In India, the free press-free trial debate assumes intriguing dimensions. For years, India’s criminal justice system has been in a dysfunctional state, bogged down by endemic corruption. Yet, following the liberalization of India’s economy, many independent news channels have been born. One consequence of this institutional imbalance has been the pre-emptive news coverage of pending trials. The media has exposed attempts by the rich and powerful to subvert justice.
In this article, I examine Indian precedents regarding the application of two possible safeguards against prejudicial media coverage — the quashing of a trial and penalties for contempt of court. I submit that the Indian judiciary has consistently refrained from taking punitive action against the press for making prejudicial remarks, preferring to issue token proclamations against a “trial by media” instead. However, I argue that the judiciary ought to be more assertive and at least contemplate the use of mild sanctions against the media. Here, I question the feasibility of following Vincent Blasi’s “checking value” theory — which provides a strong theoretical justification for prejudicial media coverage —in India.