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Role of Media in Bridging the Gap Between the Judiciary and the Public

Author: Rini Kothari

Designation: Lawyer


“…debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust and wide-open… it may well include vehement, caustic and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials”.

The significance of a well-informed citizenry, for participating in the public debates cannot be emphasised enough. Media is the primary instrument for disseminating information to the public, it often reflects the opinion of the public, hence, an unbridled, robust media is indispensable for preserving democracy.

A plethora of Indian and American cases have recognised the profound role which media plays in the administration of justice. The judiciary exercises unfettered powers in interpreting the constitution, determining the constitutional validity of the laws passed by the legislature, and the actions of the executive. This freedom often leads to the abuse of power. In such cases, media bridges the gap between the government and the governed by exposing the corrupt, immoral, and unethical, actions of the judiciary to the public. In Bennett Coleman, the Supreme Court of India acted as a guardian for the press by recognising its role in promoting free speech and expunging the quota which placed a restraint on its print and circulation. Media must be free from the onus of providing only truthful information, unlike the Daily Mail principle, Sullivan protects even untruthful news, provided that it has no malicious intent. In Landmark Communications, the court highlighted that the matters concerning judicial system necessitate media attention and reiterated from the Maxwell case, “a press guards against the miscarriage of justice by subjecting the police, prosecutors, and judicial processes to extensive public scrutiny and criticism”. It further highlighted that, judicial conduct of judges are matters of utmost public concern and in terms of criticism, neither the courts, nor the judges have immunity greater than rest of the public.

Media promotes vigilance and educates the masses. Undue restrictions and unfair interference impede the free flow of information and defeat the purpose of the press and the right to freedom of speech and expression. Free reporting and criticism by the media sparks debates in the public which ensure better and honest government. Contrarily, when criticism is suppressed, it engenders resentment, suspicion and contempt for the judiciary. In Richmond Newspapers, the court stated that people must see what their institutions, particularly the judiciary, are doing. It further emphasised on the educative effect of open legal system, by stating that, getting acquainted to the judicial system leads to unwavering confidence in judicial remedies which could never be achieved through a system of secrecy. Numerous cases have pointed out that all public deeds of public officials is a matter of public interest. In Chandler v. Florida, the court stated that media contributes to fairness of a trial, which helps in preserving legitimacy and accountability of the judiciary. In Press Enterprise, the court held that not only fairness, but the “appearance of fairness is so essential to the public confidence in the system”.

Moreover, media also assists the judiciary in conveying its problems to the public when it faces adversities. In 2018, four of the Indian Supreme Court judges addressed the media, and raised complains regarding the maladministration of the country’s apex court.

To conclude, it can be said that a vigilant press is the preserver of public interest and without free press, encroachment upon the independence of judiciary is inevitable. Thus, a society where the judiciary and the media work in tandem, is the one where democracy will flourish.


















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