Media as the Fourth Pillar of Democracy

In this article, Ranjeet Soni discusses the position of Media as a Fourth Pillar of Democracy.

“…WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC…”

“The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed.”

-Hannah Andret[1]

Media makes us aware of various social, political and economic activities around us. It is like a mirror which reveals us the bare truth and harsh realities of life. A news media, be it in print form or TV/radio, its main job is to inform people about unbiased news without any censorship or tampering. People always trust actual and honest news. The media also has its own opinion. But they can only put it in their own personal space (editorials) leaving it for the public to make its own assessment. At the same time, they have to incorporate other opinions too, however contradicting the editor’s view might be. The purpose of news media is to present accurate news and all types of views in front of people. That way they maintain their credibility. The Media is considered to be a two sides weapon. An accountable media can lift the nation to heights by providing a sturdy support for its development and an unaccountable media can cause disarray in the society.[2]

Democracy is considered to be a rule of the people through their elected representatives. One of the merits of a democratic system is the freedom of expression and the space that is provided to disagreement by different sections of society. For the democratic system to operate to its full potential, the participation on a part of the public is imperative, that successively needs circulation of reliable info to the masses on numerous public problems. This is where the mass media come in.

CORPORATIZATION OF MEDIA HOUSES

The true test of vibrant democracy is the independence of media. Over a past few year media in our country has become advocates of different political parties and voice of corporates. What happened in the electronic era is that mainstream media became corporatized to spread its business as well as to acquire advanced infrastructure. To corporatize, it required corporate financing. Entry of corporates brought in the culture of profiteering and that culture first killed the neutrality of news media. Corporates get most profit if they can be close to the broker lobby of power. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts even more[3]”. Thus, many news media started selective reporting. Apart from that they instead of presenting views started imposing views.

Journalism in our country is facing significant crisis.[4] In the race of sensationalism and TRP, media houses have taken a corporate turn. Courtesy to the media house they have made people like Kanhaiya kumar and Hardik patel an overnight celebrity. News which is TRP generating are shown in repetitive loops, while notable news gets neglected. We can say its selective when it comes to coverage. Assam’s floods did not get the required coverage as at that time Pratyusha Banerjee’s suicide was telecasted for TRP. Media houses have resorted so low that they are willing to compromise national security and secrecy. Be it broadcasting 26/11 or questioning surgical strikes. To gain popularity and profits they have started framing accusations on IB, Supreme Court and even Army.

Click Here

Recently Former Indian President Pranab Mukherjee resoundingly made point to the Indian media that “discussion and dissension are crucial for a spirited democracy, and it must hold public institutions accountable for all their actions and inactions. There should always be room for the argumentative Indian, and not the intolerant Indian. The media must be the watchdog, the mediator between the leaders and the public”.

POLITICAL DOMINANCE

India is such a populated and diverse country that its democratic life is hard contemplate. So is the range of media through which political opinions can be expressed. The media, regrettably, like the political polarization in the country, is also divided into anti-government, pro-government, and rightist groups with each entity trying to impose its own partisan views on serious national issues and even resorting to tarnish work of their rivals. Consequently, truth and social responsibility have become casualties of this uncontrolled media culture. Media expansion has led to a shrinking of the public sphere, resulting in the spread of elitist’s opinions.

The Indian media has now become the B team of the government. It is intently indulging in creating such pranks in the society and vitiating the already charged atmosphere with political war games. This doctrine clearly spells out the fact that there is always a ‘limitation’ for freedom of speech or rather freedom to sloganeering if that prank likely to harm the society. This is exactly what happened during the last ‘intolerance’ and award wapsi era under Modi Government on a Dadri prank.[5]

“As hard as it is to believe, the biggest thing that drives elections is simple name recognition by media”[6]. Media has now become a tool for political parties to brainwash the public by showing fabricated predicted votes via exit polls. Obviously, they can influence voter’s perceptions about the closeness of the election and the value of their votes. Campaigns are now getting covered like a sport with a special emphasis on who’s up, who’s down, who’s winning, who’s losing, how they are moving ahead or behind in the polls. Surprisingly, exit polls aren’t the only medium to influence opinion and spread rumors among voters. In this age of social media, it wouldn’t be too difficult to make impressions, courtesy the mammoth internet armies most media houses have. Word-of-mouth, village meets, informal gatherings – there are more than just one means through which ideas can be spread among voters.[7]

RELIGIOUS DOMINANCE

According to 2006 research report, “Indian media lacks social diversity and it doesn’t reflect the social profile of country. Mainly Hindu upper caste dominate in the media houses. They constitute around 8 % of India’s population but among the key decision makers of the national media, their share is as high as 71%”. Serious issues like the beef ban, Kashmir crisis, protests in universities and even where Dalits getting discriminated or killed, have received hardly any mention in media coverage. According to 2018 report, abysmal position of India at 138 among 180 countries in the latest annual World Press Freedom Index, which is another worrying point for Dalits and minority communities.

