Choking Freedom of Press: The Death of Mainstream Media in 2020

Cartoon on Media Trial, By Satish Acharya

By Yashdeep Lakra, third-year B.A. L.LB student from University School of Law and Legal Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi.


The Freedom of speech and expression is an indispensable right that constitutes the democratic fabric of a state. It is a natural right, acquired by the very virtue of being human. In the absence of this right, the moral and intellectual life of either the individual or the nation will die down.   

The first cog in the wheel towards the development of the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression was fastened by the landmark case, Romesh Thappar v. The State of Madras.[1] In the said case, the Supreme Court underlined the significance of Freedom of the Press emanating from Freedom of Speech and Expression,

“Freedom of Speech and the Press lay at the foundation of all democratic organisations, for without free political discussion no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the process of popular government, is possible.”

Right to dissent is embedded in our historical ethos, forming the conscience of our constitutional values, and the role of the media is quintessential in this regard.

The Nirbhaya case [2], Priyadarshini Mattoo case[3] and Jessica Lal case[4] are amongst the catenae of cases where the media stood to its reputation of a responsible state organ, voicing on behalf of the victims and the oppressed. The exact opposite happened in the Aarushi Talwar case[5] and the KM Nanavati[6] case, wherein the media faltered, giving primacy to commercial benefits over fact-finding.

Even though the media is considered essential for the functioning of substantive democracy, for some time now, media channels have become propaganda machines. Telecasting opinions as ‘truth’ for the sake of and in the name of eyeballs.

While in the past, the media has played a pivotal role where the recourse to justice seems gloomy. But in the last few years, the state of Indian mainstream media has only debilitated. Media has shifted its focus to sensationalising death and tragedy for commercial advantage, often overstepping the bounds of an individuals’ right to privacy and freedom.

The everyday cacophony of prime time media channels run on cooked-up theories and unsubstantiated facts. Together, news channels serve great television and poor reporting.

The same was evident this year, after the untimely death of Sushant Singh Rajput, the mainstream media was flooded with conspiracy theories, gambolling back and forth between suicide and murder. Simultaneously, turning a blind eye to the impending crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Running low on content and perhaps bereft of ethics and integrity, the ‘9 PM Kangaroo Courts’, love cherry-picking facts and twisting statements and ‘truths’. As the genuine pursuit of justice has taken a backseat, media channels continue selling themselves by adopting catchy tickers, declaring what ‘the nation wants to know’.

It is troublesome to witness such an eerie decline in the moral standards of an estate, which was once regarded as a sentinel, guarding constitutional and social values. Incidents like these tend to expose the dark underbelly of media and the endless desire to satiate its appetite for television rating points (TRPs). Ultimately, the victim of such stupor and incentivized thrillers is none other than the common person consuming such content.

Against this backdrop, an attempt has been made through this paper to delve into the constitutional position on the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression which is quintessential to the freedom of the press for disposal of its duties in a sincere and bona fide manner.

Keeping with this argument, the paper will try to question as to how far can the justification from free speech endure misinformation disseminated by the mainstream news channels. To answer this question, the paper will focus on media trials and their potential to trample a fair trial in the light of the Sushant Singh Rajput case and its reporting. Further, it will discuss how media trials ‘affect’ the dispensation of justice and the judiciary as a whole. The last part of the paper, questions, if ‘reasonable restrictions’ can be an answer to the harrowing state of Indian mainstream media.

Free Press and Freedom of Speech and Expression

The Indian Constitution recognizes the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression being intrinsic to the very existence of mankind. Freedom of the press has evolved as an essential right stemming from Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. Article 19(1)(a)[8] includes within its ambit the freedom of the press and the same has evolved since independence.

