2. Role of electronic media in measuring public trust and confidence

NJA Bhopal: Session 7
Role of Electronic Media in Measuring Public Trust
and Confidence in the Justice System
19 September 2015
Kian Ganz
Editor, Founder
Today, everything is digital
Distinction between traditional and electronic
media has dissolved.
Every single print newspaper has a website.
TV channels are online
TV channels put out their videos online on their
websites & YouTube.
Nearly all media & journalists tweet
… and break news, even before they publish
The fact is that in this digital age,
anybody can be 'media'
The result: Modern media is a
strange new beast
It is faster than ever…
more diverse than ever
more competitive than ever...
and also increasingly important in holding
power to account and playing its part in
So, what is the modern media's relationship
with the judiciary?
Society's sentiments on the judiciary
In India, the judiciary generally enjoys
enormous respect from the population, despite
the government's recent attempt to assault this
in its campaign for the NJAC.
Empirical research by University of Indiana
professor Jayant Krishnan suggests that in rural
areas, those who are disenfranchised and
powerless, have a lot of faith in the judicial
process (even if that faith is not absolute).
But… that doesn't mean that no one ever
criticises the judiciary.
Digital sentiments
People share frustrations freely, on social
media, in website comments, Tweets, Facebook
posts, blogs, etc.
Inevitably, there will be some litigants who
blame the courts for their lack of success.
Others believe in outright conspiracy by all
organs of the state.
Judiciary is not unique target for social media
rage. But social media is a useful place to begin
measuring public perceptions, and it will only
grow in significance.
'Justice must be seen to be done'.
But how?
Kenneth Dowler's article argues that media,
including news media, has a major role to play
in how citizens perceive the justice delivery
To measure public trust and confidence, first of
all, the public must be aware of what's actually
In theory, the law is accessible to all and
hearings are public.
But the media is fundamental to keeping it that
way: media communicates and translates what
Journalists have a credibility
Journalists generally score terribly in surveys of
the least trusted professions, sometimes even
worse than lawyers, the police and politicians.
What do you think of journalists?
The perception is that many journalists:
Sensationalise (for TRPs or sales),
Lie or are politically biased,
Are corrupt (paid news),
Are stupid.
The reality: Journalists try hard to be
The vast majority of journalists and editors have
a huge amount of respect (and fear) of the
judiciary. The last thing they want to do is upset
a judge.
But the reality of the editorial process is…
it's amazing that a newspaper ever even gets
published at the end of the day with as few
errors as there are.
Huge pressure to be
Accurate, and
Let's talk about headlines
Inevitably, it is most often the headlines that
cause offence or give the impression that the
media is nothing but sensationalist.
Headlines usually are written in a hurry by a
different person than the reporter.
Journalism school teaches: a good headline
has to be pithy, exciting, and unusual.
That said, according to Google, 2.4 lakh
headlines in India use the cliched phrase 'judge
slams' something. Why?
Other terms the media loves: 'clean chit' (3.8
Legal Journalism: A tale of two
Split between:
Court reporting: Reporting what happens in court
General legal reporting: Writing about courts,
lawyers, judges and the judiciary
Court reporting: 'Judges speak only
through their judgments'
What is the role of a legal journalist / court
Academic who analyses judgment?
Silent witness?
What of trial by media?
We don't have jury trial, but should media bay
for the blood of an accused while sub judice?
Does media coverage of cases have any effect
on judges? (see suo motu proceedings, for
Reporting about judiciary
Much more sensitive but is it required?
Does transparency improve an organisation or
is it dangerous?
Can the following be reported on?
Pendency of cases?
Judicial corruption?
Sexual harassment?
Problem: judiciary can nearly never tell its side
The elephant in the room: Contempt
Contempt is a very blunt instrument.
Journalists and editors are very afraid of
contempt (and the law in general).
What is contempt?
Civil contempt
Criminal contempt
a person wilfully disobeys any order of a court (e.g.
Sahara's Subrata Roy)
“interfering” with the administration of justice, or
“scandalising” the court or “lowering its authority”.
Problem is that most journalists and editors
wouldn't know what contempt is if asked.
Are the following contempt?
Saying that Marx and Engels considered the
judiciary an instrument of oppression?
In 1970, then-communist Chief Minister of Kerala
EMS Namboodripad was held guilty by the
Supreme Court for lowering the prestige of judges
and courts in the eyes of the people. He was fined
Rs 50.
Saying that the there is “a disquieting inclination
on the part of the [apex] court to silence
criticism and muzzle dissent, to harass and
intimidate those who disagree with it”, which
was “doing its own reputation and credibility
Imagine a new world where…
All court reporting is always accurate.
Court reporting goes beyond just stenography,
adds analysis,
puts law and judgments into context,
and allows the common man and woman to
understand how the courts and judges actually
Why are we not there?
Fundamental problems are:
lack of information (courts are noisy, busy, and
cases are complex),
lack of education of court reporters & editors,
lack of communication from the bench.
What happens elsewhere?
US Supreme Court tweets
Latest judgments tweeted out immediately
Official court reporters in the US
In US courts, court reporters, employed by the
court, make transcripts available nearly instantly
Disputes in court reporting usually arises out of
misquoting a judge or a lawyer, or taking
judges' remarks out of context.
Solution: If everything is transcribed and
documented, the court can easily prove if the
media is doing a bad job (and media has rapid
access to what actually happened,
UK Supreme Court tweets...
Outreach and latest judgments
UK Supreme Court on YouTube
European Court of Justice tweets
and issues press releases
UK Judicial Office on Twitter
Other courts that tweet
At least 26 US courts, Nova Scotia (Canada) &
What can we do in India?
The relationship between media and the
judiciary does not have to be one of enemies.
Judiciary to become 'media' in its own right:
The Supreme & high courts to have registrars
responsible for “communication”.
Publish videos and materials online explaining
workings of court to aam aadmi.
Registrar (communication) to be accessible to
journalists and could issue press releases about
the functioning of the court, etc.
Big judgments where there is a lot of media