Press and news media has emerged to be the fourth estate of democracy. From one-hour evening news to twenty-hour live telecasts, the spontaneous growth of media was catalyzed by the right to freedom of speech and expression, and the right to information. For common man world news are available at his fingertips.
In the modern age, information is power. Unwarranted restriction on the spread of information, a discriminatory act causing social and economic inequality is both a fundamental rights violation and human rights violation. Media and press play an inevitable and responsible role in the spread of information and it laid the foundation for the information age.
The growth of media enlarged the scope of public interest and a rule emerged that in the event of a conflict between the right to information and right to privacy the latter shall fade and the former prevails. The rule gave birth to media activism and methods like sting operations became popular.
Transparency and accountability are the essential features of a democratic form of Government. It is assured by ‘checks and balances’ between the organs of the State, i.e. legislature, executive, and the judiciary. A fair balance between all three ensures the proper distribution of power and mitigates the misuse of power. It means, one institution is accountable to another and vice versa. But the fourth pillar of democracy, the media, neither has a constitutional origin nor is affected by ‘checks and balances’.
It is not possible to include or recognize media as a constitutional entity as it is not discharging any governmental functions. This loophole led to the concentration of unlimited powers in the hands of media. The misuse of power began when some media started sensationalizing the news instead of sensitizing. Even the Government failed to curb this because any restriction on media was projected as an attack on democracy.
A relevant example of unchained media activism is interference with the criminal justice administration. The Constitution guarantees the right to a fair trial and the responsibility to guarantee free trial is vested on the criminal courts. In criminal justice administration, the investigation is carried out by the police, the prosecution is conducted by a public prosecutor, and judgment is given by the competent court. A fair trial requires that the public shall have access to the court premises in which proceedings are carried out.
This also facilitates the press and media to report the court proceedings unless the court prohibits it. Briefly, there exists a fair mechanism to ensure that information regarding the case reaches the public. But, at present, the media telecasts real-time, the investigation process, collection of evidence, and arrest of the accused. Moreover, the details of the witnesses, their interviews, and statements are released on the public platform during the pre-trial stages. In other words, the press and media undertake the responsibility of police as well as court and run as a parallel institution that conducts the investigation, examine the witnesses and declare the accused as a convict before the trial commences in the court of law.
Trial by media has severe consequences on the criminal justice administration as it may cause the escape of the perpetrators, destruction of evidence, poses a threat to the witnesses, hardship to police in conducting the investigation, prejudices the rights of accused and his or her family, prejudices the public, etc. Real-time information as to the location of the accused, especially at the scene of the crime during the collection of evidence by police, increases the possibility of a mob attack against the accused. There have been instances where revealing the identities of family members of the accused put their life at risk.
In the information age, the media and press is a necessity. But it is essential to identify the right ones from the wrong. The responsibility is vested on the people to identify, discourage, and eliminate the Medias & press that spread rumors. At the same time, we as the citizens, the real sovereign of this democratic nation, and propagators of Satyameva Jayate are bound to promote the freedom of the press and support the press and media that brings out the truth and only truth.
The views and opinions expressed in this opinion article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Eastern Herald.