Thursday, August 23, 2007

Trial by media

Trail by media is a phrase popular in the late 20th century and the early 21 century, to describe the impact of television and newspaper coverage on a person’s reputation by creating a widespread perception of guilt regardless of any verdict in a court of law. In the United Kingdom there is a heated debate between those who support a free press which is largely uncensored and those who place a higher priority on an individual right to privacy and right to fair trail. Trail by media is one of the most contentious issues. What effect it can have on the effective delivery of justice. This is the age of 24/7 television news there is simply no place to hide from the media which is often accused of sensationalizing events and invade people’s private place.

Publication of details pertaining to the alleged criminal activities of a suspect even before the commencement of a trail was not advisable in the interests of a fair trail. American silent film comedian, Fatty Arbunkle, Football star O.J.Simpson who were acquitted by the jury, the trial scandal ruined their careers. Victims of media trail continued to carry the stigma long after the law has absolved them. The judges are confused that the media pronounces its verdict before the commencement of trail.

The argument that media hype influence the case doesn't really hold good -- for the simple reason that even if the media were to throttle itself at the risk of jeopardizing its fundamental role of conveying information to the public, the celebrity status of the defendant would in any case influence the court. In a country with a vibrant democracy and a highly independent judiciary, it is doubtful that the trial by media in important cases tends to influence judges. Media commentators argue that it is not appropriate for the media to decide whether or not allegation against a person is true and this is the role of justice system. Media cannot don the hat of judge, jury and executioner. But is the Justice system perfect?

The media has every right to express its view regarding the chances of involvement of the accused celebrity on the basis of prima facie evidence. This is required to not let the accused distort the facts using his influence and connections. What’s wrong if media says that the evidences leave little chances for the accused celebrity to evade punishment? If media put in extra efforts in keeping track of the trial and give considerable space for the same, there is nothing unethical, as celebrities require special attention. Considering the high chances of distorting of facts, bribing the officials of the law enforcement agencies, pressurizing the witnesses to change statements, it is media's responsibility to take extra cautions so that the legal process doesn’t get derailed. Every accused is entitled for a fair trial and is presumed to be innocent till proved guilty in a court of Law. There is no denying fact that the media must not resort to malicious campaign as every accused deserves a fair trail and verdicts must not be articulated within the confines of TV studios.

Media activism has helped in highlighting lapses of prosecution and ensured that the rule of the law prevailed in the country. In the recent Jessica Lal, case media far from interfering with judicial process, was in fact helping the society by exposing the lapses of the prosecution. In the Priyadarshini Matoo case the media played a proactive role, many felt the road to justice would have been much longer without media coverge.

Celebrities are a media creation. They enjoy media attention when they are right when caught on the wrong foot; they point an accusing finger at the media for carrying a parallel trail or intruding into their private lives. Media needs celebrities and celebrities’ need media attention. It is Hobson’s choice for both.

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