Trial by media

Trial by media is a phrase popular in the late 20th century and early 21st century to describe the impact of television and newspaper coverage on a person's reputation by creating a widespread perception of guilt or innocence before, or after, a verdict in a court of law.

Etymology and early useEdit

Its first inception was the phrase Trial by Television which found light in the response to the 3 February, 1967 television broadcast of The Frost Programme, host David Frost.[citation needed] The confrontation and Frost's personal adversarial line of questioning of insurance fraudster Emil Savundra led to concern from ITV executives that it might affect Savundra's right to a fair trial.[citation needed]


During high-publicity court cases, the media are often accused of provoking an atmosphere of public hysteria akin to a lynch mob which not only makes a fair trial nearly impossible but means that regardless of the result of the trial the accused will not be able to live the rest of their life without intense public scrutiny.[citation needed]

Although a recently coined phrase, the idea that popular media can have a strong influence on the legal process goes back certainly to the advent of the printing press and probably much further.[original research?] This is not including the use of a state controlled press to criminalize political opponents, but in its commonly understood meaning covers all occasions where the reputation of a person has been drastically affected by ostensibly non-political publications.[citation needed]

Often the coverage in the press can be said to reflect the views of the person in the street. However, more credibility is generally given to printed material than 'water cooler gossip'. The responsibility of the press to confirm reports and leaks about individuals being tried has come under increasing scrutiny and journalists are calling for higher standards. There was much debate over U.S President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial and prosecutor Kenneth Starr's investigation and how the media handled the trial by reporting commentary from lawyers which influenced public opinion.[1]

In the United Kingdom, strict contempt of court regulations restrict the media's reporting of legal proceedings after a person is formally arrested. These rules are designed so that a defendant receives a fair trial in front of a jury that has not been tainted by prior media coverage. The newspapers the Daily Mirror and The Sun have been prosecuted under these regulations, although such prosecutions are rare.[2]

Notable eventsEdit

In 2015, Jasleen Kaur, a woman from Delhi, India, posted a photo of a man, Sarvjeet Singh, on Facebook and accused him of sexual harassment.[3] The Facebook post went viral which was followed by a media trial labelling the man with terms like 'pervert' and 'the predator of Delhi'. Four years later, the man was held innocent by the Delhi court and was acquitted of all the charges. However, during the time, the man had lost his job and couldn't find any other source of income due to such media coverage.[4]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Legal News: News Hour with Jim Lehrer" (Transcript). Public Broadcasting System (PBS). 19 October 1998. Retrieved 12 March 2011.
  2. ^ Bowcott, Owen (5 July 2011). "Contempt of court rules are designed to avoid trial by media". The Guardian.
  3. ^ DelhiOctober 26, Asian News International New; October 26, 2019UPDATED:; Ist, 2019 12:34. "Complaint doubtful: Delhi court acquits Sarvjeet Singh in 2015 sexual harassment case". India Today. Retrieved 10 May 2020.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ "4 Years After Fighting The Jasleen Kaur Case, Sarvjeet Singh Bedi Has Finally Been Acquitted". 25 October 2019. Retrieved 10 May 2020.

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