Democracy is the most popular form of government today around the world and India prides itself being the largest democracy in the world. In a democracy, the people are the real rulers as they elect their own government from amongst themselves. Thus in a democracy, it is the government of the people, by the people and for the people. Media plays such an important role in democracy that it is often called the ‘Fourth pillar of democracy’, besides Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. A proactive media makes the elected representatives and the public servants accountable to public. It gives voice to people, forms public opinion and forces the government to heed the voice of the people. Media also plays an active role in exposing corruption and other malpractices in government.
It is therefore not surprising that powerful people wish to control the media to manipulate the thoughts of the people. Though, there are others methods to control the minds of the people like religion, philosophy or literature, nothing can beat the power of media to influence the thoughts of people. American singer and poet Jim Morrison said this aptly, “Whoever controls the media, controls the mind.”
There is no doubt that a vibrant democracy needs a free press. When press is free, people trust the press to reveal the truth. Hence, when the journalists are doing their job honestly, they are widely respected in the society and enjoy tremendous power. However, when press is not free, it loses respect of the people. Tom Stoppard, the British playwright and screen writer said, “A free press needs to be a respected press”. If the media becomes corrupt or biased, people are given wrong information and fed with false propaganda of the political parties which can misguide them to choose the wrong candidates in power leading to destruction of democracy.
Media has been undergoing its evolution for a long time. Only a few decades ago, press was the most powerful media and people relied upon the newspapers and magazine for authentic information. Their power was however, limited to educated people only. Once radio was invented, it reached every home and gradually became a powerful tool in the hands of the leaders to propagate their views. With the advent of electronic media and satellite television, the business houses that owned the private media became quite powerful. However, soon, the popularity of the social media like Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, was to democratize the power of media as the common man became not only a recipient of the news, but also the creator of the news.
Today, media has become extremely powerful all around the world. Its power is even more in democracies where it can freely influence the masses. In a vibrant democracy, people must have correct information about the public servants like the ministers and the civil servants. These public servants enjoy real powers in a democracy while the role of the people often remains limited to voting once in five years to elect their MP or MLA. These elected representatives once in power, often forget the people who voted them to power and use their stint to secure illegal benefits for themselves and their supporters. Instead of being transparent, public officials often tend to follow the culture of secrecy and red- tape. Instead of working for the welfare of the people, they often misuse the power to further self- interest. Media alone can make them accountable to the public by exposing their misdeeds to the public so that they can elect the right candidates in the next elections. The democratic process goes awry when the media fails to give people the right information, and people fail to elect the right candidate, as George Bernard Shaw said, “Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few”.
In a democracy, it is the right of the people to know the performance of government. When the media is corrupt and biased, they, instead of exposing the misdeeds of public servants, often provide useless, divisive and sensational news, which suppress the truth and serve the same powerful and wealthy people. A biased media gradually corrupts the thoughts of the people. Instead of spreading the truth, it provides fake and paid news, which help political parties and serve other vested interest. Hence, when the media is biased, the power shifts from the people to the unscrupulous businessmen, criminals and politicians. Instead of uniting the people by using their power of communication, a biased media divides the society, creates hatred and leads to anarchy. The famous author Dan Brown wisely said, “The media is the right arm of anarchy.” When the media gets biased, it loses the trust of the people.
The India media over last couple of years is getting increasingly biased. It is common to get paid news presented as genuine news. Sometimes, fake news is circulated on behalf of people with vested interest to influence the opinion of people. In order to harness the power of social media, almost all Indian political parties have set up dedicated IT cells where thousands of paid employees work covertly to propagate the ideology of their masters and troll any other political opinion ruthlessly. The electronic media seems to be more interested in telecasting the sensational news to increase their TRPs (Target Rating Points) than to speak the truth. It is also common nowadays for many top business houses and political parties to directly control the media, which instead of being fair, provides only one sided view to the people.
There are many reasons for the media to get biased in India. India is a land of diversity and the people are divided on the basis of caste, religion, language, culture and region. Instead of harnessing our power of unity in diversity to our advantage, politicians often exploit the diversities by dividing people to rule them. When businessmen run the media, their sole interest is to maximize their profits. They can’t afford to annoy the government, which can harm their business interest. They may be threatened by the government, if they dare to go against them. Hence, instead of exposing the inefficiency and corruption of government, they find it more convenient to praise them to get government favours including lucrative advertisements from them. In order to maximize their revenue from corporate advertisements, they focus on increasing their TRPs by broadcasting sensational and even fake news. Some media houses and journalists misuse the power of media to even blackmail the corrupt and powerful politicians as well as civil servants. They often extract heavy ransom for suppressing the truth about their misadventures.
A biased media is thus a great threat to democracy. India surely needs a free and fair media. There is an urgent need to regulate the media by framing stricter laws to make it more transparent and accountable. We need to develop stronger codes of conduct for the media, which can be enforced by an independent agency free from the government control. There has to be stricter and quicker punishments for fake and paid news.
India should also check the roles of political parties and business houses in running the media. The social media is losing its credibility because of the interference of the IT Cells of political parties and their incessant trolling of targeted politicians without any accountability. There has to be stricter punishment for trolling, spreading fake news and defamation on social media to restore its credibility and allow sanity to prevail. The IT cells and political parties should be made accountable if they misuse the power of the social media to spread hatred and divide in the society. It is important to realize that only an unbiased media can uphold true democracy in India.