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Fair trial goes beyond courts, to the police and media

GS paper 2

Syllabus: Structure, functioning and organization of Courts, the role of executive, media etc

 

Source: The Hindu

Context:

  • This is in continuation of the article Biased media weaken democracy
  • Recently, the Chief Justice of India objected to the lack of media accountability in the media’s coverage of legal issues.

Direction: Those giving mains this year can make note of a few issues and suggestions (it is important for this year’s exam), others can just go through it once.

Role of Police in ‘media trial’:

  • Important Source for media and communication to the judiciary: Police are a crucial source for the media and communication between the judiciary and police is often a starting point of the troubles of media trials.
  • Public stripping of rights: Unregulated divulgence of case details by an eager police force results in a public stripping of the rights that typically accompany a fair trial.
  • g., Delhi police admitted to informing the media about the outcome of AltNews’ co-founder Mohammed Zubair’s bail hearing before the judicial order was even pronounced in open court.

Role of Media:

  • Role in preventing insidious effects: Police narratives are sometimes designed to achieve political goals, and the media’s ready acceptance of these narratives does little to prevent their insidious effects.
  • Shaping of political opinion: Given the media’s ability to shape political opinion, law enforcement agencies are sometimes under pressure to selectively reveal certain facets of the investigation or to mischaracterize incidents as communal or systemic.
  • Bhim Koregaon case: For example, the investigation of the Bhima Koregaon violence (2018) was marked by a slew of motivated arrests of popular dissenters critical of the Government.
    • While the investigation was underway, the police exposed letters purportedly written by these activists that were still undergoing forensic analysis.
    • While these letters received extensive news coverage, none of them was presented as evidence in court.

Issues with the media:

  • Non-uniform government regulations: Government regulation is not uniform for print and television media and enforcement of these regulations, where it occurs, is slow.
    • In any event, Government regulation of the media is problematic and likely to increase the politicization of the press.
  • Self-regulations easily avoided: Self-regulation set-ups such as the National Broadcasting Standards Authority and Indian Broadcasting Foundation are membership-based and easily avoided by simply withdrawing from the group.
  • Weak regulatory norms: A weak regulatory environment effectively leaves reporting norms to the conscience of reporters and their editors.
  • Mentioning arrest without proper information: Many reports mention “arrest” without any information about whether such arrests are conducted in the course of an investigation or after the filing of a charge sheet.
  • Pressure on media organizations: The growing financial pressures on media organizations, beat reporters specializing in crime and legal reporting are becoming rare.

Analysis of steps taken till now: 

  • Supreme Court in Romila Thapar vs Union of India: Courts have repeatedly directed law enforcement authorities not to reveal details of their investigations, especially the personal details of the accused before the trial is complete.
  • Statutory restrictions: Kerala is one of the few States to have disallowed photographs and parades of persons in custody within its Police Act.
  • Media policy guidelines: Most other States have issued disparate media policy guidelines.
    • However, the enforcement mechanisms remain weak.
  • Directions from the Home Ministry: The Ministry of Home Affairs issued an office memorandum outlining a media policy.
    • However, its implementation is lacking as the ‘Police’ is an entry in the State List and thus falls primarily within the jurisdiction of State governments.

 Conclusion:

  • An inward-looking solution to the ethical crisis: With an increasing call for media regulation, it is now in the immediate interest of the media and the general interest of the free press, that media institutions look inward to find an answer to what is essentially an ethical crisis.
  • Upholding the basic principles of justice: The media’s immense power to shape narratives regarding public conceptions of justice makes it a close associate of the justice system, bringing with it a responsibility to uphold the basic principles of our justice system.
    • The media should feel subject to the obligation to do its part in aiding mechanisms that aim to preserve these principles.
  • Structured and well-designed media policy: A structured and well-designed media policy with training and enforcement mechanisms is the need of the hour for the police.

 

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Q. Judicial legislation is antithetical to the doctrine of separation of powers as envisaged in the Indian Constitution. In this context justify the filing of a large number of public interest petitions praying for issuing guidelines to executive authorities. (UPSC 2021)