Riots: ‘media trial should not destroy presumption of undertrial’s innocence’

“Presumption of innocence” should not be destroyed at the very threshold of justice process through media trial, a court said here on Friday on a plea moved by former JNU student leader Umar Khalid alleging “vicious media campaign” against him in a north-east Delhi riots case.

The court said it hoped that the media would follow “self regulation techniques” while reporting on a case pending investigation or trail.

“Self regulation is the best mode of regulation,” Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Dinesh Kumar said.

While the press and the news media was described as the “Fourth Estate” in a democratic society, there existed a risk of prejudice being caused if they failed to do their duty with care and caution and one of such risks was that of ‘media trial’, he said.

The plea moved by Mr. Khalid has claimed that the media reports have quoted from his alleged disclosure statement to show that he has confessed to his involvement in the riots and it was prejudicing his right to a fair trial. He had told the court that below the alleged disclosure statement, which was part of the chargesheet filed against him, it was written “refused to sign” by the accused.

The court said in its order said: “The press and news media is described as the Fourth Estate in a democratic society. It has been regarded as one of the sentinels guarding the existence of the society. The most important role of the media is its ability to mobilise the thinking process of a large number of the population.

“However, there exists a risk of prejudice being caused if the press and media fail to do their duty with care and caution. One of such risks is that of ‘media trial’. One of the basic principles of criminal jurisprudence is presumption of innocence.

“This should not be destroyed at the very threshold through the process of media trial. Protection of such presumption is essential for maintenance of the dignity of the courts.”

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