The role of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in this respect must not go unnoticed. In 1992, the apex court reckoned the wide connotation accorded to freedom of speech and expression. The court observed,

“freedom of speech and expression must be broadly construed to include the freedom to circulate one’s views by word of mouth, or in writing, or through audiovisual media. This includes the right to propagate one’s views through print or other media. Freedom to air one’s view is the lifeline of any democratic institution and any attempt to stifle, or suffocate, or gag this right would sound a death knell to democracy and would help usher in autocracy or dictatorship.”[9] 

 A decade-after, a full judge-bench of the Bombay High Court settled the constitutional position on the Right to Free speech and Expression. The judgement was illustrative of the precedents set by the apex court on the right to freely express one’s opinion, even on the most controversial happenings of the past and upheld the right to criticize,

“Tolerance of diversity of viewpoints and the acceptance of the freedom to express of those, whose thinking may not accord with the mainstream, are cardinal values which lie at the very foundation of a democratic form of government. A society wedded to the rule of law, cannot trample upon the rights of those who assert views which may be regarded as unpopular or contrary to the views shared by a majority. The law does not have to accept the stories that would tarnish the image of the High Court.”[10]

Indian constitution doesn’t explicitly provide for the freedom of the press, but the Supreme Court has constantly read an important status to it and established the coherence between free speech and free media.

At the same time, the judiciary has also kept a watchful eye to check any endeavour by the media that impudently encroaches upon the rights of any individual. Either formally or suggestively, pronouncing on the merits of a matter being sub-judice before a court of law. Or which contributes towards creating negative perception of the accused in the eyes of the populace or simply mooting for his innocence.[11]

In Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Private Ltd. v. Union of India[12], the Hon’ble Supreme Court had stated that,

Freedom of press is the heart of social and political intercourse…The purpose of the press is to advance the public interest by publishing facts and opinions without which a democratic electorate [Government] cannot make responsible judgments. Newspapers being purveyors of news and views having a bearing on public administration very often carry material which would not be palatable to Governments and other authorities.”

Often referred to as the ‘Pentagon Papers’ case, the US Supreme Court pronounced a landmark judgement. In New York Times Co. v. United States[13], the court defended the First Amendment right of a free press against prior restraint by the government. The US Supreme Court held, “Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.”

The right to freedom of speech and expression and the freedom of press go hand in hand, and this relationship was furthered, in the landmark judgment, Prabhu Dutt v. Union of India.[14] In the case, due to the tireless efforts of the media, two death sentence convicts were able to exercise their right to speech.

In the instant matter, Ranga and Billa, sentenced for capital punishment, were willing to be interviewed. After the intervention from the Supreme Court, the Chief Reporter of the Hindustan Times was finally permitted to interview them inside the Tihar Jail. The court famously held that the right to know news and information, regarding the administration of the government, is included in the freedom of the press.

Additionally, here, the court also assumed a balancing act. It further observed that this right is not absolute and subject to restrictions in the interest of the society and the individual who’s the source of the information. With the voluntary consent of the person, the media is entitled to obtain any such information.

To put in the words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Learned Hand,

“The hand that rules the press, the radio, the screen and the far spread magazine, rules the country.”

Therefore, the freedom of the press and associated responsibilities need to go hand-in-hand to prevent it from becoming a tool of abuse.

Justice Blackstone, in his commentary, while dealing with the freedom of the press in England, opined,

“The liberty of the press, properly understood, is essential to the nature of a free State; but that this consists in laying no previous restraints upon publications, and not in freedom from censure for criminal matters when published. Every free man has an undoubted right to lay what sentiments he pleases before the public; to forbid this is to destroy the freedom of the press. But if he publishes what is improper, mischievous, or illegal, he must take the consequences of his own temerity.”[15]

Media Trial Versus Fair Trial: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

While information dissemination is crucial, at the same time, it is imperative to be accountable and responsible when it comes to reporting for the populace.

For a long time now, media trials have become intrinsic to news media coverage, often spiced up with a retelling of crime scenes and sensational images, all excused in the name of increased viewership.

Not only does the quotidian noise echoing from newsrooms violate the Right to Privacy of the accused, but it also hampers the principles of natural justice. The news anchors often become the adjudicators, pronouncing judgements as well as penalising the ‘accused’ on prime time television. Pushing for an alternative trial that can very well cast a shadow over the actual trial.

