Should media persons play the role of judges?

‘Justice delayed is justice denied’ is a cliché. That is why, a wag has said in a seminar at Mumbai that ‘why not appoint the media persons as the judges in all courts?’  In his view, trial by media is most inexpensive and expeditious way of delivery. There is a no need for the police to register the crime, investigate and frame the charges. There is no need for the Courts to afford any opportunity for ‘admission and denial’ or to allow examination and cross-examination of anybody. Collection of evidence will also not be required. Mere debates by some ‘omniscient’ people in the studio of the television channels will be enough to pronounce the judgment for or against the accused or victim.

It may be ludicrous to the most but it is, nonetheless, true that media persons level the charges (sometimes some body else level those charges) and then the debaters become the jury and the judge to pronounce the judgments. Take for example, the recent case of two girls from Rohtak, who were shown to be the victims of molestation by three young boys in a moving bus. It was reported in the media that two brave heart girls faced the molestation attempt by three young boys; incidentally, two of them were selected in the army. The allegation of these girls is that when three boys were trying to molest them in the running bus not even one of the passengers came to their rescue. Then one of these courageous and spunky girls started thrashing those boys, while the other got busy in making the video through her mobile phone. This video became viral and, within no time, it was the topic of hot TV debates. The warriors of studios made the post mortem of the criminal law and the safety of the women.

No body bothered to know the other side of the story. They chastised the fellow passengers and wanted them to be booked for complicit in the crime. All participants shamed the hapless bus conductor and the driver in the harshest possible language. But the anchors of the news channels reserved their ire against the political leaders, police administration and even the general public was not spared. Media pronounced the judgment in favour of the ‘victim’ girls and against the boys in less than an hour. Haryana Government lost no time in suspending the driver and conductor of the bus. The state government also announced the bravery awards to be given to both gutsy girls on 26 January, the Republic Day. 

However, the next day when the other version of the story came when many passengers including an old woman, tried to lodge a report against these two girls in a police station. Unnerved by the criticism of the media the police refused to lodge the report of the old woman against the girls. But such things do not remain hidden for very long time, that too, when the girls and other passengers belong to the neighboring village. Almost everybody blamed the girls who picked up the unnecessary quarrel for the sake of seats in the bus. 

An old woman also alleged that she was forcibly removed from her seat and was asked to sit on a wheel tyre kept in the bus. It is also said that the girls were traveling in the previous bus, which went out of order and then passengers were loaded in the next bus in which the boys were travelling. The girls insisted on sitting on the same seats, which were given to them in the previous bus. These boys refused to accede to their demand and the scuffle followed. Next day when the real facts came to the light, the government withdrew the bravery awards to be given to the girls. It has also come to the open that these ‘courageous’ girls have been in the habit of creating such drama for the sake for the publicity. This also proves the point that justice hurried is justice buried.

Media may gloat over its achievement (?) but this has done no good to its credibility. The media, particularly the electronic media, have been making such reports, which have not only been unpalatable and unauthentic but these reports have also been malicious, tendentious and defamatory. Not long ago, a news channel had converted an innocent school teacher of Delhi, Miss Uma Shama into a pimp and the peddler of the sex trade. It was alleged by the news channel that the said woman teacher used to rope in girls of tender age to get them thrown into flesh trade. However, after an inquiry it was found that the report was totally false and it was aimed at spoiling the image, character and career of the woman teacher. Based on the report the woman teacher was summarily dismissed from the job to be reinstated only after getting the clean chit from the police.

It raises an important point. When the media has become so powerful that it can make or destroy anybody’s image, should it behave so irresponsibly as not to verify the facts before passing any judgment? Should there not be any checks and balances for the media? Is there not an urgent need for strong regulatory measures where the general public or any aggrieved person can go for redeeming his or her prestige if the media has deliberately spoiled it for the sake of TRP or sensation?

It may not be out of place to mention here that aggrieved by a report that was broadcast on a T.V. channel, the eminent  lawyer Fali Nariman, who was arguing the case of Sahara India Ltd in the Supreme  Court had drwan the attention of the bench headed by the then Chief Justice of India Mr. S. H. Kapadia. Justice Kapadia suo-motto took up the matter and issued notices to the government and other agencies for replying so that the guidelines for the court reporting could be framed.

Indian Federation of Working Journalists (IFWJ) also got impleaded in the case and I argued the case before the court on behalf of the IFWJ and vehemently opposed for framing of any guidelines because that would amount to curtailing the freedom of speech and expression and, therefore, would be unconstitutional. Ultimately, the court dropped the idea of framing any guidelines for the court reporting. Other eminent lawyers like Ram Jeth Malani, Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan etc. supported the IFWJ’s stand. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court reminded the media about its important role and the responsibility in the society because an irresponsible media can always wreak havoc. The IFWJ welcomed that decision of the Supreme Court that reminded the media of its responsibility towards the society and the people, so necessary for its credibility.

I wrote a comment on the decision of the Supreme Court, which was carried in November 2012 issue of the ‘Shramjivi Kalamkar’ ,a office journal of the UPWJU.