Media’s participation in criminal trials has often been considered as the ‘cornerstone’ of Indian democracy. The media catalyzes the matters that affect the collective conscience of our Indian society. The fundamental block of criminal trials- “innocent till not proved guilty” is something often overruled by all these media giants when they cover sensitive topics such as rape, murder, suicide, etc. Many times, the cases that are popularized by media, undergo an alacrity when it comes to the process of being served justice. This effect is seen when there is an increase in pressure on behalf of the general public. Here is a list of five media trial in India:
After Aarushi was murdered on May 16, 2008, forensic evidence was jeopardized by the inability of the police to secure the crime scene. Consequently, the case was left to be resolved through hearsay. Under these circumstances, the law requires the case of the prosecution to be precise and unambiguous. Every link in the series of evidence should lead to one and only one conclusion.
When the body of Hemraj was recovered, IG of Police (Meerut) Gurudarshan Singh “solved” the case even before the probe even began. In a widely broadcasted press conference, he claimed that Rajesh, who was as “characterless as his daughter” had committed the murders after seeing Aarushi and Hemraj in “an objectionable but not compromising position”. Singh was transferred for his libelous statements, but these demeaning speculations attracted the imagination of the media.
The prosecution completely failed to prove the guilt of Talwars, and the media was unable to bring this to public notice. The Talwars were ultimately imprisoned in Dasna jail after their conviction by a CBI court in Ghaziabad in November 2013.
2.Activist Khurshid Anwar
Khurshid Anwar, a social activist, committed suicide following false rape charges against him. The media sided with the victim, by broadcasting the victim’s allegations on TV without bothering to cross-check facts or even get his version of the incident. His family members still feel that it was the “media trial which forced him to end his life”. Anwar was 55 & an executive director of the Institute for Social Democracy (NGO). He allegedly committed suicide on December 18 by jumping from his third-floor residence in Vasant Kunj after two news channels broadcasted video clips in which a woman accused him of rape. The 23-year-old woman, who hailed from Manipur, was working with the NGO. She accused him of sexually assaulting her on the night of September 12 after a party.
3.Priyadarshini Mattoo Rape Case
Ten years after the rape and murder of 23-year-old law student Priyadarshini Mattoo, the Delhi High Court sealed the fate of the convict by ruling the judgement of death penalty saying he deserved nothing less. Announcing the punishment, Justice R S Sodhi and Justice P K Bhasin said, “We are of the opinion that for a crime of this sort, which has been committed with pre-meditation and in a brutal manner, the convict deserves no other sentence but death”.
Singh lived on to become a practicing lawyer, a husband, and a father to a girl child after had escaped from the clutches of law when the trial had in 1999. Back then, he was freed & proven not guilty due to a lack of evidence. Sustained public outcries and pleads along with a media campaign against the dismissal led to a new request in the High Court, that served Priyadarshini & her family justice. Priyadarshini Mattoo’s father Chaman Lal Mattoo has welcomed the death sentence saying it would serve as a deterrent to those who indulge in such heinous crimes in the future.
Jessica Lall was murdered on April 29, 1999, at a party. Manu Sharma, son of former Union Minister and Haryana Congress leader Venod Sharma, was attending the party with friends, asked her for two drinks at 2 am. As the party was over, she refused to serve. An argument broke out and he took out his pistol and fired one shot at the roof and another at Lall, which hit her near the left eye, and fled. Lall was pronounced dead in hospital in the early hours of April 30.
The case brought the influence of media coverage into focus. The Supreme Court observed that various articles in the print media gave rise to unnecessary controversy and “apparently, had an effect of interfering with the administration of criminal justice”. The Supreme Court stated: “Presumption of the innocence of an accused is a legal presumption and should not be destroyed at the very threshold through the process of media trial and that too when the investigation is pending”. However, it was the media that covered the public outrage and brought this high profile murder case into the limelight.
5. Rhea Chakraborty
Few days after Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput was found dead in his Mumbai apartment, his actress girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty got trolled by SSR’s fans on social media. Rajput was a talented actor in Bollywood, and his death completely shocked the nation. His body was found in his bedroom on June 14. Mumbai police said that the 34-year-old seemed to have taken his own life, and records in the press suggested that the actor had been dealing with a lot of mental health issues. But within a few days, the media attention generated by Sushant’s death shifted towards Rhea Chakraborty, who was then convicted as a suspect. One can only wait until the complete truth gets out. As of now, Rhea Chakraborty is being questioned by the court as the prime suspect. She had stayed silent on the matter until recently. The public outrage & suspicion against her being involved in SSR’s death almost doubled ever since she gave an interview on Aaj Tak, NDTV & India Today.