Moreover, often such crass journalism standards and mala fide reporting are justified in the name of Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression.

This has further risen growing apprehensions amongst the populace. Media is serving sensational conspiracy theories at dinner tables. The same has had the courts intervene, handing out aide-mémoire to media houses, reminding them to mind the ‘Lakshman-Rekha’.

This year the Indian mainstream media outdid itself, especially with the Sushant Singh Rajput Case that acquired major telecast time, shadowing everything else. Although the standards of reporting had stumbled long back, media trials routinely visit us, each time worse than the last. Such reporting generally feeds on high profile deaths and celebrities, invoking drama and theatrics to serve the Indian viewers’ appetite.

Not too long in the past, after Sunanda Pushkar’s abrupt death, the media went berserk. It constructed a narrative held together by sheer guesswork. Finally, when Congress leader Shahi Tharoor filed a plea seeking an interim injunction against the witchhunt, the Delhi High Court observed that the TV channels must respect Shashi Tharoor’s ‘right to silence’ in the pending investigation. Hence, reporting shall not be aimed at determining the blameworthiness of suspects in high-profile criminal cases in a ‘whodunit’ manner.[7]

How Does Media Trial Hamper the Rights of the Victim and the Accused?

Circulation of information upon a prejudice, which is prima facie unjust and palpably unfair, defeats the purpose and results in the travesty of social and moral justice. Distortion of facts and intentional manipulation for the sake of TRPs and money-making, tend to diminish the credibility and faith entrusted in the media.

Such mala fide practices result in the subversion of the judicial system and add to the gnawing of the right to a fair trial guaranteed to every individual.

Every person is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty[16]. But when for the sake of sensationalization, the media interferes with the idea of impartiality in justice delivery, it breaches the threshold and calls for the imposition of reasonable restrictions.

It is a well established, in judicial pronouncement, that sub judice matters ought not to be subjected to media trials as such coverage results in the travesty of justice.[17]

The courts have, from time to time, taken cognizance of these parallel media trials, underlining its harmful assault on the right to a fair trial to which every person is entitled.

In State of Maharashtra v. Rajendra Jawnmal Gandhi[18], the hon’ble apex court observed,

 “A trial by press, electronic media or public agitation is the very antithesis of the rule of law. It can well lead to miscarriage of justice. A judge has to guard himself against any such pressure and he is strictly to be guided by the rules of law.”

The issue was more categorically dealt by the Supreme Court in Sidhartha Vashisht @ Manu Sharma v. State (NCT of Delhi)[19]. The court held,

“There is danger of serious risk of prejudice if the media exercises an unrestricted and unregulated freedom such that it publishes photographs of the suspects or accused before the identification parades are constituted or if the media publishes statements which outrightly hold the suspect or the accused guilty even before such an order has been passed by the court.”

At the same time, even the judiciary has served contempt notice to a few media houses and journalists, justifying the need for such limits in the name of public trust. Genuine scrutiny, even of judicial pronouncements, bolsters the faith of the populace in the democratic principles and is a must for a healthy democracy. It has been observed that court proceedings covered widely by the media stand a better chance of fast-track judgement.[20]

Media Trial in the Sushant Singh Rajput Case:

In recent times, there have been many cases where the media passed its dictum even before the matter reached the courts. The suicide case of Sushant Singh Rajput is still under trial. But media has presented a bag full of conspiracy theories, this is even more harmful, as the matter eventually became political due to excessive media attention.[21]

Concocted stories were served daily on the dinner tables, such abysmal coverage by the mainstream media runs in contrast to the principles of ethical and sensitive discourse. The quality and sanctity of journalism are being compromised, inviting dire consequences.

Even before the learned judges could make any comments regarding the facts or involvement of individuals in the matter, unacceptable slurs were thrown at the prime accused and her family. Including obtuse headlines such as ‘Sushant par Rhea ka kaala jaadu’ and ‘Rhea ke jhooth par kya kehta hai India?[22]

Not only such reporting moulds public opinion, but it can also meddle with judicial decision-making. Hence, affecting the outcome of complex matters like these.

