By Vasundhara Krishna,
Media can safely be described as the intellectual backbone of any nation. It is the most prominent platform for public debate. In fact, history bears witness to the fact that a robust means of mass communication can change the face of any nation. Be it the American War of Independence or the French Revolution, print media served to infuse new ideas and bring the people together.
A free and unbiased media, without any unwanted state intervention, has come to be seen as a hallmark of modern democracy. Media is the watchdog of any democracy regime in a twofold manner. Firstly, media has the key role in creating an educated, aware citizenry. Media provides the fodder on which citizens form opinions and also exercise their right to vote. An average individual does not have the wherewithal to delve deep into all issues figuring in public debate. Secondly, media acts as a whistleblower, highlighting issues of violation of public trust, abuse of power and corruption. It is often the case that issues highlighted by the media find mention in questions raised during the Zero hour.
Media is also a major vehicle for disseminating information relating to public policy, government schemes and even issuing warnings before any natural disaster. Advertisements, messages etc. with a social angle are often broadcasted to garner people’s support for the initiative. For example, media has had a laudable role in taking the message of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan to the people.
Our media is plagued by some critical problems. It seems unable to differentiate between news and entertainment. There is a mad rush for grabbing eyeballs, whereby petty, irrelevant news is broadcast at the cost of more serious socio – economic issues. It is not difficult to discern the elitist bias of media, which seems obsessed with the personal lives of celebrities.
Another oft-cited problem is that of increasing tendency to sensationalize issues.
An emerging trait that bodes ill for the neutrality of media is the consolidation of the ownership of media and the growing cross ownership of media. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India points to two reasons which should make us worry about ownership. One is political ownership of media, as well as a trend of entities backed by parties taking over distribution channels, which makes broadcasters dependent on them. The second trend is of corporate ownership across sectors, with the aim of promoting vested interests and influencing policy making to earn revenues. Uncontrolled ownership has given rise to pernicious trends like paid news, corporate and political lobbying by television channels and propagation of biased analysis and forecast.
The Supreme Court recently expressed concern about growing instances of trials by media and public condemnation of the accused on the basis of information provided by the police and prosecutors, although the trial remains to be concluded. It further asked that, “can a parallel process of trial by media be allowed when a trial is already going on in the court?”
In a liberal democratic country like ours, state regulation of media is not desirable. Thus, there must be independent regulation of media by free spirited retired judges, journalists and other people of social eminence. Our media must learn to use its rights responsibly and in a manner which furthers the interest of the citizens.
Vasundhara Krishna is an economics graduate from Miranda House (DU).She enjoys delving deep into economic issues as she thinks that if ever we are to become a global power, it will be riding on the back of sound economics. She has been a sports person since childhood with a particular inclination towards Table Tennis. Also she is a movie buff who thinks there can be never too much of drama. You can reach her at [email protected]
Edited by Nandita Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist