Where Does Press Freedom End and Trial by Media Begin?

Whether the press or media has crossed its legitimate boundaries is an issue that has been addressed by the Supreme Court in India in several cases. In Siddhartha Vashisht v State NCT of Delhi, the court made the important distinction between trial by media and informative media. The case of Sahara vs SEBI is a review of the case law on the point, and it reinforces the line between legitimate comment, and a usurpation that affects the presumption of innocence. The essential difference is captured by the terms used in the Sidharth Vashisht judgment, “informative expression” and “trial by media”. Where the people are informed of news and views, it is a legitimate expression that cannot be restrained, however unpalatable it may be to some. In criminal trials, however, if the media declares or builds public opinion on the guilt or innocence, it jeopardises the presumption of innocence, a right as important as free speech. Hence it is “trial” by the media, that it is neither competent nor permitted to hold. Factual reporting of a criminal proceeding and a media trial are not the same. A media ‘trial’ happens when the media starts conducting parallel proceedings, and asserting its view as the correct view, over those statutorily entrusted with the task of investigation or adjudication. Reporting leaked information in ongoing investigations. if it prejudices the accused is also undesirable as observed in Romila Thapar v Union of India.

Read more on this case here.