These anchors-cum-experts, simultaneously pose as specialists, forensic experts, investigators and adjudicators. The entire narrative woven by the mainstream media created a mirage, which suggested that the real trial was being carried out by the media, while the courts and state agencies were merely fulfilling procedural formalities.

In Dr Soumitra Pathare’s view, such instances depict a failure on the part of the media in following the guidelines laid down by various regulatory bodies. He noted that if the media understands its responsibility and act in a bonafide manner, the total number of suicide cases can be brought down by 1-2%, that amounts to saving 2,500-5000 lives every year. All that needs to be done is adhering to the Internationally and Nationally prescribed guidelines. [23]

The Violated Right to Privacy

Another important aspect concerning Sushant Singh Rajput’s case is the infringement over the Right to Privacy, for both the deceased as well as the accused.

We witnessed a sheer violation of the Right to privacy when the media resorted to humiliating those who were not even remotely involved in the entire fiasco.

Things got out of control when even the deceased wasn’t spared, and his private life was made into a laughing stock as his diary was read out on national television. To add to the menace, ‘paranormal experts’ were called, who purportedly had a conversation with Rajput’s spirit.

This is not the first time the media has overstepped its bounds. This trend to infringe privacy dates back to the Aarushi Talwar case. Wherein, the private life of a 12-year old child became the media’s appetite for public derision. Immodest comments were made, along with a narrative of a love-angle and unsubstantiated stories about the deceased. The shameless exhibition of a teen’s life cost her family mental trauma, as well as, compromised their Right to Privacy and fair trial. [24]

Even in the Sushant Singh Rajput case, the prime accused Rhea Chakraborty’s private life has turned into a plaything in the hands of the media. News channels are publicly displaying her private chats with friends from as back as 2017. Few TV channels accessed the accused’s call records and made her WhatsApp conversations public.[25]

Owing to such reckless reporting, Chakraborty filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court. She submitted that the ‘constant sensationalization of the case’ was causing ’extreme trauma’ and was an ‘infringement of (her) privacy’. [26] She further contended, stating from previous instances where ‘media had convicted accused in 2G and Talwar case in a similar fashion where each and every accused was later on found innocent by courts’. [27]

Similarly, in the infamous ‘Radia Tapes’ controversy, former Tata group chief Ratan Tata had filed a writ petition against the unauthorised publication of his private conversations with businesswoman and lobbyist Niira Radia. Tata had contended that leaks grossly infringed his Right to Life, including the right to privacy.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing on his behalf, submitted that the petitioner was not questioning the right of statutory authorities to record private conversations or the use of such transcripts by the agencies for investigative purposes. But he did contend that under legal provisions, all conversations that had no relevance to the purpose for which they were recorded. Thus it was the responsibility of the public officials to put out such information away from the media’s reach, as well as, the public domain.[28]

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides for the protection of the Right to Privacy under Article 12, which states,

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, or to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” [29]

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) also imposes an obligation on the states to protect all individuals against any arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation’. [30]

In the Bofors Pay-offs case, the Delhi High Court had objected to the victimisation and infringement to the right of privacy by the media. The Court’s statement below is a fitting segway into the next segment of the article,

“The fairness of trial is of paramount importance as without such protection there would be trial by media which no civilised society can and should tolerate. The functions of the court in the civilised society cannot be usurped by any other authority.” [31]

Influence of Media Trials on the Judiciary

Irrespective of the prevailing societal opinions and sentiments, the judiciary is required to maintain the highest degree of impartiality, [32] In the aforementioned cases, where the media coverage has been so robust and was ridding on public sentiments, it will be incorrect to assume that such sentiments won’t translate into the judicial subconscious.

