(Online Course) Essay Writing Skills Improvement Programme: Responsibility of media in a democracy. (2002)

Part C – Essays on Social issues

Responsibility of media in a democracy.

In a democratic setup Media occupies the most vital position
and forms the very bedrock of democracy without which democracy is an aimless,
futile exercise and never fulfill the aspirations of the people in real terms.
The role of media in a democracy is as crucial as that of the politicians and
should never be underestimated. To bring out before the public nothing but the
truth in all matters without twisting the facts and should never be afraid of
anyone except God is the first and foremost job of the media. If a democracy is
to run smoothly in any country, it is a must that the media in all fairness
should be given full autonomy and a free hand it deserves in airing its views
among the people and no unnecessary restrictions should be imposed on it. The
media also on its part should play a very responsible, active and neutral role
in discharging its duties without being influenced by any particular political
party or few individuals and should treat everyone on a equal footing.

The word ‘democracy’ is derived from the Greek word ‘demos-
meaning – people and ‘cracy’ which means–rule. Thus democracy literally
signifies ‘the rule of the people’. In Abraham Lincoln’s famous word-“democracy
is the government of the people, for the people and by the people”. So democracy
as a form of government implies that the ultimate authority of government is
vested in the common people, that public policy is made to conform to the will
of the people and to serve the interests of the people. Today we have indirect
or representative democracy where government is conducted by the representatives
of the people, who are elected at regular intervals through elections.

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Effective democracy requires principles and working
institutions. The institutions of democracy are said to be basically six in
number. They are legislature, elected at regular intervals by adult universal
suffrage. There must be political parties with coherent policies and capable
alone, or in conjunction with other parties for carrying out a consistent policy
and programmes for the peoples all round development and not only those who may
have voted for them. There must be an executive, staffed with civil servants who
are politically neutral. There must be independent legal system and lastly there
must be a free media both print and electronic. No democracy can succeed
without a strong and effective opposition. Strong opposition exercise a healthy
restraint on the ruling party and prevents it from subjecting the people to
arbitrary and despotic rule, sometimes the media acts like an opposition in the
absence of strong opposition in a country.

Underlying principle of democracy is freedom i.e. freedom of
speech and expression, freedom of movement etc. From these fundamental
freecel11s arise the freedom of mass media and communication. Democracy provides
ample freedom for mass media which includes print and electronic- media and now
a new dimension which is added it that of internet. India is one of the largest
participatory democracy and at the same time having a powerful mass media. Media
plays a crucial role in effective working of democracy. It is the sole means
through which public opinion is generated. It is regarded as fourth estate in
the effective working of parliamentary democracy. Since media enjoys
considerable power, there of course arises the question of responsibility
because every power has its corresponding- responsibilities, limitations and
accountability. As Sir Acton has rightly said that power corrupts and absolute
power corrupts absolutely. Especially in a democracy where media enjoys
sufficient freedom, responsibility become- all most important.

Democracy rules out the use of force. It is based on the
recognition of the worth of man as man, implying widest possible opportunity of
development of everyone. Since no two human beings can ever think alike, it is
natural to come across dissenting opinions at every step, in every field. True
democratic spirit lies in overcoming dissent through discussion and persuasion
and not through coercion. In a democracy, views are not imposed, views are
shaped and moulded. Democracy inculcates among the people the habit of tolerance
and compromise and teaches them to show due regard for the opinions and
sentiments others. The media gives a platform for this divergent view’s which
filters and then a commonly acceptable opinion or view emerges.

It plays an important role to uphold the principles of
sovereignty, secularism, equality, rule of law, justice which is enshrined in
our constitution. Important issues of local, national and international affairs
are discussed and debated by the media. It provides information of multi Carious
types be it news, reviews, literature, art, culture, business, films,
entertainment, religion, law, society etc. We are living in globalised world
where key to know the world is information and information, not just generated
within the country but anywhere in the world, with the emergence of knowledge
based societies and world economies being so interlinked’ with one another any
event happening in one part can have inpact on the world’s economy hence a
greater dependence on mass media to keep individual and countries connected to
the world.

Democracy presumes social equality. Disparities in wealth are
a great threat to democracy. A country in which a large number of people remain
in abject poverty while a handful of them have plenty to spare cannot run
efficient democratic institutions. Similarly communalism, regionalism, caste and
class distinctions can wreck a democracy. If a democratic government does not
eliminate social distinctions and provide equal opportunities to all, it is
bound to be overthrown sooner or later. The media high lights these disparities
and petty distinctions amongst the citizen, thereby help in minimising their ill

Democracy also requires not merely an absence of ignorance
but also that the citizens are adequately educated. If knowledge remains scanty,
fragmentary and confined to narrow circles and if the mass of humanity remains
steeped in ignorance and error, there can be no prospects for the success of
democracy. What is needed is to bring scientific knowledge to the doors of all,
to universalise culture, to train the mind and to create the scientific temper.
Education makes citizens vigilant and also gives them the boldness to criticize
government measures which are ill-conceived or harmful. In fact, education
produces wise leadership and an enlightened and alert public. Here again the
media helps in the spead of knowledge and information to the people.

