Culture of 'media-trial' needs to be eschewed!

Culture of media-trial needs to be eschewed!

With the news of styrene leak at the LG Polymers unit at RR Venkatapuram village in the wee hours on May 7, there has been all-round condemnation and...

With the news of styrene leak at the LG Polymers unit at RR Venkatapuram village in the wee hours on May 7, there has been all-round condemnation and feeling of grief since it has taken a toll of a dozen human beings besides leaving hundreds of others in critical condition. The people's anguish is quite understandable. Therefore, cutting across the lines all political parties, NGOs and others have given vent to their feelings, some asking for shutting down the said industry while others asking for severe punishment to all those whose gross criminal negligence has caused the tragedy.

While the Chief Minister has announced the compensation of Rs 1 crore each to the bereaved families of the victims, the Prime Minister too, has asked for a thorough probe into the tragic event. Obviously, such reactions from the public and political parties are on the expected lines and rightly so, but what really baffles is the jumping into the seat of a judge and conducting and virtually pronouncing the judgement by an overwhelmingly large number of media, both print as well as electronic, persons. In this melee barring a few, the most of the overenthusiastic 'journalists' have jumped into the bandwagon of the popular mood. This latest incident is not only one which has exhibited immaturity of media persons but similar stand was taken in the past also.

May it be the Bhopal gas tragedy that occurred some 36 years ago or Nirbhaya rape-cum-murder case or umpteen cases of gruesome crimes, fire accidents and railway accidents, the TRP conscientious media never lost a chance to 'sensationalise' such tragedies. Such an 'ignorant' media zealots do more harm than good to their profession. In a civilised society, every citizen or organisation has to adhere to either self-drawn or drawn by the law, a Laxman Rekha. The Constitution of India too, grants the 'freedom' of expression under Article 19 (1) but immediately thereafter draws a legal Laxman Rekha in the subsequent clauses wherein it states that the State can impose the reasonable restrictions on such freedom.

In all the institutions teaching journalism and mass communication these provisions of the Constitution are taught by the faculty at length. The would-be journalists are also told very clearly that a Journalist does not enjoy any special right or privilege and shall be placed on a par with any other citizen in case of a court – case against him. Therefore, just as a citizen belonging to the Tukde-Tukde gang has no right to ask for the freedom of dividing the country into pieces, a journalist too, has no right to brand any person or organisation as murderer or mass-killer, declare the incident as an accident or an act of criminal negligence or sabotage or cast aspersions on the honesty and integrity of any police officer, investigating agency or Judge without concrete proof.

However, the media would be perfectly within its rights to extend help to the investigating agency by providing some vital information about the case or the perpetrators of crime. Under the criminal procedure code, the investigating agency or even the court may call for a person or organisation to assist . However, otherwise, the media should not indulge in the sub judis matters. But that does not mean that the media can don the role of investigator and judge and pronounce the verdict branding the accused as convicts and decide the quantum of punishment by itself. In fact, such over-jealous reaction by the media may misguide the investigation or even create hurdles in fair and scientific investigation.

As the media outcry enables millions of gullible viewers to mould their opinions about the incident, it is quite possible that they too, by way of demonstrations, candle march, dharna etc; try to exert pressure on the judiciary, though latter is unlikely to succumb to such pressure. Therefore, the best course open to the media is to refrain from creating hype and instead take a dispassionate view of the matter, allow the investigating agency to carry on its task, allow the court to conduct the trial and pronounce the judgement. By doing so, the media would be performing its duty in a fair manner, investigation and court-proceedings would be conducted in a manner free from any kind of pressure and both the victims as well as the accused would get fair treatment from the media, investigating agency and the court. In fact, the AP High Court has already taken suo motu cognizance of the tragedy and issued a slew of directions to the central as well as State governments.

Madras HC on abuse of defamation law

At a time when scores of defamation cases have been filed against media persons and organisations, the Madras High Court judgement delivered on May 5 comes as relief to the media. The bench of Justice G R Swaminathan dealing with a case of defamation filed by V V Minerals against the Economic Times ant its two journalists have called spade a spade. Underscoring the role of higher judiciary vis-a-vis freedom of expression, the court said, merely singing paeans to freedom of press is not enough if one cannot go to its rescue when its right is faced with serious threat. The judge observed that powerful politicians and corporate are using defamation cases against media as "tools of intimidation," and the higher judiciary will not desert its duty when it comes to protection of fundamental rights.

29 Years on, DGP others booked for abduction

Proving once again the adage, Justice delayed, but not denied, the First Information Report (FIR) has been filed against former Punjab DGP Sumedh Singh Saini and six others in a case related to the disappearance of Balwant Singh Multani, a junior engineer with the Chandigarh Industrial and Tourism Corporation after a terrorist attack in 1991.

The FIR mentions inter alia, sections pertaining to abduction, causing disappearance of evidence of offence and criminal conspiracy.

UK HC dismisses Mallya's appeal

The High Court in United Kingdom on May 4 dismissed the appeal against extradition filed by the Indian liquor baron and fugitive businessman, Vijay Mallya who is facing the charges of fraud and money laundering to the tune of an estimated amount of Rs 9,000 crore. The appeal emanated from the December 2018 judgement of the Senior District Judge at the Westminster Magistrate's court which granted Mallya's extradition to India.

A division bench of the High Court held: "the role of an extradition court considering this question is to consider whether a tribunal of fact, properly directed, could reasonably and properly convict on the basis of the evidence. The extradition court is, emphatically, not required itself to be sure of guilt in order to send the case to the Home Secretary."

Now, Vijay Mallya has the option to approach the Secretary of State seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of UK within 14 days, failing which he would be extradited within 28 days.

Under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018 a person can be declared as a Fugitive Economic Offender if a warrant has been issued against him for an offence involving an amount of Rs 100 crore or more and he has left the country and refuses to return. Mallya left India on March 2, 2016 and was declared a Fugitive Economic Offender in January 2019.

TS sanctions Rs 25 crore for lawyers

The State government of Telangana has sanctioned a sum of Rs 25 crore to the Advocate Welfare Trust to be monitored by the High Court Chief Justice with the help of Advocates' Associations and State Bar Council to provide financial assistance to the needy practising lawyers , particularly those devoid of any other income and having less than seven years standing in the profession.

However, a demand has been made by certain quarters of legal fraternity to do away with the bar of seven years standing and thereby extend financial assistance to all the practising advocates who are in dire need of the same.

Dates extended

The Telangana High Court has extended the present system of conducting proceedings in all courts and tribunals online through video conference of matters of extreme urgency till May 29 or until further orders in view of the COVID 19 pandemic.

By another notification dated May 8, the date for application to the post of Civil Judge has been extended till June 15 citing the same reason.

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