Accusations are frequently hurled at media for propagating mob mentality and creating a public hysteria, an assertion counter-argued by many.[33]

Renowned Psychology Prof. Judith Platania and Jessica Crawford termed media trial as an ‘unwarranted interference’ in the process of dispensing justice.[34] They suggested ‘fair trial’ as one of the most important elements of the judicial systems.[35]

Numerous researchers have demonstrated how the media ‘affects’ human beliefs, and the figure even surpasses the faith in scientific principles.[36]

In the Indian context, various Supreme Court Judges have expressed their concerns regarding the inappropriate media reporting of court matters. There is growing apprehension that the media willfully tries to influence the thinking of the judges, promoting favourable agendas among their ranks.

Often the media raises suspicions regarding judicial pronouncements, with little regard to legal principles, especially when they’re not in conformity to the ‘social and moral’ compass set by the media. [37]

The courts have expressed their willingness to formulate certain guidelines regulating the media reporting on court proceedings. Further, such guidelines will strike a ‘good equilibrium’ between the freedom of the press and the basic human rights such as the right to life, liberty and freedom of speech and expression. Thus, not putting the latter in a perilous state. [38] 

British communication theorist Prof. Denis McQuail, one of the most influential scholars in the field of mass communication studies, posits that the criminal justice system is susceptible to media influence. Therefore, media coverage of even the minutest of information has lasting effects on the justice system. [39]

His findings were based on a ‘stimuli response model’, which suggested that due to the sweeping role of media, the ideologies and institutional behaviours underwent a substantial change. [40]

The Salman Khan hit-and-run case is a classical example of media’s capability to besmirch a judge’s memory, affecting the judicial subconscious.[41]

The poaching act called for stringent punishment, but it seemed that a well-planned makeover led to the creation of a narrative around the actor. At the time, a wave of sympathy had overridden the media, weaving a compassionate and charitable figure of Khan. The same worked in his favour, granting him a favourable court ruling.

The media made incessant efforts to sanitize his image, portraying him as an entirely different person. Unsurprisingly, his criminal culpability was overlooked.

This assertion also finds its veracity in the address of Former Supreme Court judge, Justice Kurian Joseph.   While addressing a Bar Council meeting, Justice Kurian noted that the judges are subconsciously prejudiced by the media. He appealed,

“Please stop trying(cases) in the media till a case is over. Never try a case in the media, it creates a lot of pressure on judges, they are also human beings.” [42]

In the Sushant Singh Rajput case, a spate of parallel investigations was carried out, especially by the mainstream media. This trial by media received a critical reaction from the Bombay High Court, the division-bench presiding over the case observed, [43]

“It takes years of hard work to build a reputation and with just one stroke it is brought from top to bottom. Without being punished, there is a stigma on their forehead till the trial is completed, no matter if they are cleared of the charges. In the present case before us, there are all these youngsters and their reputation is being tarnished at this age. They have a whole life ahead of them, they have families, what will the impact on them be?”

The court further went on to ask whether the current mechanism in place for self-regulation of electronic media incorporated sufficient measures to foil any attempt aimed towards subverting the authority of the constitution leading to serious ramifications. The court also asked if the same ensured that a proper balance is maintained between the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression and the accused’s right to a fair trial.

Several such instances, from time to time, have prompted the Law Commission of India to finally address the parallel trial run by media channels. In its 200th report, ‘Trial by Media: Free Speech versus Fair Under Criminal Procedure (Amendments to the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971)’, the Law Commission recommended for the introduction of a law aimed at debarring the media from reporting anything which serves prejudicial to the rights of the accused in the criminal cases, right from the time of the arrest to the investigation phase until the completion of the trial.[44]

The Dichotomy of Reasonable Restrictions

While the judiciary has often pressed for restrictions upon media coverage, calling for a ‘good equilibrium’, the question is, can we ever achieve such an equilibrium?

Limitations to the exercise of free speech and expression are laid down in the constitution. When the enjoyment of one’s right to free speech endangers the interests of the community at large, the state, by the authority of the constitution, is empowered to impose ‘reasonable restrictions’.[45]

It implies, first and foremost, that the exercise of the right shall not be excessive and arbitrary, and it must, without any exception, strike a proper balance between the right guaranteed in Article 19(1) and the social control defined in Article 19 (6). [46]

Our constitution confers on every citizen with personal liberties, but as no liberty is unbridled, none is allowed to exercise absolute powers and the same applies to freedom of speech and expression.

