(On free speech, media trial & prejudice )
Avinash: What you have to say about the whole spot fixing sting operation, SRK scuffle episode in the Wankhede Stadium and the Pomersbach case ?
Me: Well, I hope each will get what he deserves.
Avinash: Which is ?
Me: How the hell do I know ?
Avinash: Have you been asleep this whole week or what ? Don't you watch prime time news or the news at all ?
Me: Yeah. I do. Why ?
Avinash: You speak as if you're ignorant about the whole affair?
Me : What do you mean ?
Avinash : Don't you know that the players of the IPL teams were clearly exposed fixing their performances in lieu of money. The sting operation exposed them like bacteria under a microscope. Its clear that they are guilty.
Me: How much jail time they are gonna serve ?
Avinash: What ?
Me: You said they are clearly guilty. So i want to know about the penalty or punishment that has been inflicted on them.
Avinash: Hey, now don't get smarty with me, alright? You know there will be an inquiry and / or a court process before they are ultimately penalized.
Me: Really ? ! I thought they are going to the gallows already, because people like you have declared them guilty.
Avinash: Its not just me, its most of the country. You should' ve seen the debates on news channel regarding this issue. The facts are crystal clear. The alleged players are involved in spot fixing.
Me: Then why the delay in their punishment. Hang 'em.
Avinash: Hmm..don't you darn well know that there's a process of law before which nothing can be done with these people.
Me: Then why the heck are you screaming from roof tops about their guilt, when you very well know that their innocence or guilt is to be determined only by the procedure established by law i.e. through an enquiry or trial.
Avinash: Come' on now. We live in a free world. India is the largest democracy and I don't need to remind you that under the Constitution of our free nation, I'm entitled to the freedom of speech and expression..
Me: True, but can that freedom be exercised to an undefined extent.
Avinash: My friend, why are being so darn skeptical. I'm just saying that from what has been played over news channels it is clearly evident that the players have entered into illegal spot fixing concerning their performance in IPL matches.
Me: That's precisely why I'm so skeptical. You cannot say that.
Avinash: Are you kidding me ? What is this ? Taliban ?
Me: It isn't. That's exactly why you can't say stuffs like that. Please give me a patient hearing and if you are the reasonable person I know you to be, then you'll surely understand what I'm trying to say. Ok ?
Avinash: (sighs). Yeah..Yeah, Go on.
Me: There's nothing more sanctimonious in any democracy than the freedom of speech and expression. But we must understand that like any other freedom, it too is not absolute and it is subject to reasonable regulations and restrictions. When liberty is accorded to subjects of a nation, it is never purported while so according, that the said liberty will be wildly asserted in disregard to other conflicting freedoms. I'll elucidate this by saying that if each pedestrian begins to claim that "since I've the liberty to walk, nothing can stop me", there will be an endless traffic jam. Similarly while exercising our right to freedom of expression and speech, we have to be aware, only ofcourse, if we are claiming to be law abiding citizens, whether such exercise does in any manner sabotage sacred principles of governance and rule of law. The news channels appear to be mostly forgetful of this caution. There is this non stop rant about matters which are gravely connected to under trial issues. It is high time to apprise everyone about the dangers of prejudice and an unwarranted barrage of speculations and opinions about a particular issue, especially those which are sub judice....
Avinash: Wait wait. What is sub judice issue ?
Me: A sub judice issue is one which is currently in the process of adjudication in a Court of law, or which is the subject matter of a formally initiated inquiry.
Avinash: Ok, so you mean to say that it isn't advisable to discuss the merits of a court case outside the Court, especially in the media right ?
Me: I've very closely followed a lot of sensational issues that have received raving attention of the society at large. Ranging from the incident of the hit & run cases of celebrities to the recent commotion about Luke Pomersbach's alleged misbehavior with a lady at a Delhi Hotel during a post IPL match party or whatever. I dare not exclude, in retrospect, the sensational case of Manu Sharma who now lies incarcerated in prison for having murdered Jessica Lal or that of the Talwars in the Aarushi murder case. In all these instances, the screaming common factor is the overplayed role of the media in deliberating, discussing and garnering speculative opinion regarding the facts of those cases.
