ILNS: A Public Interest Litigation has been filed in the Delhi High Court, seeking directions for making of standard rules for reporting criminal cases by the media, taking into consideration the right of the accused. The PIL also wants the media to be restrained from engaging in media trials. The backdrop of this PIL are media reports and analyses in the case of the arrest of Olympic medalist wrestler Sushil Kumar, accused in a murder case.
The PIL has been filed by Kamla Devi who is mother of wrestler Sushil Kumar and Shrikant Prasad, a student of law at Delhi University. The petitioners want a direction to Delhi Police, Press Trust of India and other concerned media channels to refrain from Media Adalats. The plea also wants media to not disclose statements of witnesses and all information related to the case. The plea says that only the investigation agency has that power.
The PIL says that the media has now transformed itself into “janta adalats” or “public courts” and has started intervening in the proceedings of the court. The vital gap between a convict and an accused is completely overlooked by the media which disregards the cardinal principles of ‘presumption of innocence until proven guilty’ and ‘guilt beyond reasonable doubt’.
The petitioners observe that a separate investigation is being done by the media itself. This is called a media trial, along with the regular investigation. This includes forming public opinion against the suspect or the accused even before the court takes cognizance of the case. As a result, the public is prejudiced, due to which the accused, who should have been assumed innocent, is presumed to be a criminal, abandoning all his rights and liberty unrepressed.
It was also alleged that excessive publicity of the accused or the suspect in the media before the trial in a court of law either incriminates a fair trial or results in characterizing the accused or suspect as the one who has certainly committed the crime. This amounts to undue interference with the “administration of justice”, which calls for proceedings against media for contempt of court. The rules that have been designed to regulate the journalism and journalistic conduct are unfortunately inadequate to prevent the encroachment upon civil rights.
“Today the attitude of media as like they themselves are the court and they decide who is guilty and who is not, even before the decisions of courts. After being regarded as one of the four pillars of democracy, the media plays a pivotal role in moulding and shaping the opinions of the society. It is capable of changing the mass mentality, through its viewpoint. However, with the increase in the role of its democratic frontiers, the need to look into its professionalism and reportage cannot be stressed enough,” the PIL reads.
The petitioners laid emphasis on the fact that there have been numerous cases where the media had taken the cases into their own hands and declared an accused as a convict, even much before the Court had already given its decision. There have been quite infamous cases that would have led the Court to declare the accused as innocent, had it not been the wrath of the media in shaping the opinions of the people as well as impacting the judgment of the Judiciary.
A few of such cases mentioned in the PIL were: The Jessica Lal case, 2010, The Priyadarshini Mattoo case, 2006 and The Bijal Joshi rape case, 2005.
The PIL also states: “Delhi Police has categorised this in a sensitive case, but they themselves are leaking each and every information to the media and the media is running these on every channel with their distorted means with a sole motive of gaining TRP. Privacy of an individual is a fundamental right held in AK Puttuswamy vs UoI 2017 by the apex court,” but this has been thrown out of the window by the police, said the PIL. The PIL talks about Article 19 and the freedom of speech and expression, but also points out the limits.