Apex Court cautions Media
The Supreme Court’s advise to the media to show more restraint in covering incidents such as the Arushi Talwar murder case appears to be more of a warning rather than a gag order as several TV channels are portraying.I had been expecting a direction of this nature for a long time given the manner in which the electronic media in particular has been hounding accused persons even before their guilt was established.
I feel that the Supreme Court is totally justified in its views, which many see as extra judicial intervention aimed at curbing the freedom of press.
Such a stage has been reached only because of the irresponsible manner in which the press especially the electronic media has behaved basing its newscast on half-baked information and pre determined notions thereby depriving the accused of a fair hearing.
The media has decided many cases even before the Courts could pronounce their verdicts. As a matter of fact, media pronouncements have perhaps adversely affected the outcome of the Jessica Lal and Priyadarshini Matoo cases amongst others.
I am not saying at any stage that Manu Sharma in Jessica Lal and Santosh Kumar Singh in the Mattoo case or SPS Rathore in the Ruchika case should not have gone through the judicial process as laid down by law in this country. But in each of these cases it will be very difficult to state that the court’s findings were free from the influence of the media trial, which took place for days together on every channel.
I have written on the subject on earlier occasions too. The role of the press is to counter any influence, which may get exercised during the course of investigations. But it is only the courts alone that can pronounce anybody guilty of a crime he or she is alleged to have committed. Unfortunately, in these three cases, regardless of whatever has happened, the accused persons never got a real chance to argue their defence.
The media had pronounced its verdict long before the courts had. The Arushi Talwar case is a case where the lawyer representing the parents has taken a position on how reports were tarnishing the image of his clients even though nothing conclusive to link them to the case had been found by the CBI so far.
The electronic media by and large and most anchors have very little knowledge of the criminal law and the rules of procedures. Therefore while covering any major crime, there is a lot of extra judicial activity, which takes place on the TV screens. Many bloomers are also allowed since the experience and knowledge is lacking. For instance in the Arushi case when the dentist’s assistant was taken to Bangalore for Narco testing no one raised a voice how the CBI could take them out of the city without obtaining the court’s permission and how could he be subjected to that kind of test without a court order. All the formalities were completed subsequently. The major faux pas went unnoticed because the TV channels were oblivious about the procedures.
I am against any kind of gag order on the press in general. But then media needs to show more restraint in covering cases especially if they do not have the required skills to do so. You cannot tarnish anyone’s image on basis of your own belief. Every individual has a right to defend himself and as per our law everyone has to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise.
The SC has given a warning and next time it will haul up individual papers or TV channels. Therefore it is better to acquire both experience and knowledge of subjects, which one covers. If that is not possible please use restraint.