Supreme Court Calls Out Media Trials Characterised by Biased Reporting

The Supreme Court of India has expressed strong disapproval of 'media trials' – characterized by biased reporting that fuels public suspicion of an individual having committed a crime. The Court has directed the Union Home Ministry to establish comprehensive guidelines for police when conducting press briefings related to criminal cases. The ministry has been given a three-month timeline to formulate these guidelines.

Furthermore, the highest-ranking police officers from each state, along with the National Human Rights Commission, have been instructed to submit their recommendations to the Home Ministry within a month. The next hearing on this matter is scheduled for January. Chief Justice DY Chandrachud led the bench, emphasizing the need to sensitize police personnel regarding media interactions.

The court noted the detrimental impact of 'media trials' on the administration of justice, prompting the need to determine at which stage of an investigation details should be disclosed.

"Administration of justice is affected by 'media trials'. Need to decide at which stage (of investigation) details should be disclosed. This is a very important issue because it involves the interests of the victim and accused. It also involves the interest of the public at large... The media report on crime-related matters involves many aspects of public interest," the top court said. The apex court also noted that while the public has a right to access information, premature disclosure of vital evidence during an ongoing investigation can be detrimental to the process.

The Supreme Court was revisiting a petition related to a 2017 directive on the same topic, where the government was previously tasked with establishing rules for police briefings that consider the rights of both the accused and the victim. Back then, the court had given a six-week deadline for producing a draft report.

The court reiterated that every accused individual undergoing investigation is entitled to a fair and unbiased inquiry, emphasizing the presumption of innocence at every stage. It emphasized that media reports that implicate an accused party are inherently unfair.

Earlier this year, the Chief Justice had urged journalists to uphold standards of accuracy, impartiality, and responsibility in their reporting, cautioning against selective quoting of speeches and judgments that can distort the public's understanding of legal matters.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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