The opinion of the people regarding the working of the
government as well as their reaction to government policies is crucial to the
success or failure of a government in a democracy. Therefore, no government can
ignore the opinion of the people who bring it to power. Public opinion keeps a
check on the government and helps it in determining its policies.

If media does not discharge its responsibility independently
in any democratic country, the politicians are bound to behave like dictations
or even worse than them. As Benito Mussolini had once rightly said, “Democracy
is a kingless regime infested by many kings who are sometimes more exclusive,
tyrannical and destructive than one, if he be a tyrant”. It is the fear of being
exposed by the media before the public that most of the politicians keep
themselves under control to some extent. Media has a very big role to play in a
democracy and its stature is in no way less than that of politicians. Hence it
is rightly called the fourth Pillar of democracy i.e. Fourth Estate. It is
through media that people become aware of so many aspects of life of which they
are normally ignorant. Democracy is meaningless without a free, neutral and
active media. So media carries with it a huge responsibility in a democratic
setup which it has to fulfill very carefully without any bias toward anyone by
bringing out the real facts before the public.

The media must be free under any circumstances of a democracy
is to function smoothly but certainly this freedom should not be misused by it
at the cost of the people. The media can be free only if it dares to differ with
the Government on such issue on which it strongly feels that Government has
taken a wrong stand rather than singing and praising always the stand taken by
the Government. The media should no doubt always show us nothing but the very
truth. At the same time it should also care for the sentiments of the people and
should take extra precautions to ensure that the news given by it does not
create panic among the people or increase the communal tensions. There is no
doubt that media has done a commendable job from time to time in making people
aware about the harsh realities of life, in exposing corruption prevalent in our
society, in increasing the awareness level among the people and a lot more but I
feel that still a lot remains to be done.

Media is becoming increasingly popular among people from all
walks of life and it certainly has the potential of influencing the thoughts of
its readers/Viewers to a large extent. Media Should, no doubt, be neutral in
airing views but it should also strongly desist from airing such views which can
adversely affect the communal harmony and give rise to deep suspicion, tension
and senseless violence which leads to killing innocent people. The media should
make the people aware of the consequences of the various actions of the
governments. It is the media which plays a major role in making a politician
hero or Zero. So utmost neutrality is required on the part of media to observe
and it must give publicity only to those politicians who are committed to the
welfare of the poor and underprivileged and who really deserve it. It is the
duty of the media to make sure that it is not partial towards any particular
political party or an individual and gives free and fair opinion to the people
without having any bias towards anyone.

It should never hesitate is unmasking before public the real
faces of corrupt politicians and corrupt people without any fear and in
disclosing corrupt practices prevalent in Government machinery but at the same
time it should also bring before the pubic the good work done by the Government.
If media is honest and committed in its job, democracy is bound to function more
efficiently and the loopholes present in any democratic system can certainly be
plugged to the fullest satisfaction of the people. On the contrary, if media is
biased, corrupt and favours only a particular party or few individuals, it can
prove to be very dangerous for the smooth functioning of democracy. No one can
become perfect and one can only strive to become so. The same holds true for our
media also. Certainly there is still a lot of scope for improvement by which the
media can rise upon the aspirations of the people for which it is primarily

Role of Print and Electronic Media

The print media which includes newspapers. periodicals and
magazines, and the electronic media which includes radio and television and
cinema help out greatly in the formation of public opinion. Newspapers are
probable the most effective and commonly used means to influence the public
opinion. News magazines and periodicals also help in forming public opinion by
publishing articles on major national and international issues. The media acts
as a kind of liaison between the government and the people. It acquaints the
people with the policy and principles of the government. At the same time it
reflects the public reaction to this policy and thus enables the government to
modify it. Since the media gives such extensive publicity to the movements of
the ministers and other higher ups, it exercises a very sobering influence on
them. It does not let them forget that they are in office as the representatives
of the people to whom they are finally answerable. Thus, it keeps a powerful
check on the corruption and tyranny of the government.

Perhaps the most important function of the media in a
democratic government is to spread political awareness among the public. An
average citizen has neither capability, nor the will, nor even the time to
formulate and express original opinions on most of the issues. He seeks guidance
from the newspaper magazines etc., he subscribes to. ‘t he observations he makes
in the circle of his friends with flourish he has perhaps borrowed from that
day’s editorial in his favourite newspaper or magazine. Thus the media has a
definite educative value. The success of democracy depends upon the judicious
use of one’s vote which is impossible without political education and the media
is the most effective source available to us for this type of education. This
place a great responsibility upon the editors, the correspondents and the
professional reviewers of a newspaper to furnish us with authentic news and
impartial views only.

