Fair trial goes beyond courts, to the police and media

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Source: The post is based on the article “Fair trial goes beyond courts, to the police and media” published in The Hindu on 10th August 2022.

Syllabus: GS 3 – Role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges.

Relevance: About the information leak from police and its impact by poor media ethics.

News: Recently, the Chief Justice of India objected to the lack of media accountability in the media’s coverage of legal issues.

How does media hamper a fair trial?

In criminal cases, media attention is often drawn toward investigation and early trial stages, with a notable disconnect from the eventual outcomes of a trial.

This makes the police a crucial source for the media and communication between the two institutions is often a starting point of trouble. For instance, in Bhima Koregaon violence (2018) the police exposed letters purportedly written by activists that were still undergoing forensic analysis.

Why do media reports hamper a fair trial?

1) Unregulated divulgence of case details by police and disproportionate reliance on this information by the media hampers a fair trial, 2) Government regulation is not uniform for print and television media and enforcement of these regulations is slow, 3) Media fails to check the accuracy of police narratives before making them public. Further, reporters bear the burden of translating the significance of police versions in a criminal trial.

Read more: Secure Indian interests: Ensure fair play in media
Why police is revealing information to the media?

Police reveal crucial information to the media because a) They are more concerned with demonstrating dynamism and efficiency, rather than the protection of civil liberties, b) Most police departments do not have dedicated media cells, making officials of all levels authoritative sources of information and blurring the boundaries between an official and informal police account of events, c)

What are the potential impact of police revealing information to media?

Revealing information from police violates a) Presumption of innocence and b) The right to dignity and the privacy of suspects, the accused, victims, witnesses and persons closely related to them, c) Face social ostracisation and difficulties in retaining employment, making them vulnerable to crime and exploitation, d) Hampers the evidence-based narrative of criminal cases presented by the police to a court.

What are the various steps taken to restrict police from revealing information?

Firstly, the Supreme Court in Romila Thapar vs Union of India, (2018) case directed law enforcement authorities not to reveal details of their investigations, especially the personal details of the accused, before the trial is complete. This interpretation is held in various instances.

Secondly, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a sparse office memorandum outlining a media policy over a decade ago.

Thirdly, Kerala is one of the few States that have disallowed photographs and parades of persons in custody within its Police Act.

Read more: Police – Training, Modernisation and Reforms Report: Make police plaints authority free from cops: House panel
How do ensure the government can ensure a fair trial?

For media: In the immediate interest of the media and the general interest of the free press, the media institutions such as National Broadcasting Standards Authority and Indian Broadcasting Foundation must find answer this ethical crisis.

For police: In an ongoing case, the Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties asked the Supreme Court to issue guidelines to regulate media briefings by the police to ensure a fair trial.

So a structured and well-designed media policy with training and enforcement mechanisms is the need of the hour for the police.

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