Trial by media

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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 use[edit]

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]

The counter-argument is that the mob mentality exists independently of the media which merely voices the opinions which the public already has.[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]

See also[edit]


  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.

External links[edit]