'A news sense is really a sense of what is important, what is vital, what has colour and life- what PEOPLE are interested in. That’s journalism.’ - Burton Rascoe.
The institution of journalism and news media is considered the ‘fourth pillar’ of a democracy, its importance and strength well recognized by the Indian Constitution. Media not only forms a medium of expression of feelings, opinions and views but also is instrumental in cultivating opinions and views on matters of regional, national and international importance. News media and journalism is considered significant in shaping and maintaining a democracy while mobilizing the thinking process of people. The dissemination of news must remain impartial and free of any control or alteration, irrespective of the medium used.
Media- the fourth pillar of Democracy
Indian history is evidence to this fact- newspapers and journals formed the backbone for all mass movements and popular upsurges, lent a voice to the Indian freedom struggle and played a crucial role in the ‘making of India’ post-independence.
Role of Media in the Indian Freedom Struggle
Over time, Indian media and journalism has created an influential and trustworthy image of itself in bringing to its people credible information and news. However, of late, the situation seems to be taking a rather negative turn with people’s trust in the media taking a drastic hit. The growing hunger for higher TRPs and paid news, questionable media independence and unethical journalism offers a severe blow to not only its credibility but also its very existence.
(News Flash: A fake TRP racket was uncovered when the Broadcast Audience Research Council filed a complaint alleging that certain news channels were rigging TRP numbers. Republic TV was amongst the alleged.)
BREAKING NEWS: Indian News Media and Journalism… EXPOSED!
Add thunder-like sound effects, text animations and a raucous anchor and you have got yourself ‘the headline.’ This brings out one of the most pressing issues of Indian news media today- Sensationalism.
The current media environment focuses more on HOW a news is broadcasted as opposed to simply making people aware of the happenings. It is often characterized by exaggerated news headlines and flashy statements where the primary content of the news is given secondary importance.
Proof for the same lies with the Sushant Singh Rajput case. Instead of focusing on the evidence, every news channel had their own theories to offer. Provocative headlines, privacy violation, baseless extrapolations, unending media trials, false accusations and character assassinations had people glued to their screens, confused, misinformed and somehow convinced. Every news hour, headline and prime-time debate was related to the Rajput case, almost completely sidelining other pressing issues that required media attention and public exposure. A similar parallelism can be drawn to the media coverage for the then deceased Bollywood actress Sridevi or for the murder of Arushi Talwar in 2008.
This sort of media coverage is not only restricted to the glamour industry but also finds itself prominent in all matters germane to news media and journalism. This in turn creates another crucial issue- disproportionate balance in news, where a single piece of information finds itself at the epicenter of media coverage.
(News Flash: Times Now anchor Rahul Shivshankar termed a question on the falling GDP as a ‘waste of nation’s time’ when it was asked during a debate concerning the demise of Rajput.)
Free Media… a utopian concept?
‘I want this government to be criticized. Criticism makes democracy strong. Democracy cannot succeed without constructive criticism’ so said Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the time of his emphatic victory in 2014. (Source: The Diplomat, January 23, 2019)
The reality is to the complete contrary; progressively, we have only seen a degeneration in the quality of reporting with various news channels. Today, trial by media is more prevalent with news anchors attempting to hijack free thinking and impose their own will and opinion upon the masses. News is seldom a result of extensive investigation and thorough research, rather a conclusion drawn based on opinions and prejudices. Usually, prime-time debates are conducted in a manner where the news anchor is partisan to the side he/she favours, so as to give the other side very little opportunity to put forth their views.
Pressing issues like the farm bills, fallen GDP numbers, migrant workers’ lives or even Covid-19 for that matter have raised serious questions upon the credibility and responsibility of media and their role as the watchdog of the community.
The Constitution of India guarantees news media and journalism with the freedom of speech and expression. Yet, according to a report released by the Rights and Risks Analysis group, in 2020 alone, more than 50 journalists have been arrested, have had police complaints against them or have been physically assaulted. Why? Simply for doing their job.
(News Flash: India is home to over 400, 24*7 news channels and 17,000 newspapers, published in different languages, with a 100 million copies printed every day!)
Social Media- a boon or a bane?
Blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and multiple mobile applications are now increasingly central to disseminating news. The availability of a vast body of information, its quick and easy access along with its increasing credibility and reliability has resulted in the shift in a large percentage of the Indian audience.
Statistics showing the various sources of internet used as a source for news
Social Media’s interactive features have transformed monotonous readouts into a forum whose primary function is exchange of views. Journalists too have embraced several social media platforms as news sources for finding new leads for stories and to put forth multiple views; driving interest and building new relationships.
(News Flash: Prominent journalists Faye D’souza and Barkha Dutt have taken to Instagram and Youtube to share daily news updates and conduct panel discussions and debates on a variety of issues.)
While social media favours an atmosphere of discussion between news givers and news receivers, current misuse of this leverage cannot go unnoticed. The increasingly judgemental Indian audience has been caught engaged in foul practices over social media, ranging from viscous arguments in comment sections to verbally attacking journalists via trolls and hate messages. Several reports indicate the presence of certain ‘trolling armies,’ designed to counter any piece of information that decides to take a route opposite to what is considered ‘acceptable.’ Popular jewellery brand Tanishq’s “Ekatvam” campaign that put out an advertisement showcasing communal harmony is the most recent evidence to the same.
Incessant Trolling of the Tanishq Advertisement
Another significant issue that plagues social media is the prevalence, rapid spread and wilful acceptance of fake news. A staggering number of doctored videos, malicious memes and unverified adverts unfurl on social media services; adding to the difficulty of distinguishing between misinformation and credible facts. It has been responsible for incidents of violence and deaths in the country, akin to that of the recent Palghar Mob Lynching incident or that of the Tablighi Jamaat.
Fake news and it's devastating effects
(News Flash: A 2019 Microsoft study shows that over 64% of Indians encounter fake news online.)
The fundamental right of free speech and expression ought not to be used to violate the very democracy that it seeks to protect. It is therefore the moral duty of the media to function within the ambit of the Constitution while rightfully performing its duty as the fourth pillar. Democracy is successful when each of its pillars function responsibly but most importantly, INDEPENDANTLY.
The ultimate choice lies with you; sense or sensation, paragon or pandemonium, news or noise, credibility or chaos?