In recent times, there were reports by mainstream media where media reported without understanding the laws possibly creating confusion or even misinformation to the public. Since media plays a vital role as a bridge between the state and its subjects, the media need to understand the law first before reporting as any misinformation can create distrust among the media consumers in the justice system.

The reports of child molestation convicted for thirty years and rapist for nine years to the detention of sixteen days as punishment of Penjor  Penjor are some of the most recent examples. Such news would create a perception in the society that the penalty for child molestation is more severe than committing an offence of rape or detention for sixteen days is illegal.

For example, in case of thirty years for child molestation, it was done under Section 210 of Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (CCPC), 2001 which authorizes the court to either sentence concurrently or consecutively.”  Concurrent sentence means where the judge can convict a person to “serve all of their sentences at the same time, where the longest period is controlling.” Consecutive sentence means “defendants have to finish serving the sentence for one offence before they start serving the sentence for any other offence.” In case of child molestation, the Penal Code of Bhutan, 2004 (PCB) prescribes a minimum sentence of three years and a maximum of less than five years. Since there were ten victims, so the possibility is that they were sentenced consecutively making it thirty years whereas in the case of rape nine years since there was only one offence.

Similarly, in the case of detention of Penjor Penjor for sixteen, it is absolutely within the detention period provided under the CCPC 2001. Section 191 states until the preliminary hearing, a person can be detained for “forty-nine days, if satisfied that adequate grounds exist or up to one hundred and eight days, where the investigation relates to a heinous crime as long as the court authorizes such detention.” Further, detention is not a punishment but only for investigation.” Equating penalty for defamation and detention is no correct as a penalty for defamation applies only if the accused is convicted. But any detention is counted while calculating the prison term.  

In fact, under Section 212A of CCPC Amendment 2011, “a person detained and acquitted thereof or subjected to unlawful detention is entitled to be compensated for the loss of income caused by the criminal proceedings or unlawful detention and to be reinstated at the former place of work.” Therefore, any person who is eventually acquitted has the right to remedy his legal injury by claiming compensation.  Simultaneously, the accused if acquitted also bring an additional civil suits against the state such as the Office of the Attorney General or  Police or prosecuting agency.

Studies have revealed that “crime stories are commonly presented as dramatic entertainment” by media and media sets the agenda to seek more “audiences to believe that those issues merit more attention.”  In a democracy, the primary role of media is ensuring “transparency and accountability, and to raise the public awareness and to facilitate a place for public discussion.” Therefore, any misinformation can also lead to wrong perceptions in the society including public confidence and trust in the justice system. Media as a medium of information must provide correct information to its consumers. 

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.