With the advancement in technology and industrialization, the role and importance of media has widened in the lives of people. In the contemporary world, Indian media has become a crucial medium to give “voice to the voiceless” and to uncover the face of the truth; amidst growing corruption, hatred, and violence in the name of power and politics. The media has a huge role in shaping and broadening the horizon of the perspective of the public as well as making them aware of the incidents happening in society on a daily basis. Since it is through the journalistic lens of media that the public sees the society and takes decisions for itself, it is of paramount importance to the media platforms to take a neutral approach towards the incidents they report every single day.
India is the largest democracy in the world. It offers space to people to freely express their opinions, and concomitantly there also exists room for disagreement, and one such important freedom is the freedom of the press. In a country like India, Indian media, a powerful entity, has been defined as the “Fourth Pillar of Democracy”. Being one of the pillars of the democratic nation of India, Indian media has a huge responsibility towards the making of the country since it influences people’s political leanings and hence allows them to make the right decision while choosing a government.
Conventionally, media has been considered as a trustworthy and reliable medium. As per Wikipedia, press freedom is the “principle that communication and expression through various media, including printed and electronic media, especially published materials, should be considered a right to be exercised freely. Such freedom implies the absence of interference from an overreaching state; its preservation may be sought through the constitution or other legal protection and security.”
But today, if we ask questions such as whether journalism in India is an independent medium; whether media delivers the authentic news; whether any particular journalist or media house is not bought by any ruling political party to report the news in its favor. We will have to think twice since Indian media is hitting its lowest in the history of democratic India. It is a bitter truth, but Indian media is failing its democratic principles. It is not providing space for journalists to fully express their thoughts. And It is not difficult to point out that journalists are bound to media houses that have been bought by the political parties or individuals belonging to the privileged strata.
The growing capitalism and mercenary values are groping the lives of the journalists who wish to pursue an independent and honest life; who live for the people and the nation. It wouldn’t be a difficult task to pen down the names of journalists who became the victims of power politics in the recent past. The ghastly murders of the journalists Gauri Lankesh and Shujat Bhukari are two of the many murders that happened since the journalists chose the path of honesty and chose not to collude with any money-loaded party. Michel Foucault, a historian of power, stated that power is relational and participatory in nature and it sustains because of “capillaries” of power. He argues that at any given moment in history, there are multiple relations and equations of power that exist in society, and individuals engage in the arenas of multiple networks of the power system. That is to say, one is not entirely silenced or marginalized in the system, one simultaneously participates in the same network of power.
Using Foucault’s theory of power, it can be understood that there are many journalists who collude with the ruling party and abdicate their responsibility of serving the nation. At the Press Day in July 2018, Senior Journalist Krishna Prasad said, “Indian journalism is currently going through its worst phase in history…”. He also rightly pointed out that the “Indian media is now facing three big problems: The first one is of diversion from serious to non-serious issues. The second is dividing people communally and the third is promoting superstition and obscurantism.” If we scroll through news channels at any point in the day, the majority of them either focus on non-serious issues such as peeping into celebrities’ personal lives or they are seen accentuating the fears of people focusing on the baseless superstitions or astrology. In the past few years, the communal tension between the Hindu and the Muslim community has definitely increased. One of the primary reasons is the way the relations between the two communities are being portrayed to the public by the news media. There are many channels that fabricate reality and portray it in a way letting their own biases seep in. Journalists should introspect whether they actually report what they should and whether their personal interests hold more value than the truth and the welfare of the nation.
The Public’s opinion is shaped by the type of news they consume on a daily basis. Since, over the past few years, the number of multimedia media platforms have multiplied, it is difficult to accept that we are receiving authentic news. There has been a trend seen in the social media platforms that fake news is circulated exponentially which not only adds on to the fears of the people but also leads to the misleading actions committed by the people on the basis of the news they hear. In the trying times of the Corona Pandemic, the share of fake information regarding the cure and the vaccine is spreading like wildfires. According to the Observer Research Foundation, “The fake news surrounding the origin of the virus, it’s subsequent spread and threats it poses have nearly engulfed every nation, although with varied intensity. For instance, an influential study by the Vaccine Confidence Project (VCP) found more than 240 million digital and social media messages globally on COVID-19 by mid-March, at an average of 3.08 million daily messages.”. There have been many incidents in the past in which fake news has been reportedly shared on social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram. Since there are more than 300 million users of WhatsApp, the fake stories, rumors and hate speech spread through social media have led to multiple incidents of mob attacks and lynching in the country. As per one article in The Economic Times, “Spread of fake news has hit a new high in 2019 with every major event, from the general elections and Pulwama attacks to scrapping of Article 370 and the ongoing protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, triggering extensive distribution of misinformation across social media platforms, fact-checkers say.”.
Just as the foundation is important, so are the pillars of the nation. In the current scenario, the democratic pillar of media and journalism is weakening. Acting like the puppets in the hands of the government, the journalists are selling away the true essence of journalism. On the other hand, those who are spearheading the task of unmasking every reality, they are under the constant threat of risking their lives. Its high time now, the public has to act and interpret actively to get rid of such sycophants and hence make way for media which will shape the future of this nation in a constructive way.