Indian media shows a mosaic picture. Many of the issues
discussed’ and shown on the news channel are not only irrelevant but are blown
out of proportion. With emphasis on unnecessary issues, real issues generally
get buried. News channels are generally driven by TRP’s rather than issues. They
try to scandalize the issue to generate public curiosity. Instead of breaking
news they are actually making news and then breaking it. The channels trivialize
the issue and set bad precedence. It makes icons out of Rakhi Sawant and the
likes .One of the channel shows regularly story of ‘Bhoot’ coming to village
which reinforces superstition among people. Media is now being used by people to
get instant attention from the public. Controversies are created every morning
demolished the same evening just to make a new controversy next day. Under this
whole hue and cry the real issues take back seat. Same is the case with the
print media many of the newspapers carry the most irrelevant news on their front
page. Yellow journalism has become the order of day. This has given rise to new
culture of Page3 journalism which exclusively covers the elite parties and
thoroughly discusses them the next day. Media houses generally absolves of their
responsibility by saying that they show what people want. But actually it is the
media that first set the trends create demands and people fell prey to it. A
line need to be drawn somewhere.

Well there is other side of the coin. There are few
responsible news channels and newspapers, how so ever, their numbers are
limited. They do reflect what is called as meaningful journalism. They cover
issues of public importance generating awareness among people at the same time
bringing to states’s notice various issues of concern. Journalism can play
important role I to curb social evils and find solutions to problems. Many
newspapers ignore. Issues pertaining to rural India like poverty, lack of
education, health services etc. Covering such issues can bring fundamental
change as this would bring fourth common concern not from government machinery
but from citizens of civil society at large. There are stories of some news
channel where their effective intervention into a issue has brought government
machinery to act. The recent initiative by a news channel in Jessica Lal murder
case actually made the court to reseek the issue and change the decision.
Similarly issues concerning needs of common citizens like bad infrastructure,
corruption, government apathy can be brought to light by the media. Media has
also created greater concern among citizens on’ issues concerning justice, human
rights violation, social evils etc.

Working of democracy lies on the premise of electing
representatives and how free and fair these elections are. Come elections media
frenzy grabs the whole country. Media coverage has brought greater awareness
among people about the respective candidates from their constituency. Earlier
municipal/district elections went just unnoticed but now due to local newspapers
and local news channels it generates lot of public participation. Another
dimension that is added to media is the internet though it is not as far
reaching as the other ones yet it has emerged as new platform especially in the
globalised world. The novel idea of blogs and websites like ‘You Tube’ which
provides freedom to individual to upload video clippings, news etc or to start
forms to debate on. Any issue has brought greater power in the hands of an
individual to share and present their views on global forum. Yet this unfettered
power sometimes creates malaise and hurt public sentiments.

The Credibility and Objectivity of Media

The credibility and objectivity of media coverage of the
communal disturbances in Gujarat became the subject of sharp controversy in last
year. While much of it centred on television coverage, the print media was also
involved. However, after an investigation by a fact finding team appointed by
the Editors Guild of India. it was absolved of the charge of biasness. It found
that “prompt and extensive portrayal of the untold horrors visited on innocent
people in the wake of the Godhra Carnage”, and exposed “the supine if not
complicity attitude of the State and manifest out pourings of communal hatred
stirred the conscience of the nation compelled remedial action…:’ The Guild
also found two local Gujarati papers guilty of provoking anti-Muslim feelings.

For the electronic media the issue about the ethics and
excesses of television coverage were raised. And once again there was censorship
on the national broadcaster. with the debate in Parliament on a censure motion
in Gujarat not being aired live on Doordarshan.

The media’s coverage of the Gujarat assembly election totally
went against their predictions, where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by
Narendrabhai Modi won a two third majority though it was predicted that the BJP
would not win the election or win it with thin majority.


All this put great responsibility on the media The media
should report impartially on the events and happenings of the nation and not
resort to bias reporting’s and images, it democracy is to be successful in
India. Since the media–both the print media and the electronic have so much
responsibility in the functioning of democracy and to well being of the nation
it follows that the media should be more responsible. There is very subtle line
that decides what is good or bad, moral/immoral. Yet these are questions which
are very crucial to journalism. Freedom of press does not connote that they can
do anything in the name of freedom. This may have serious implications for the
society and nation at large. It is said that during riots the fire may just
occurs once but on news channels it occurs for 24 hrs. It is said that cure for
evils of democracy is more democracy similarly cure for evils of media is not to
curb its freedom but to make it more responsible.

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