CROSSING THE CONTOURS…?

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It is an irony of the nation that judgments are speculated by media much before the trial of the cases by judiciary thus making the people believe that the Courts will undoubtedly pronounce the same verdict. Unfortunately this not only belittles the Indian Judiciary but misleads the common people who don’t know the intricacies of law. In this regard even the Chief Justice Ramana recently asserted rather highlighted that the media is running Kangaroo Courts in India which in fact endangers the administration of justice in letter and spirit. It would not be wrong to state that the culprit for establishing this most unethical trend undoubtedly is the electronic media. A meticulous analysis of the media reporting clearly indicates that this important pillar of democracy has been probably unintentionally crossing the contours due to the hairline demarcation between healthy reporting and judging the probable outcomes. This results in a situation whereby it is felt that there is a blatant interference by media in administration having dangerous implications especially in case of criminal cases. Though this trend continues to be in vogue in India with electronic media dominating the social scenario, yet today there is a dire need to rein in media for conforming to ethical standards and desisting from crossing the hairline demarcation. While this issue is not new one and has been raised in cross section of the society from time to time, it must be realized that ‘trial by media’ results in interference with the administration of justice and therefore amounts to contempt of court as per Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. Therefore media needs to restrain from conducting the parallel investigation when the police investigation is going on. It is a fact that when media pre-judges the guilt of the accused, the right to free and fair trial under Article 21 of the Constitution and the presumption of innocence get undermined. It is pertinent to mention here that a 2012 Supreme Court judgment in the Sahara case observed that trial by media comes under the category of interference with the administration of justice; Infringement of presumption of innocence by excessive publicity an act of contempt of court; Excessive prejudicial publicity leading to usurpation of functions of the Court and ultimately interferes with administration of justice. Going through the media reporting in different criminal cases one can without a second thought say that all the aforesaid guidelines are being blatantly violated by media nowadays. It would not be out of context to mention here that the government has the statutory duty to act against such publications and even there are legal provisions empowering the government in this regard. For instance as per sections 5, 6 and 20 of the Cable TV Network Regulation Act, the media cannot publish anything which amounts to contempt of court and if media transmits something which amounts to contempt of court, then there is an obligation on the state authority under Section 20 to stop the transmission. Under this section 20 the Govt has power to even disconnect the channel for violation. However, despite this the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has not taken any action against such violations though Electronic Media Monitoring Centre claims to monitor the content of TV channels 24X7. It is hoped that the concerned authorities especially the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting with due diligence proactively performs its duty to monitor the media reporting and take action in case of any violation. Such actions should never be construed to mean gag on media. After all, media is free to report and criticize but to enter into judgments of guilt before trial undoubtedly amounts to going beyond the legal mandate. The stakeholders in media also need to realize this and function within the defined contours with the key words “Inform and criticize, but do not judge. That is not your job.”