“Just because something isn’t a lie does not mean that it isn’t deceptive. A liar knows that he is a liar, but one who speaks mere portions of truth in order to deceive is a craftsman of destruction.”
― Criss Jami
India proudly upholds the lofty title of being ‘the largest democracy in the world’. It’s a well-recognized fact that the four mighty pillars which enable democracy to exist in these modern times are – the Legislature, the Executive, the Judiciary and the Media. The Legislature is a deliberative assembly with the authority to enact laws for a country, the Executive is responsible for carrying out or administering or implementing laws enacted by the legislature, the Judiciary is tasked with upholding the law by applying the law to settle disputes and punish the lawbreakers and hence administering justice. In the present times, the fourth pillar of democracy – the Media, has assumed a much more vital role in the proper and unhindered functioning of a democracy. The reason for its rapid & unprecedented rise is the country’s growing reliance on all sorts of mediums for obtaining knowledge. It is the media that forms a link between the general public of a country and the elected officials of the government. Since the citizens of a country are informed of the day to day happenings in the government by the media, there is always a sense of dependence by the people on the media. It wields immense power in shaping the popular sentiment of a country. It has the ability to sway the public’s opinion whichever way it desires by gently and cautiously prodding it along.
The social, political and economic sectors are constantly under the scrutiny of the media, any suspicion of foul play is brought to the forefront and laid out for everyone to see. In a way, the media is the backbone of democracy for without it, the clandestine meetings, the hushed orders, the discreet passing of bills would never be exposed for what they really are. It is only fear of detection by the media and the subsequent broadcasting of their misdemeanors which makes our politicians, government officials, and companies work ethically. Over time, the media has evolved from a passive spectator which only reported the facts, to an omnipresent entity that is relevant in every sphere of life. The general public is reminded of a politician’s unfulfilled promises, the glaring gaps in the fabric of our democracy are revealed and the scams are outed so that the people can make informed opinions based on the harsh reality and not a false projection of the country that glosses over the cold hard truth. An active and responsible media can change the fate of the country by making the system more accountable, responsive, less likely to exploit the marginalized sections of society and more citizen-friendly. He who commands and controls the media literally has the power to control an entire body of the population who listen to that media channel religiously.
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” – Lord Acton
Essentially, the media should:
- tell the truth according to the facts provided
- be unbiased in its reporting and
- not spread propaganda
The reason that the Indian media is losing its credibility in the eyes of the people of the nation is that our media has been doing exactly this. We would be existing in a utopian country had the media been doing its duty unscrupulously without any hidden agenda behind its workings. People in power would be held responsible for mistakes committed by them, no amount of influence or power or political clout would have made it possible for crime or deceit to go unnoticed and unpunished had the media been on its toes. The balance of power always tilts in the favor of those who can shape the way the news is reported, because of this the media is in constant danger of being put under pressure by the wealthy and the powerful. Sting operations have brought to our notice the phenomenon of ‘paid media’, which basically broadcasts news for which it gets paid. So the balance tilts in the favor of the rich as they now have the ability to control what is projected to the rest of the world by virtue of them being plutocrats. Nothing is worse than when media channels pander to the viewers instead of presenting news with accuracy and impartiality. The public always has a sort of mob mentality that can easily be angered and unnecessarily sensationalizing news with a view to achieving just that is the saddest level to which any media channel of a democratic country can stoop.
The authenticity of the media is in question because of the half-truth and lies that it has been trying to pass off as news. The entire debacle that was the JNU row in which videos were shown of the student leader, Kanhaiya Kumar, chanting slogans was one such example where doctored videos were plastered all over the media channels. The public sentiment after watching the videos naturally became highly opposed to Kanhaiya. There are innumerable cases like this in which the media has maliciously tried to frame a person, this behavior is largely influenced by the political overlords who are scared of dissenting voices and want to curb them by any means available. The people of the country should learn to treat every piece of news that they come across with a pinch of caution and wariness, they should not rely solely on the television channels for their daily news updates. Almost every media house has its own political and ideological preference to which it caters and panders to. In the garb of moral policing, opinions and heavily biased talk shows as news tidbits are served to the common man. The dumbing down of the continent is heavily evident in the inevitable decay of important content being shown in the highly influential media. The people are bombarded with irrelevant information from every direction, their sensory experience is always on overload while viewing news, this acts as a substitute for thinking. On 20th Jan 2017, The World Economic Forum released a report that labeled the Indian media as the “Most Untrusted Institution” after Australia in the whole world. The survey was conducted by Edelman trust Barometer, who is in the media business for over 20 years now and has business in over 38 countries. The survey gave the result that the trust of people of media, NGOs and business were at an all-time low and the credibility and the motive of these institutions had a big question mark hovering above it. 20 countries were a part of the survey in total out of which a staggering 17 of them expressed their distrust with the media. Social media has been broadly defined to refer to ‘the many relatively inexpensive and widely accessible electronic tools that enable anyone to publish and access information, collaborate on a common effort, or build relationships.’ Just as television turned a nation of people who listened to media content into watchers of media content, the emergence of social media has created a nation of media content creators. A simple google these days search will throw hundreds of such cases where news or information was intentionally twisted for someone political mileage or due to personal bias. Misreporting on the front page and then publishing an apology in some corners of the last pages was ruthlessly exposed by social media. TV anchors who use Twitter hashtags to build audiences for their programs quickly realize how sharp this double-edged sword is when negative hashtags start trending.
Media has the requisite strength and ability to change both the social and the government’s attitudes towards a myriad of key problems. We harbor an unwavering hope in our hearts that, as the fourth pillar of the state, it will act as a solid pillar of democracy for as long as the present political, economic and social structures are moving in the right direction. There is absolutely no doubt that in the absence of this crucial pillar, democracy will be at threat.