“Institutional Failure has led Media to Become a Public Court,” says C. Arayama Sundaram

Influence of the media in ongoing investigations and trials has overshadowed the investigation, trials and judgements by the judicial system in the worst way possible.

A prominent lawyer, C Arayama Sundaram, who represents Board of Control for Cricket in India, Anil Ambani and several other high-profile clients at various judicial forums was the last guest to speak at the Memorial Lecture Series of Ram Jethmalani. With the paucity of time, Sundaram straight away spoke on the debate topic. He said the increased influence of the media in ongoing investigations and trials has overshadowed the investigation, trials and judgements by the judicial system in the worst way possible.

He said to look at the role of the media in so far as offenses were concerned the law administration and instigations were concerned. There were different manners in which the media dealt with criminal matters, investigations, trials, judgments, it all started at the very initial stage of what was undiluted media reporting. He said earlier, media factually reported and narrated on the crime based on the police narrative, investigation and the judicial proceedings but did not give any of its own opinions. He continued saying that today the media the reporting on the investigation started going behind the police narrative, started getting reactions, comments from people connected to the case, got public reactions to the judgment, sting operations, predicting and pronouncing judgements on its own and giving an editorial critique has turned the entire scenario of media trial.

He stated that media rather than being an imparter of knowledge there is no such thing as subjects in it has now become the creator of public opinion and in certain cases, it has now become a crusade where instead of letting the guilty get away in nine cases out of ten just to save one innocent, today the media wants to say let nine innocent men be hanged but don't let that one get away and we have a complete turn of the rule of law.

Sundaram reiterated what other speakers spoke earlier that media has now become the voice of the public, it is now the deciding factor of the way the people think. He said because of the failure of the other estates, the fourth estate i.e. the media will not be able to convert public opinion.

“If there is an institutional failure in India because people have lost faith in the police, the prolonged judicial pronouncements, the public perception that the rich can find itself out of anything, the public perception is political pressures will come to bear. Media finds an opportunity to enter and take over and has become a self-proclaimed public court,” said Sundram.  

He said Justice may be blind but judges are not blind or deaf bit they are human after all and the media trial affects them. “According to me while the right to freedom of speech and expression is a valuable fundamental right under Article 191 A, the right to a free fair trial is a basic human right,” said Sundaram.

He concluded by saying that the media has started portraying itself as a court of public opinion and a decision maker of what public opinion ought to be and should but underlying all that is the fact that the media is doing that because the public has lost faith in looking anywhere else. He said that media being a watchdog for public opinion and public interest is wonderful but let the media not become a guard for the brain treating the public is blind and trying to leave them alone. Let us improve all our other institutions to ensure the media should not dominate.

Mr Fali Nariman had the last word on the topic after hearing all the panellists, he said, “Perhaps we were too brash to abolish the jury system which represents the people in a criminal trial, not the civil Trials. If we talk about civil trials, an intellectual panel should express an opinion which would reflect public opinion and we have to seriously think about whether we should have a panel, not a jury  who would have given their verdicts because you can't prevent the public from forming an opinion and I don't think we are in a position to prevent the media from expressing their opinion either so we have to have some sort of an intellectual panel which will form a considered and thought-provoking opinion.”

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