In the landmark case of A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras,[47] the Supreme Court echoed the need for certain restrictions, the  Court observed,

man as a rational being desires to do many things, but in a civil society his desires have to be controlled, regulated and reconciled with the exercise of similar desires by other individuals.”

Ergo, the guarantee of the right to free speech carries within itself certain reasonable restrictions that may be imposed, when there is a callous attempt to debase its sanctity.

The Delhi High Court in R.K. Anand v. Registrar, Delhi High Court,[48] reprimanded the appellant for his gratuitous act while observing that free speech doesn’t imply a right to publish just anything reflective of some whimsical manoeuvre. The court said,

“the right of free and fair trial was of far greater importance and in case of any conflict between free speech and fair trial the latter must always get precedence.”

On the contrary, recently, the Bombay High Court rebuked the Maharashtra State machinery, expressing concerns about the growing trends of targeting media for criticising the political dispensations.

The court observed that it seemed like the police had its task cut out in the Arnab Goswami case. It said, there could not be ‘the spectacle of a Damocles’ sword’ hanging over the head of a journalist while conducting a public debate.[49] The court questioned the credibility of the state, calling such incidents, ‘political witch-hunts’.

The Supreme Court also condemned the high-handedness of the West Bengal Police while issuing a stern warning in a case where a Delhi resident was summoned merely for a Facebook post. The post allegedly complained about holding large congregations amidst the pandemic in glaring violation of lockdown norms.

A bench presided by Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee, in a strongly-worded judgment, pulled up the state authorities. The court remarked,

“Do not cross the line. Let India remain a free country. We, as the Supreme Court, are here to protect free speech. The reason why the SC was created by the Constitution is to ensure that ordinary citizens are not harassed by the State.”[50]

This statement presents a clear dispute and dichotomy, how much restrictions is too much? While there is a need to curb media trials, it’s hard to ascertain if such restrictions won’t be misused by the state.

On the one hand, restrictions to free speech have been used to trample protest. As they are often weaponized against journalists and activists who dare to question the government. On the other, these restrictions become essential in cases where misinformation is spread to propagate hate and diverge from the potent issues. Restriction to the right to free speech serves at the whims of the executive, can the same provisions be used to prevent nefarious media trials?

It is the dichotomy of these ‘restrictions’ that entails both violation and protection of individual rights. Can there be a fine balance, especially in cases where the free press is infringing upon the rights of the accused?

JS Mill in his book ‘On Liberty’ has argued that there exists no ideal or flawless mechanism to determine whether the opinions and information we are trying to conceal is false or erroneous. Therefore, preventing a person from expressing her views could potentially deprive us of some truth. [51]

He further opines that the rationality of human thoughts is subjective, and methods of inquiry, analysis or evaluation constituting such rational human thoughts do not guarantee or generate certainty. But in the long term, these methods only steer the improvement process and lead to the overall reduction of errors and dogmatism.

Mill reasons for complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinions, for as he contends, is the only method of attaining any rational assurance of being right. [52]

If then, we keep the arena open and allow for all kinds of opinions to prosper, regardless of how harmful they may be, can it serve the purpose of the Right to freedom of speech and Expression better?

The question still remains, if restrictions are subject to executive misuse, should we endure with media trials just to protect ethical journalism? As the latter provides more value.

Thus, it’s important to note here that the imposition of restrictions on the freedom of the press can’t flow from a mechanical understanding of rights. These restrictions are often justified for their need when the right exercised by the press puts limits on an individual’s right. Limits to the right to free press cannot be a norm but rather an exception where the harm supersedes the benefits of such freedom.

Concluding Remarks

The Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression is undergoing a gradual erosion. Freedom of the press is being mauled, advancing a looming threat to the very existence of discourse and democracy.

The message is clear and resounding. Differences in ideologies and opinions ought not to take the violent route. Ours is a country governed by the rule of law and should staunchly oppose any efforts aimed at massacring our democratic values.

