MEDIA TRIAL – IS IT A THREAT TO THE JUDICIARY?
trials have long been a feature of the legal landscape. But media trials are
increasingly common, and a number of factors are driving this trend. Media
trials have been around for a long time. Some of the most famous trials in
history were OJ Simpson, Casey Anthony and even William Murder Linde all had
high-profile media trails that captivated audiences across the world. However,
it wasn’t until recently that these types of trials have been making headlines
once again. There are several high-profile cases that were broadcasted over the
Internet, allowing anyone with an internet connection to tune in and watch the
trial happen in real time. And while some people may think this is a bad thing,
researchers remain divided about whether or not broadcasting court proceedings
poses a threat to the judicial system and if it does, whether it is an
inevitable one or something we can avoid.
of social media means that information can quickly go viral and be shared
worldwide in just a few clicks. There has also been an explosion of new digital
channels on cable and streaming services devoted to true crime, lifestyle and
other niche programming. When the story broke that social media was fast
becoming the court of public opinion rather than just a platform for people to
air their views, little did we know it would soon become a threat to the
judiciary itself. What started as a small-scale sting operation by some news
channels against several lawyers and judges has now blown up into an all-out
war with videos from these ‘stings’ being released almost every day. The only
silver lining in this whole debacle has been that it has led to many
introspective debates on how we can protect our judicial system from such
attacks in future. But is it really just about safeguarding the judiciary? Or
does this also point towards some deeper malaise? While most of us are
preoccupied with trying to answer those questions, here are some important
takeaways after three weeks of non-stop discussions on media trials and their
created greater demand for lawyers who specialize in high-profile criminal
defence cases and public relations firms that offer advice on how to handle the
media. Furthermore, with so many news outlets competing for viewers and
readers, scandals have become newsworthy opportunities rather than simply
something to avoid. These factors have resulted in a dramatic shift in how
lawyers view media trials with more defendants than ever willing to waive their
right to privacy in return for greater exposure and larger paydays by selling
their story rights directly or through intermediaries such as Hollywood agents
or book publishers.
the Future: Awareness Is Key
all things, awareness is the best antidote to the ills afflicting us.
Unfortunately, in the mad rush to shout down the other side, we seem to have
completely forgotten that basic tenet of rational thought. Nothing exemplifies
this better than the way in which the word ‘credibility’ has been bandied about
by both sides. For the pro-media defendants, the word ‘credibility’ is used to
justify their attack on the judiciary. For the anti-media defendants, it is
used to justify why their targets are fair game. The irony is that in this
entire debate, there is almost no discussion about what ‘credibility’ actually
We need to stop using words like “media trial” and
“ruining the judiciary” so casually.
to stop using words like “media trial” and “ruining the judiciary” so casually.
One of the most common arguments being made currently is that the media has
accused sitting judges of corruption without conducting an investigation or
giving them a chance to defend themselves. But calling it a media trial is
incorrect. A media trial is when a person is tried in the media, which is
extremely rare. What the media is doing is reporting the allegations against
the judges. Similarly, people have also been accusing the media of “ruining the
judiciary” with its sting operations. But actually, this is not true. The
judiciary has its own structure, hierarchy and functioning. A media sting
cannot undermine the judiciary. What’s more, the judiciary is not one single
unit; it’s made up of many different sections and departments. So even if the
sting reveals some wrongdoing in one department, it won’t automatically reflect
on other parts of judiciary.
The general public has limited access to judicial
data and therefore still relies on mainstream media for information.
the arguments being made against sting operation by the media is that it is
premature. If a judge is corrupt, why can’t the Bar Council take action against
him/her? Why does it have to wait for the media to investigate and make a video
about it? But this argument is not valid because the Bar Council does not have
its own investigative wing. It’s not equipped to do sting operations and
collect evidence. So the only option available to the Bar Council is to take
complaints from aggrieved parties. And given the pressure that the judges are
currently under, the number of complaints against them is only expected to
To build a case against a judge or lawyer, it would
take more than just a video recording of hearsay conversations.
is getting a lot of flak for not recording the sting operation and not being
able to provide any evidence. But this is not how sting operations are
conducted in the real world. Stings are pre-planned operations to get some
concrete evidence. Imagine the situation. You go to a judge with a hidden
camera and start accusing him of corruption. He will obviously deny everything
and there will be no evidence in support of your claim. So, to build evidence,
a sting operation will follow a certain protocol. The journalist first makes
the contact. He then begins building a rapport with the other person. Finally,
he tries to get some concrete evidence against the judge.
to Stop Celebrating Virtue by Shaming Vice
the most disturbing features of the ongoing media trial is the way in which it
has become a source of celebration for those who have been clamouring for
‘transparency’ in the judiciary. This is particularly true of the ‘sting’
operation against a few judges and lawyers who are accused of taking bribes for
providing favourable judgments. There has been a propensity to ignore the
possibility that the media bribed these judges in violation of the law. There
has also been a tendency to overlook the fact that accepting a bribe is a crime
and that the victims are not just the judiciary, but also the general public.
While the judiciary might need to revise its own
codes of conduct, we also need to address the root cause of why people are
violating those norms in the first place.
instance, many people have pointed out that the Calcutta High Court judge
should not have been seen riding pillion with a lawyer on a two-wheeler. On the
other hand, we must consider the problem as a whole. The lawyer who was
accompanying the judge was likely to be his close friend and the judge was
probably unaware of the code of conduct that he was expected to follow.
Similarly, we have seen many other lawyers violate the code of conduct in the
videos that have been released. So, while we need to take corrective action
against those erring lawyers, we also need to educate the lawyers and judges
about the code of conduct.
Finally, what is most disturbing is that regardless
of which side you are on, it seems trial by media is here to stay.
how many debates and discussions we have, we have to accept that trial by media
is here to stay. So, we need to work towards building awareness about how to
conduct yourself during a media sting operation. The judiciary must also take
some proactive measures to protect itself from this onslaught. The Calcutta
High Court has already formed a committee to look into the sting operation. And
it would be interesting to see how it addresses the findings of that committee.