“The nation wants to know!”
The fourth pillar of democracy. The “watch dog”. The “sensationalists”. Yes, the Indian media.
The printing press that started in Germany by Guttenberg has changed the dynamics of communication in humanity. The first foundations of media were laid in India by the British. The Indian media grew from Hickey’s “Bengal Gazette” in 1780, to the Press and Registration of Books Act of 1867 (which still functions under the Indian Law today) to the multiple publications during the nationalist movement. India’s attainment of freedom brought good news to this new founded media. It gave it the most eclectic gift, i.e., the Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Constitution. The Freedom of the Press derives its power from Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, which refers to Freedom of Speech and Expression. However, Article 19(2) states that although it is free, it is subject to certain reasonable restrictions in the interest of the public.
We have come far from the days of Guttenberg. Today, not only is the media more accessible with an increased audience and therefore, possesses a greater reach, but also has coveted the power to impact the minds of people. Factors such as increased literacy rates and improved technology have given it a whole new dimension. It has gone beyond the function of just communicating news. Apart from spreading awareness, it has taken on the role of a tool of change in all spheres of Indian politics, economics and the Indian society on almost all levels. It has over thrown governments before. The investigation carried out by the Washington Post which exposed the Watergate Scam led to the resignation of the then President of the United States of America, Richard Nixon. It has the massive ability to influence who comes into power as well. The Bofors Scam that was exposed by The Indian Express and The Hindu played a vital role in the failure of the Congress Party to win the national elections. Contemporary journalism has proven to have a hawk’s eye for the numerous scams that took place. The Coalgate scam, 2G Spectrum scam, the Kargil for profit scam and many more were covered in detail, which pressurized the government into taking action. Sting operations carried out by news channels and magazines like Tehelka portray the vast number of social issues that persist in India.
But what has happened to this media today? One switches on a television news channel only to hear cacophony. One opens a newspaper to see half the page filed with advertisements. News has become so commercialized. It runs on trends, sensationalism, TRP’s and popularity. One can ask why the Nirbhaya rape case was given so much importance while so many other such cases have been ignored completely time and again. One can also wonder why Alia Bhatt is asked to comment on the new Budget allocation. News has gotten a more business outlook as it is seen with a sole purpose of marketing and attaining a heavier pay check. Contemporary journalism does not focus on important issues. It focuses on issues that will get maximum attention by people. But is that really the true purpose of the media?
India compromises more than 70% of rural living. But where is the news on our villages? Who speaks about the problems our citizens’ face in villages? Are we aware of the status of women in the country side? What about the women who are raped in villages? Do those thousands of Nirbhaya’s not get to tell us their story? Do we all know the situation of our farmers in a country that is chiefly agricultural? P. Sainath, a rural journalist for The Hindu, says that while the Lakme Fashion Show in Mumbai is covered by hundreds of media personnel, not even one reporter is seen in the drought hit regions of Vidarbha, located only a few hours away from Mumbai, where the farmer suicide rate is one of the highest in the country.
Paid news, fake news, political influence and yellow journalism has resulted in less transparency. Killings of journalists and whistleblowers is nothing new. Inaccuracy of facts and bias in the method of delivering news is extremely common. Ethics in this profession is often compromised. But what happened to the basic function of media, which is to serve the public?
Till 1988, the Indian Government had absolute control and monopoly over media through the state owned television channel Doordarshan. This was until 1995, when Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy launched NDTV and became the first private producers of news. This eventually gave rise to more private media channels. The capitalist fervour eventually seeped in. Private ownership came with large corporate interference. The recent 4000 crore rupees deal between Reliance Media Works and Network 18 (the group to which CNN IBN belongs to) proves this. The political philosophy of the news channel immediately shifted towards becoming pro-BJP. This takes a direct hit at factual accuracy and transparency of information. It has eventually become the new tool for propaganda. The corporate greed uses this medium as a tool to expand its monopoly and get unlimited marketing for their services and products. It is interesting to note that six corporations control over 90% of the media in the USA (i.e., GE, News Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS).
The propaganda does not take the side of the private players only. The State is as much as a part of it as the corporates. We hear nothing about women who are raped in Jammu and Kashmir and parts of North East India (states governed by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act) by the men in our Army. We never heard the other side of the story during the Gujarat riots. We do not know the truth behind many of the operations conducted by the police forces, the CRPF and the BSF against the Naxalites in the Red Corridors of India. Many illegal activities are covered up by the State through illicit means. Another interesting point is that the media is not only curbed by the State in this manner, but also largely influenced by political bearings. Even newspapers can have political bearings, like the conservative Times of India or the leftist flavoured The Hindu. India has been ranked 140th for Freedom of Press. A main factor that contributed for such a deplorable rank is the recent Lok Sabha elections. Political agenda got in between free and fair distribution and publication of news. It also took a major hit in the field of social media. A sting operation carried out by Cobrapost named Operation Blue Virus revealed that some IT companies of using fake identities on social media to help politicians, especially BJP members, to improve their popularity for the elections.
Indian Media is definitely better than the media institutions in countries like China or Russia, where free press is literally non-existent. The US media runs on using fear as a propaganda for public support for state actions like the War on Terror and the War on Drugs. The US took a huge toll due to WikiLeaks. A video that was released by Bradley Manning which showed US forces killing reporters from Reuters reflected their policy on a free, fair and transparent media. Nobody knows what really happened to many journalists who disappeared during and after the Sri Lankan civil war. But we are home for Salman Rushdie, M. F. Hussain and Arundhati Roy. What does that really signify? One can wonder if this is the price truth has to pay for attaining a modern and a western medium. The “watch dog” has gotten lost in the race for profit and political motive. It has succumbed to capitalist greed.
Does India need a Snowden or an Assange in such times? Between blurring of facts and corporate power, where is the truth? (To quote Arnab Goswami) “The nation wants to know!”
About the Author:
A ferocious dreamer, a confident speaker, a propagandist of rational thought, a determined debater, an incandescent poet and a voracious reader; she is a student of Symbiosis Law School, Pune. She takes keen interest in International Law and Human Rights and wishes to pursue the same in the future. She hopes that her intricate eye for detail and innate ability to analyse will enable her in getting more out of new experiences in life. She also enjoys sarcasm, political humor, convoluted characters in novels, good music and a cup of hot black coffee during rains.