Where the press is free and every man is able to read, all is safe”- Thomas Jefferson
Media is often referred to as the “fourth pillar” of democracy and it plays a crucial role in ensuring justice .Media houses act as a chain between the government and the citizens of the country. Media has always played a very pivotal role in influencing mind-sets across the country, which makes it essential for us, as citizens to ensure that we are consuming information from the right channels.
The credibility of Indian media is fast eroding and has been criticized time and again by the world audience for its sensationalism. The way Indian media manipulates the news and portrays the information in a twisted manner has seen the country drop three places in the recent World Press Freedom Index from rank 135 to rank 138 in 2018.
Most of the media outlets in India are either directly owned or subtly controlled by powerful business and political interests. Over the past few decades, the domination of a few corporate groups over the mass media has grown to alarming levels. Politicians or individuals with a hidden agenda have begun to call the shots, making the media a mere puppet in their hands. One finds it hard to distinguish between what is true and what is projected as being true. Such a trend raises serious questions on the transparency and accountability of the media. Most of the media outlets have become relatively dependent on government advertising. This has made them uncritical and pliant, thus depriving them of sharp teeth and nails to tear them to pieces. It may be noted that some serious issues like the beef ban, the crisis in Kashmir, dissent in universities and even the unrest in societies where Dalits have been discriminated against or killed, have received scant mention in media coverage. Things are further aggravated with a growing temptation to self-censorship because of fear. Those who do not yield to the pressure tactics and those who dare to question the regime are intimidated with raids and probes. The murder of editor and publisher Gauri Lankesh, a vocal advocate of secularism and critic of right-wing political ideology puts a big question on the fundamentals of democracy.
However, allegations of misuse of Government-owned Media are nothing new. During one of the darkest periods of Independent India – The Emergency, Smt. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister reportedly told her I&B Minister, I K Gujral that she wanted to see the radio and TV scripts of all news bulletins. Thereby, all media units were made instruments of Government propaganda. The Vasundhara Raje led government in Rajasthan as recently as September 6, 2017, promulgated an ordinance which prohibited investigation without prior sanction against judicial officers and public servants. The said ordinance would impose restrictions on media which impinges free speech and expression .Under this law, the media could no longer report on the accusation against such a person until the prosecution gets the go-ahead from the sanctioning authority, which may take up to six months. Such draconian action by an elected government effectively curbs the freedom of the press, guaranteed by the Constitution of India and repeatedly reaffirmed by the Supreme Court of India.
If media is to have any meaningful role in democracy and governance, it is essential that it should be free and independent from the control of the government. A free and independent media provides a key platform for the exercise of freedom of speech and expression which is guaranteed by our Constitution under Article 19(1)(a) as a fundamental right. For the exercise of such a right, it is essential that the citizens have access to balanced, reliable and trustworthy information from the media. What is expected of a responsible media is- to report news in-depth without opinions and manipulations, to provide people with facts.
The media is facing a problem of credibility, and the only way to overcome this is to ensure that they are transparent. Media organizations must have editorial independence and transparent ownership. These qualities are extremely important because media independence has often been compromised by owners who do not value independent views but focus only on commercial interests. It is high time that the media in India corrected itself to regain its lost sense of credibility.
Third Year, B.B.A. LL.B