It is ‘pseudo secularism’ supported by Leftist outfits, and media houses. So in Indian context, though the Muslims are most the powerful group with over 18 crore population in India, is still a minority in numerical perspective, and hence the biased media houses go berserk in taking a side of only Muslims in all conflicts of ideology, religious bigotry, communal riots, human rights abuse etc. These groups blindly extended support to Jains, Buddhists, Christians etc. with a top priority for Muslims.

MEDIA TRIALS

“Media trial is a matter of serious concern. In my view, it should not be held. Media trial creates a perception of prejudice against the accused. Judgment should be delivered in court only”.[8]

In a one hour debating by news channels in which accused is framed with allegations and debated by some so called “experienced people of that field” after which the anchor gives an instant predefined verdict, which is definitely more captivating, amusing to public rather than the multifaceted and apodictic judicial procedure established by law of Indian judiciary, to which the most citizens are unaware. The journalists have started acting more or less as both prosecution and judge alleging, shouting, pronouncing verdicts.

As Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression therefore, media has a firm hold in shaping the public opinion in any way it likes through its coverage of events which was also seen in the Arushi murder case of 2008[9]. Within the hours of the murder, various media men and reporters sock it to her house, tampering all over the evidence. The media boldly aired the news about the physical relationship of Aarushi and the male servant of Hemraj and the relationship of her father with a co-dentist. Even as the investigation began, a senior police official told reporters that Aarushi was “characterless”, which was used by reporters so much that the masses started to believe the contentions of the media.  The plethora of the media provoked the supreme court to warn the media about the legit coverage of the case. Suggested to refrain from mudslinging on the character of the dead girl and her father.

MEDIA TRIAL v. FREE AND FAIR ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE

By conducting a parallel trial with the court, media often prejudices the judicial administration of a country by influencing the opinion of the judges. Sometimes, excessive publicity given to an accused or suspect by media before trial commences prejudices a fair trial thereby characterising him as a person who actually has committed the crime. This results in undue interference with the “administration of justice”, calling for proceedings for contempt of court against the media. Recently, Justice Joseph said that Media should play a constructive role in the betterment of the legal system while addressing a seminar on “Current Issues before the legal profession and the judiciary”. He also said that media must exercise due care and caution while reporting criminal matters to avoid any kind of disrespect to the Constitution and the judicial system in the country.

One of the examples in this respect is the case of Aarushi Talwar. In this case, media has played a major role in incriminating parents without any sufficient evidence. Likewise, there are many instances where the media has changed the whole way of perception. Media is often blamed of conducting the trial of the accused and passing the judgement even before the court thereby interfering with the judicial process.The trial is essentially a process to be carried out by the courts. Therefore, media must confine its role to reporting matters and not assuming the role of the court.

CONCLUSION

In any democracy, weakening of pillars is always damaging. We need to reach the main trunk, to trim the vicious aerial roots that are spreading and poisoning the society.

There are many factors that make media biased. There is racial, religious, political bias within the media. Media is not completely honest and objective in depiction of important issues. Certain issues are made to look by media in a certain way to benefit a certain group and manipulate the public opinion. Criticisms of social media range from criticisms of the ease of use of specific platforms and their capabilities, disparity in information available, issues with non-reliable and untrustworthy information presented, the impact of social media use on an individual’s opinion, ownership of media houses, and the meaning of interactions created by social media. There is a real risk that we will slide into a vicious cycle.

This spells danger for the future of democracy in India, unless it is urgently remedied. This problem can be solved in two ways, first being, democratic that is, through discussions, consultations and persuasion and other way is by using retributive measures against the media, for example, by imposing heavy fines on defaulters, stopping government advertisements to them, suspending their licenses etc.

To protect the pillars of democracy will not be an easy task in a current culture cracked by dissension and misleading information. It will require acumen and patience. Nevertheless, I believe that we will eventually restore our government on rail to work for the public good based on rationality and honesty. As great Martin Luther King Jr. said “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at a time of challenge and controversy”.

[1] American philosopher and political theorist

[2] Hon Dr Victor Dan-Jumbo, Pillars of Democracy (first published 2014, hillsberg) 15

[3] Lord Acton, English politician and writer

[4] Hon Dr Victor Dan-Jumbo, Pillars of Democracy (first published 2014, hillsberg) 13

[5] K V Patel, The Foundation Pillars for Change: Our Nation, Our Democracy & Our Future (first published 2014, Partridge Publishing) 174

[6] Regina Lawrence, executive director of the UO SOJC’s Agora Journalism Center & the co-author of “Hillary Clinton’s Race for the White House: Gender Politics and the Media on the Campaign Trail” and “When the Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media from Iraq to Katrina.”

[7] Goodspeed and Edgar CJ, Four Pillars of Democracy (first published 1940, Harper & Brothers) 214

[8] Amaltas kabir, 39th Chief Justice of India

[9] Dr. Rajesh talwar and Another V. Central Bureau Of Investigation, [2013] 82 ACC 303

Ranjeet1111 :

View Comments (1)