Media at a crossroads

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The role of the media in governance was recognized as early as 1841, when Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish essayist, historian and philosopher wrote: “Burke (Sir Edmund Burke, MP, Paymaster of the Forces, statesman and philosopher) said that there were three estates in Parliament; but, over there, in the reporters’ gallery, sat a fourth estate far more important than all of them” (On Heroes and Hero Worship). Probably Carlyle was one of the first to realize that the press, as the Fourth Estate, acted as the guardian of the government’s conscience, holding the government accountable for its follies and keeping the citizens informed of important matters. In fact, according to Carlyle, by disseminating facts and opinions and raising its voice against tyranny, the press contributed to the birth and growth of democracy. Our own freedom movement owes much of its success to the vernacular press, which sensitized the Indian public to the ideals of freedom, equality and freedom and kept them abreast of the thoughts and actions of nationalists like Gokhale and Gandhi.

The Vernacular Press Act (1878) and similar laws like the Newspaper Act (1908) failed to control Indian language newspapers. After independence, the print media acted as the guardian of democracy; often taking the government to task and exposing corruption in government through his reporting on scandals like Bofors and Tehelka. Much earlier, the thought of American freedom was first hinted at in a series of newspaper articles called Letters from a Pennsylvania Farmer to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies in 1767 which espoused the principle of “no taxation without representation. Samuel Adams, one of the founding fathers of the United States, created public resentment against unequal British policies through the newspapers. Significantly, white Americans had a literacy rate of over 90%, which contributed to the power of newspapers.

Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, which encouraged the revolutionary spirit in the United States, was distributed through newspaper distribution networks, selling more than half a million copies in the first year, thanks to the recommendations of newspapers. In its heyday, the print media wielded immense power to shape public opinion, champion worthy causes, and shine a ruthless light on corruption. In reality, the role of the press has been mixed; the Indian press espoused many worthy causes but lost its backbone during the days of emergency. Examples of yellow journalism, that is, the spreading of false and sensational news to stimulate circulation, abound; an extreme example of yellow journalism being the deliberately sensationalized reporting of the sinking of the USS Maine by American newspapers, primarily by editors William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, which pushed the United States into a war with the Spain.

The advent of radio and television over the past century has reduced the dominance of the press over the news media. At the beginning of the 21st century, cable television, broadcasting 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, became the main source of information for most Indians. The power of television can be gauged from the fact that India has about 1,000 television channels with about 22 million households owning televisions, exposing about 100 million viewers to television. News sites and news aggregators began to appear in the first decade of the 21st century. Web diaries, now called blogs, have become an immensely popular way for ordinary citizens to update the world on their lives and opinions. Over the past decade, social networking sites like WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook ushered in the era of social media.

In a paradigm shift, stories, images and opinions are increasingly being shared on social media, making it a new avenue of journalism ~ democratizing reporting outside of the small, elite coterie of controlling journalists print media and television. With all the major world leaders on Twitter and an emerging trend of announcing all sorts of important decisions on Twitter, social media poses a serious challenge to mainstream news media ~ despite accusations of not observing basic principles of journalism and to peddle false and malicious information. , at the instigation of the troll factories. The main advantage of digital media is that digital media is “dynamic” in the sense that all content is constantly updated. Additionally, digital media contains interactive graphics and displays and comes with reactions and reviews from viewers, making it a living and breathing coverage, far superior to traditional print media which is just text with images. static, without update, correction or interface. .

However, despite its inherent advantage, digital media suffers from a lack of credibility because, taking advantage of the anonymity offered by the Internet, half-truths are masquerading as digital media news and extreme opinions are peddled in the purpose of inciting the passions. The situation has reached a point where TV presenters often lead media trials, with the most recent victims being Aryan Khan and Rhea Chakraborty ~ innocent individuals, who were defamed and convicted on prime time television. The social media threat now extends to trying to influence court verdicts and defaming judges of integrity. Speaking on the theme ‘Vox Populi vs. Rule of Law: India’s Supreme Court’ at the second Justice HR Khanna Symposium, Justice JB Pardiwala recounted the danger posed by social media: immense power of social media and digital platforms is constantly invoked to precipitate the perception of guilt or innocence of the accused even before the end of the trial.

Society begins to believe that the result of legal proceedings should be nothing but a conviction of the accused with extreme punishment for the accused. The judge also noted with regret: “Attacks on judges for their judgments lead to a dangerous scenario where judges must think what the media thinks, rather than what the law actually says…Social and digital media are mainly resorted to the expression of personalized opinions more against the judges, rather than a constructive critical appreciation of their judgements. This is what harms the judicial institution and lowers its dignity. As a remedy, Judge Pardiwala suggested national regulation of digital and social media, which can be extremely difficult and counter-productive in the long run.Significantly, Justice Pardiwala had made scathing observations against Nupur Sharma which had not gone down well with some hardline supporters of The only way to reform social media might be to appeal to the good conscience of social media platforms; asking them to f ary ensure that participants adhere to the journalistic ethic of being fair, honest and responsible, without deliberately harming anyone.

The government can help by being a neutral arbiter and acting against anyone who breaks the law, not just a group of people. Another pressing concern might be to tackle the problem of freedom of the press; our ranking of 150 (out of 180 countries) in the World Press Freedom Index calls for serious soul-searching by all stakeholders. The report pointed to the difficult conditions under which journalists operate in India; Of course, the government could do better than systematically arrest journalists for their reporting. Referring to the recent arrest of an Indian journalist, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said journalists should not be imprisoned for “what they write, what they tweet and what they say”. The media could also wonder about the “economic context”, highlighted by the press freedom report. Specifically, the report described India’s media as a “clay-footed colossus”, pointing out that “the media is largely dependent on advertising contracts with local and regional governments” and “at the national level, the central government has seen that he could exploit this to impose his own narrative, and now spends more than 130 billion rupees (5 billion euros) a year on advertisements in print and online media alone.

In the best-case scenario, a dynamic digital medium, freed from the huge set-up costs incurred by print media, can compensate for any misrepresentation by other media, but given current realities, this situation does not seem likely to happen. materialize in the near future. To remain relevant, Indian media must focus fairly on substantive issues, or they will suffer the fate of American media, so succinctly summed up by American author and public intellectual Gore Vidal: “The American press only exists to one goal. , and it is to convince Americans that they live in the greatest and most envied country in the history of the world. The press tells the American people how awful every other country is and how wonderful the United States is and how evil communism is and how happy they should be to have the freedom to buy seven different types of detergents.

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