(Part II of a two-part series)

Media enables individuals to speak out, thereby bringing not only awareness on various issues plaguing the country, but also hope and promise toward reforms and solutions. It facilitates the right of freedom of expression and free speech, disseminates public opinion, and bridges policymakers and affected persons within the society. Media is the voice of the people; it mediates between policymakers, governments and people and pushes for greater accountability. All these roles are so interconnected that only a free media can accomplish them and act as the fourth pillar of our Constitution.

Present day media: boon or bane?

Cut to the present scenario, media’s role needs to be more nuanced. We are living in a time in which information needs to be given and disseminated in an accurate , fair and transparent manner. With the dwindling dependence of people on printed material due to the virtual world, social media especially has come to play a very important role.

In the 21st century, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are not only innovations of the Internet world, but also fast emerging as opinion creators. Social media has led to the emergence of citizen-led governance (C–governance) in India. This has largely been in the form of anti-corruption movements and can be seen through the support for Anna Hazare’s fast unto death for the passage of the Lokpal Bill, through online signing of petitions, through unification of outrage against instances of violence like the brutal Delhi gang rape, and many others, wherein social media played a pivotal role in mobilising people across the nation.

This has also led to the development of the concept of ‘trial by media’. This has proved to be very effective in some cases which would have gone unpunished but for the intervention of media. Cases such as the Priyadarshini Mattoo case, Jessica Lal case, Nitish Katara murder case and Bijal Joshi rape case are pertinent examples. Media creates large scale awareness and brings certain facts to light through methods that cannot be used officially by governmental forces, such as sting operations. However, such approach has also been criticized for distortion of facts and gross violation of privacy, as in the Arushi Talwar murder case.

Further, in this era, political campaigns are in no way limited to banners and posters, and politicians have found news ways to reach their electorate. The new political arena is full of commercials, blog posts and videos, which garner more attention through likes, shares and tweets. Social media has undoubtedly created new political dialogue in the country.

Within every silver lining lies a dark cloud in the form of paid and biased articles, fake news, and propaganda. Although media in India has grown at a pace rapid enough to keep up with the rest of the world, this has come at the cost of downplaying ethical standards and fostering a system in which money is exchanged for positive (but not necessarily true) reporting and coverage.

India seems to lack an agreed-upon philosophical framework for media or a sense of duty within media to try to rid itself of external influences. There is no widely accepted definition of the role of a journalist and the conduct of freedom of speech.

The public existence of private treaties perturbs very few. However, Indian citizens largely believe that they receive information from a vibrant and courageous media industry. The dubious practice of selling an entire front-page ad to a single entity while covering the same entity in the pages that follow is hardly questioned, which ultimately furthers the agenda of interested groups.

In the aftermath of influence of certain interested parties and the rapid spread of unverified information, media has started to focus more on showcasing news tainted in a negative light while overshadowing news which highlights new developmental programmes, creation of new infrastructure, broadening educational opportunities and other efforts of those in power to bring about all round development of the nation. This diverts public attention and scrutiny towards only bleak reporting of hate crime, religious intolerance, unaccountability for uncontrollable disasters, all of which are printed on the first page, while issues highlighting progress are printed in subsequent,
less read pages, or not published at all.

Media needs to be a true watch dog and play its role as the fourth estate in our democracy more responsibly and effectively. Media houses need to give true and non-partisan information and news, and not be ruled by any political agendas. The cacophony of information and news in today’s world is making people unaware of the reality. Sensationalism and merely playing to the influential or higher TRPs should not be the guiding principles or motivating factors for media. This may sound utopian in concept, but real news can be disseminated only with this approach, as was done in the era of newly independent India, and even in pre-Independent India, by our national leaders.

Content over profit should be the only guiding force for media. Presently such control has been brought in by the Press Council of India and the News Broadcasters Association under the aegis of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, as it is the duty of the state to protect and encourage fearless and unbiased reporting.

Lastly in conclusion, this article does not want to sound pedantic, however, as the role of media in opinion making is very strong and relevant, media should not become an overzealous watchdog, but should act in a very balanced and fair manner. In issues which are sub-judice or undergoing legal scrutiny, media cannot – and must not – embark on a self-appointed trial, but only undertake the task of reporting accurate news, thus, fulfilling the mandate of the Constitution.

(with inputs and research from Ms. Anushka Mehta, Student, Government Law College)

(Read Part I of the two-part series here)

Adv. Aarti Sathe

Adv Aarti Sathe is a Tax Counsel practicing in the Bombay High Court and a BJP Mumbai spokesperson.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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