played a crucial
role in unearthing the truth behind atrocities of the British rule as well as uniting
the countrymen towards a fight for freedom during the colonial period. The news-
papers acted as a catalyst towards initiating the revolutionary movement during
the pre-Independence era.1
Post-independence, the media continued to be a major source of information to
the masses regarding the new India that was being built from its nascent stage.
Thus, fostering a strong relationship between the media and the masses was built
on trust. The media was constantly hailed as the harbinger of uncovering the truth
and bringing it to the public, thus gaining abundant power in the process. However,
soon this power began to blur the lines between power and responsibility, and a
transition began to take place in the role of the media.
From playing the role of communicating the truth and acting in public interest
to ‘what the public is interested in’,2 the media began to assume unfettered powers,
thus giving rise to the practice of media trial, an activity which was very much a
part of the media in the other parts of the world.
Advent of Media Trial and Its Relevance in
Current Times
The term, media trial, originated much before India began to see a face of it.
Interestingly, it was first coined in the USA as ‘trial by television’ after an episode
of a television show—The Frost Programme. David Frost, the host, during the
television show, questioned the insurance fraudster, Emil Savundra, regarding the
scam. At the conclusion of the interview, Emil Savundra’s public image was
adversely affected which raised concerns over his right to a fair trial.3 The practice
was seen in subsequent high-profile cases, in the USA, where at times, the media
covered the entire court proceeding. Eventually, this practice was termed as ‘trial
by media’.
In India, as a result of liberalization, there was an influx of foreign media
houses, like CNN and BBC, which increased the competitiveness in the sector
that was originally dominated by Doordarshan.4 The media was allowed to
exercise inordinate freedom which was deemed necessary for a fair, just and
thorough reporting of the news.5 With the increasing competition, news agencies,
along with reporting information, had to consider their economics which was
1 Role of Press in India’s Struggle for Freedom,
Press.pdf (accessed on September 12, 2020).
2 Mona Mahecha, Media Trial: A Threat to Fair Trial, 5 (3) AJMCS 196 (2016).
3 S. Krishnan, Trial by Media: Concept and Phenomenon, 6 (3) Int. J. Adv. ReS. 891 (2018).
4 Somali Chowdhury, Media Trial: Contradiction to Media Ethics? (2013). doi:10.13140/
5 Arun Singh and Anil Kumar, Media Trials in India (2014).

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