Expression of any unpalatable opinion towards the government should not be termed as seditious. The onus is on the media to facilitate the free flow of thoughts and opinions. A responsible media is the handmaiden of effective judicial administration, and it’s the failure to oblige to this duty by promoting media trials which result in the travesty of justice.

But can the intent to forbid such malicious content come from within the media? Is there a need for introspection, so that the ethical norms of journalism are upheld?

Owing to the recent happenings, it may take a longer time to rebuild media credibility. But the process has to begin now. A check-and-balance approach to the tsunami of misinformation prevalent in these times can be a viable solution to champion the cause of truthful journalism, a sine qua non in a democracy.

The media should put a full stop to its practice of turning a nelson’s eye to matters of real significance.

In the Tablighi Jamaat incident, culpability was set on individuals for merely attending religious congregations. As the media demonised the attendees and portrayed them as a ‘mortal threat’ to the populace.

Students and Youth leaders were labelled as ‘terrorists’ during the Anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests, while the real issues of contention were blatantly ignored.

We hear disturbing news every day regarding the farmers’ protests. Instead of flagging concerns of the farmers, many mainstream media houses have become the government’s mouthpiece, accusing farmers of some ‘ulterior motives’.

Are media houses ready to relinquish their longing for more and more for the sake of preserving? When journalism itself has split into halves, can its integrity be resurrected? Can it rectify the inherent defects within its own ecosystem?


[1] Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 124.

[2] Dr. Tanushri Mukherjee, Role of Social Media in Showcasing Women Atrocities: A Study on Jaipur Youth, AMITY JOURNAL OF MEDIA & COMMUNICATION STUDIES 32, 34 (2016). 

[3] Monisha Gade, Media- A Valuable Means to Justice, JOURNAL OF LEGAL STUDIES AND RESEARCH  89, 93-95 (2019). 

[4] Ibid.

[5] Express News Service , Aarushi murder case: SC slams ‘sensationalist’ media, THE INDIAN EXPRESS (Aug. 9, 2010, 5:46 PM), 

[6]Bachi Karkaria , Nanavati case marked many firsts – trial by media & tussle between judiciary and executive, THE PRINT (Apr.. 27, 2019, 10:36 AM), 

[7] Devika Agarwal, Shashi Tharoor’s ‘right to silence’ : Balancing free speech and trial by media, FIRST POST (Aug. 12, 2017, 2:08 PM), 

[8] INDIA CONST. art. 19, cl. (1)(a).

[9] Life Insurance Corpn. Of India & Ors. v. Prof. Manubhai D. Shah Etc. Etc., (1992) 3 SC 637.

[10] Shri Anand Patwardhan v. The Central Board of Film Certification, 2003 (5) BomCR 58 ; 2004(1) MhLj 856.

[11]Raghav Tankha, Where Does Press Freedom End and Trial by Media Begin?, THE WIRE (Sept. 30, 2020), 

[12]Indian Express Newspapers(Bombay) Private Ltd. v. Union of India, AIR 1986 SC 515.

[13]New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971).

[14] Prabhu Dutt v. Union of India, AIR 1982 SC 6; Sheela Barse v. State of Maharashtra (1997) 4 SCC 373.

[15] Referred in M. Hasan and Anr. v. Government of Andhra Pradesh, AIR 1998 AP 35 :1997(6) ALT 209. 

[16] G.A. Res. 217 (III) A, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Dec.10, 1948) , art. 11(1).


[17] Saibal Kumar v. B.K. Sen, (1961) 3 SCR 460.

[18] Maharashtra v. Rajendra Jawnmal Gandhi, CRIM APP. NOS 840 & 839 of 1997.


[19] Manu Sharma v. State (Nct of Delhi), CRIM APP NO. 179 of 2007.

[20] Bodo, Z., & Szabo, G., The media and attitudes towards crime and the justice system: A qualitative approach, 8(4) EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF CRIMINOLOGY, 329-342 (2011).

