Media is regarded as the fourth estate in democracy. It has roles and responsibilities no way less than politicians and other democratic institutions. A democratic state such as INDIA which has its foundation on very basic principles of freedom of speech, therefore free, fair, and fearless media becomes a very essential need. It is expected from the media to act as ‘eyes and ears ‘ for the public by providing them information and facts ,and to be vocal for those who have been subjected to institutional injustices at various levels.
We majorly rely on the media to uncover the wrongdoings and errors of those in power. As a nation, India has been through a lot of hardships and testing times. During the National Emergency in 1975-77, we saw how the printing press was raided and journalists were jailed for no valid reason. Civil liberties were suspended and the constitution was altered. Editorials were required permissions and had to go through censorship before publication. Under such a scenario, The Indian Express and The Statesman left their editorial pages empty. It was a mark of protest, a symbolic gesture that was required from the media to convey the message to both people and the government.
In contemporary times too the media has done a commendable job. In the 1999 Jessica Lal murder case, massive public outcry and a media campaign ensured that this time money and muscle power would not deny justice. Series of media expose and SMS campaigns were proved to be helpful in providing both evidential and emotional support to the case. In 2010-11 on the backdrop of major corruption scandals such as the Coal Scam, Commonwealth Games Scam, and 2G scam, a mass movement known as India Against Corruption picked momentum. Under the leadership of Anna Hazare, people agitated against the government. Media here as well act as a catalyst and fuelled up the massive anti-corruption protest. It was due to the synergic effect of campaigners and big media houses that a nexus of corrupt politicians and administrators got exposed. Corruption became the constant fixture of discussion on Prime Time debates. Though the movement failed in meeting up the demand for getting The Lokpal Bill passed, the government was compelled to set up various inquiry commissions and sacking many ministers. The role of the media throughout the movement was anti-establishment, posing tough and direct questions which in the end is expected from the media.
But critics argue that the ‘golden age of journalism‘ has long gone and a new trend of ‘media jingoism‘ has taken over the scene. It is now becoming a common observation and understanding that news channels and their debate has lost their purpose and have become the “propaganda” machine for their political masters. This is not a mere allegation but a fact-based observation.
Technically, a debate by definition means a formal discussion that invites differing opinions and gives every individual equal space for putting their view. But it seems that our very well qualified and populist anchors find this definition difficult to understand. Fistfighting, use of derogatory and sexist remarks, and high decibel discussions are common fixtures across all popular TV debates. Moreover, the one-sided nature of debate and manner in which they disseminate communal hate through-provoking headlines is alarming. Well, seeing this it would not be wrong to say that ‘sensationalism‘ has replaced ‘sense‘, ‘chaos‘ has replaced ‘credibility‘, ‘noise‘ has replaced ‘news‘ and for sure ‘jingoism‘ has replaced ‘journalism‘.
But whom do we hold accountable for such degradation of news shows? Well, there are many, firstly the anchor himself. A person who is expected to act as a moderator becomes a sort of propagandist and bias. It is often seen, an anchor siding towards a particular party. Use of fader by anchors often testify their biases during the debate. In sensitive issues such as foreign policies and war, these anchors act as chest-thumping armchair jingoists. Well putting the sole responsibility of such degradation on these anchors would be not fair. We should not forget the nexus of big media houses, politicians, and businessmen. It is this close association and mutual interest which dictates the agenda of prime time debates and the method in which they should be conducted. It is also the fact that these programs also catch a lot of ‘eyeballs’ of masses. But it is due to the sole reason that news channels offer us collectively what gossip shows, religious channels and comedy circus provides us. To sum up they have turned into an entertainment channel.
To improve the state of Indian media debates, immediate steps need to be taken. Corrective measures will start from self-regulation by media houses itself. Currently, we have organizations such as the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) and Broadcast Editors Association (BEA) but their smooth functioning is hampered by internal conflicts and issues of conflict of interest. If the situation still does not improve, we can have a statutory body such as the Press Council of India and the National Green Tribunal to regulate these media houses. To ensure the freedom of the press that body could constitute nominated members of Rajya Sabha, retired judges, eminent editors, and retired administrative officers. Fake news is another major issue that should also be addressed by the news channels. We have a few programs already addressing this issue but a lot of improvement can be done on it. Also, more deliberations should be held to propose various mechanisms to hold the media accountable and maintain some sort of professional and ethical standards.
In the end, we should all agree that biasness, sensationalism, and propagandism has no place in responsible media. The press and media should take some stand on issues related to the public interest and become an advocate for it but it should refrain from becoming ‘judge, jury, and executioner‘ to maintain the neutrality of the profession. For the betterment of the democratic environment, the media must play an important role in promoting concepts of inclusivity, scientific temper, and communal harmony. It is the need of an hour that both the public and media participate for the protection of press rights, making media more accountable and democratize the access of correct information to the masses.
And I believe that the state of the media will improve.
Hum sab milkar badlenge.
“Our eternal message of hope is that dawn will come.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
Content Credits: Abhishek Kandwal