“There is danger, of serious risk of prejudice if the media exercises an unrestricted and unregulated freedom.” The Supreme Court on Monday cautioned journalists against conducting trial by media, saying “media freedom should be used cautiously” to avoid interference in the administration of justice.
A bench headed by Justice P Sathasivam, which upheld the conviction of Manu Sharma and two others, suggested that reporting, particularly in pending cases, “must be subjected to checks and balances so as not to interfere with the administration of justice."
The bench said: “Every effort should be made by the media to ensure that the distinction between trial by media and informative media is always maintained. Trial by media should be avoided particularly at a stage when the suspect is entitled to Constitutional protections.”
“Despite the significance of the print and electronic media, it is not only desirable but least that is expected of the persons at the helm of affairs to ensure that trial by media does not hamper fair investigation and does not prejudice the right of defence of the accused in any manner whatsoever. It will amount to travesty of justice if either of this causes impediments in the accepted judicious and fair investigation and trial,” the bench added.
Noting that in the instant case certain articles appearing in newspapers immediately after the incident caused confusion regarding description and number of the assailants, the bench said, “Presumption of innocence of an accused is a legal presumption and should not be destroyed at the very threshold through the process of media trial and that too when the investigation is pending.”
“In that event, it will be opposed to the very basic rule of law and would impinge upon the protection granted to an accused under Article 21 of the Constitution,” it added.
Quoting from its earlier judgment, the court, however, said, “It would be a sad day for the court to employ the media for setting its own house in order and the media too would not relish the role of being the snoopers for the court.”