[21] KAY Dodhiya, Media trial in Sushant Singh Rajput case: Bombay High court says journalists have lost their neutrality, HINDUSTAN TIMES (Oct. 23,2020, 11:41 PM),,Media%20trial%20in%20Sushant%20Singh%20Rajput%20case%3A%20Bombay%20high%20court,journalists%20have%20lost%20their%20neutrality&text=He%20cited%20a%201947%20report,instead%20of%20any%20statutory%20regulation

[22] Prerna Lidhoo, Aarushi Talwar to Rhea Chakraborty: A Tale of Two Media Trials and Zero Lessons Learnt, THE WIRE (Sept.1, 2020),

[23] Ibid.  

[24] Shohini Ghosh, Implicated by the media, THE HOOT (Oct. 13,2017), 

[25] Rutvi Zamre, Rhea Chakraborty’s Media Trial Is an Extension Of A Diabolic Celebrity Culture, FEMINISM IN INDIA (Sept. 18,2020),

[26] Satya Prakash, Sushant Rajput death: Rhea alleges ‘media trial’, urges SC to protest her right to privacy, THE TRIBUNE (Aug. 10,2020, 04:52 PM), 

[27] Ibid.

[28] J. Venkatesan, Supreme Court to examine Ratan Tata’s petition on Niira Radia tapes, THE HINDU (Dec. 2, 2010, 03:53 PM),

[29] G.A. Res. 217 (III) A, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Dec.10, 1948) , art. 12.

[30] G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI) , International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Dec. 16, 1996) , art. 17.

[31] Crl.Misc.(Main) 3938/2003

[32]Moran, L. J., Mass-mediated ‘open justice’: Court and judicial reports in the press in England and Wales, 34(1) LEGAL STUDIES, 143-166 (2014).

[33]C. M., Judicial perceptions of media portrayals of offenders with high functioning autistic spectrum disorders, 3 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF CRIMINOLOGY AND SOCIOLOGY, 46-60 (2014).

[34] Platania, J., & Crawford, J., Media exposure, juror decision-making, and the availability heuristic, 24(6) JURY EXPERT, 53 (2012).

[35] Ibid.

[36] Golding, D., Krimsky, S., & Plough A., Evaluating risk communication: Narrative vs. technical presentations of information about Radon, 12(1) RISK ANALYSIS, 27-35 (1992).

[37] J. Venkatesan, Supreme Court to frame norms for media on reporting court proceedings, THE HINDU (Mar. 28,2012, 12:56 AM), 

[38] Ibid.

[39] McQuail D., McQuail’s mass communication theory, SAGE Publications (2010).

[40] Ibid.

[41] Gade M., Media – A valuable means to justice, 2(3) JOURNAL OF LEGAL STUDIES AND RESEARCH, (2016).

[42] PTI, Media trials strain us, says SC judge, THE TIMES OF INDIA (Jul. 26, 2015, 04:54 AM),

[43] Express News Service, ‘Media trial’ in Sushant case: Is current mechanism for self-regulation of the electronic media enough, asks HC, THE INDIAN EXPRESS (Oct. 17, 2020, 07:00 AM),

[44] Law Commission of India, Trial By Media: Free Speech and Fair Trial Under Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, 200th Report (Aug.2006),

[45] INDIA CONST. art. 19, cl. (2).

[46] Chintaman Rao v. State of M.P. , AIR 1951 SC 118.

[47] A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 27.

[48]  R.K. Anand v. Registrar, Delhi High Court, CRIM. APP. NO. 1393 OF 2008.  

[49 Poornima Advani, Why Arnab Goswami’s arrest puts India’s long-cherished freedom of speech in danger, THE PRINT (Nov. 5, 2020, 10:29 AM),

[50] Ibid.

[51] JOHN S. MILL, ON LIBERTY 77 , (1859).

[52] JOHN S. MILL, ON LIBERTY 79 , (1859).

[53] Sarah Sorial & Catriona Mackenzie (2011) The Limits of the Public Sphere: The Advocacy of Violence, Critical Horizons, 12:2, 165-188.

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