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Media trial under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution

Article submitted by Shobika K, SASTRA Deemed to be University.


Media is considered as one of the four pillars of Indian democracy. Media plays a crucial role in influencing society's perception and is able to shift the entire point of view from which people experience different events. The emergence of cable television, local radio networks, and the internet, particularly in the last two decades, has greatly enhanced the scope and influence of mass media. In our country, indeed, the publication of newspapers and magazines in English as well as the various vernacular languages has continuously increased. The power and value of media is well known in democracy.

Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India, which gives freedom of speech and of expression, includes freedom of the press. The existence of a free, independent, and powerful media is the cornerstone of democracy. Media is not only a medium for expressing one’s feelings, opinions, and views, but it is also responsible and instrumental in building opinions and opinions may be based on various regional, national, and international agendas. However, due to the increased role and importance given to the media, it is not possible to stress sufficiently the need for their transparency and integrity in reporting. Media freedom needs to be practiced within acceptable limits, just like every other right acknowledged under the Constitution. Great responsibility comes with great power.

Freedom of Press:

According to Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India[1], the right to freedom of speech and expression was guaranteed. While in India, unlike the United States of America, freedom of the press is not a separately guaranteed right, the Supreme Court of India has recognized freedom of the press under the umbrella of freedom of speech and expression provided for under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. The Supreme Court had the opportunity to decide on the extent of the freedom of the press, to accept it as "the basic prerequisite of a democratic system of government" and to declare it as "the mother of all other freedoms in a democratic society". The right under Art 19(1) (a) shall include the right to information and the right to disseminate information through media, whether print, electronic or audiovisual means.

Media trial vs Fair trail

The term 'media trial' itself is a misnomer as the word "trial" is specified nowhere in the Code of Civil Procedure and Code of Criminal Procedure. Black's law dictionary describes "trial" in adversary proceedings as a structured judicial review of facts and determination of legal claims. Media trial is still a debatable term and is used effectively to denote a facet of media activism.

With the development of cable television, local radio and newspapers in the recent years, the media’s spectrum and scope has grown exponentially, thereby constantly increasing readership and viewership. This gave our media outlets an unparalleled role in shaping mainstream views and references. Balancing one's right to freedom of expression and speech is a person's right to live with dignity. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and Article 14 of The Indian Constitution guarantee the right to a fair trial. There have been very notorious cases that would have led the court to find the accused innocent if it were not for the media's wrath which affect the decision of the judgment. Where court trials have been widely publicized, the media have also played a major role in generating outrage among the viewers, making it virtually difficult for the trial to end as a fair one.

In the case of Zahira Habibullah Sheikh vs. State of Gujarat and Ors[2], the Supreme Court ruled that certain elements of the law are reinforced and energized by the principle of a fair trial. This reflects different laws and procedures. The fair trial was used to mean a trial before an unbiased judge, a fair prosecutor in a comfortable atmosphere. A fair trial requires the removal of a bias or discrimination for or against the accused, the witnesses or the proceeding of the case.

Interference with the Court proceedings:

According to the 200th report of Law Commission of India, the media exercises unregulated, or more uncontrolled, freedom in publishing criminal case information and prejudices public opinion and those responsible for adjudicating the accused's guilt. Indeed, even if the judge eventually convicts the offender, it becomes virtually impossible for the accused to seek an appeal. Strong and excessive media coverage will misguide the fair trial and cause the defendant to be perceived as a suspect. The media reporting of an accused or suspect clash with the trial court procedure, it contributes to undue interference with the "justice process," which results in the contempt for court proceedings. Regulations designed to govern the journalistic method are sadly insufficient to deter abuses of human rights and equality.

In the case of re P.C. Sen, 1968[3], a special leave petition stated that a broadcast which had taken place on the night of 25 November 1965 on an All India Radio station was obstructive in the course of the proceedings and amounted to contempt of the court, as it provided details of the accused. Justice Shah said the rule relating to court contempt is well-settled. Any act that is done or published against the court or that attempts to overthrow the court's authority over anything which intervenes with the legal proceedings will be called as contempt of court.

In the case of Sushil Sharma vs. The State (Delhi Administration and Ors), 1996[4], there was little proof that the defendant killed his wife. Nevertheless, while the case was still pending in the court, the media had started to depict the perpetrator as a murderer and were able to change the public’s views even before the case was decided. Delhi High Court held that any person's conviction should be based solely on the facts of the case, and not because the media wished to find the person guilty. The allegations against the accused person must therefore be presented on the basis of facts found on record and not on the basis of what the media portrays the defendant to be.

Regulatory measures:

The limitations that placed on the media must be fair and not anything that would limit the power of the media. Where Article 19 of the Constitution gives the media the power to express themselves through freedom of speech, it is also important to note that this article also provides reasonable constraints while expressing itself, and restrictions are provided under Article 19 (2). It is therefore the fundamental duty of the courts to ensure that these limitations do not go beyond the limits of the fair restrictions set out in the Indian Constitution. The establishment of India's Press Council has also influenced significantly the fact that it has regulated the power of the press to prevent it from publishing prejudiced content.

The latest study by the Indian Law Commission entitled Trial by Media: Free Speech vs. Fair Trial under Criminal Procedure (Amendments to the Contempt of Court Act, 1971) has recommended resolving the adverse effect of sensationalized news coverage on the administration of justice. Although the study is yet to be made public, press reports suggest that the Commission has proposed restricting the release of anything prejudicial to the accused, a policy that will operate from the time of arrest. It has also reportedly recommended that the High Court be empowered in criminal cases to directly postpone the publication or telecast.


The credibility of news media rests on objective and unbiased reporting. It is in the interest of the media to make sure that the administration of justice is not undermined. Therefore, Media trials have only worked in a few situations, but this does not happen in all circumstances, and limitations need to be placed on the conduct of media trials.

[1] Indian Kanoon, Article 19(1)(a) in The Constitution Of India 1949, (Aug 26, 2020, 7:53pm), [2](2004 (5) SCC 353) [3] AIR 1970 SC 1821, 1970 [4] 1996 CriLJ 3944



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