I understand that the media is duty bound to conduct a fair investigation into issues concerning national & social relevance. I'm also supportive of reasonably fair debate on a background issue (say for example in the Pomersbach's case the rising problem of female insecurity in public places or the high handedness of the so called rich & mighty) but how on the blessed earth can you have a debate purporting to unearth the truth behind the allegations that the suspect / the accused is facing. That's the grund function of the Courts.
Before I say anything else, let me first assure you that I'm neither in any way supporting Manu Sharma nor am I saying that either Pomersbach or Talwars are innocent. In fact, you can now talk as much as you want to about the dastardly act of Manu Sharma and curse him as much as you want, because it has been proved beyond all reasonable doubts that he indeed murdered Jessical Lal. But in the case of Pomersbach or Talwars, or of any other person who is due to have his day in Court I sincerely beseech you to guard your tongue against careless uttering. You have no idea about the dangers of prejudice to an accused. That's why, I'm infuriated at the mindless display of sensational oratory by media personnel over issues concerning the innocence or the guilt of the Talwars or Pomersbach and many others.
I agree that sometimes the nature of certain cases are such that there is overwhelming reaction from all sections of the society. And in such cases, more often than not, the popular opinion is against the person arraigned as the suspect or the accused. Here the media cannot sensationalize the issue to bank upon the growing public perception in an ambition to achieve its interests. Rather it is expected that the media will conduct a balanced debate on the topic, carefully guarding against, frequent conjecturing about the fate of the matter.
Avinash : My dear friend, let me remind you of the words of the great Pandit Nehru. He said
“I would rather have a completely free press with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of that freedom than a suppressed or regulated press.”
Me: True. I'm aware of that philosophy too and I support the freedom of press. But unfortunately Pandit Nehru did not foresee the danger involved in the ‘administration of justice’ which is the very essence of the natural justice and the rule of law or rather he would not have expected the press to get involved into something which is beyond its limit and ethics too. I read a beautiful article on this topic the other day where the author has written on how the media has now reincarnated itself into a ‘public court’ (Janta Adalat), and thereby latently interfering with court proceedings. It completely overlooks the vital gap between an accused and a convict keeping at stake the golden principles of ‘presumption of innocence until proven guilty’ and ‘guilt beyond reasonable doubt’. Now, what we observe is media trial where the media itself does a separate investigation, builds a public opinion against the accused even before the court takes cognizance of the case. By this way, it prejudices the public and sometimes even judges and as a result the accused, that should be assumed innocent, is presumed as a criminal leaving all his rights and liberty unredressed. If excessive publicity in the media about a suspect or an accused before trial prejudices a fair trial or or results in characterizing him as a person who had indeed committed the crime, it amounts to undue interference with the “administration of justice”, calling for proceedings for contempt of court against the media. Unfortunately, rules designed to regulate journalistic conduct are inadequate to prevent the encroachment of civil rights. What is even more outrageous is that sometimes news channels invite the lawyers who represent these accused persons and grill them on questions pertaining to their professional ethics as to how could they take up the case of such a person, who according to the media is already guilty. They even induce an analysis of the evidence available against that accused, an act which is grossly unwarranted from the media.
Avinash : Ok
Me: Let us also not forget that the right to a fair trial is also an inviolable right granted to every accused under our Constitution. This right is bound to be deeply impaired when the media indulges itself in inducing public opinion about his guilt when his trial is either yet to commence or is already underway.
Avinash : Alright, alright.......What is your take on the Pomersbach episode ?
Me: Look. Pomersbach has already been produced in Court concerning allegations of trespassing, assault and molestation. The Court will decide what's the truth in these allegations basing on the evidence produced before it. Just wait and the truth will be out before you. But in the meantime we can pay allegiance to our constitutional ethics by refraining ourselves from entering into discussions concerning his guilt or innocence.
Do you have a pen & piece of paper ?
Avinash: Yeah, why ?
Me: Just note down this link (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpQNfLdAyg8 ) and watch this video on Youtube. Its a bit old. Though I myself don't subscribe to a few things spoken here and there in the video, by and large this video will clarify further what I've tried to say. And the man speaking is an idol for many. Now there's one thing you must remember while watching the video. I'm not showing it to you because I support or oppose the outcome of any legal case or the conduct of any particular person mentioned in the video, but because I want to you to be informed about certain fundamental principles relating to the larger issues about which we just discussed.