The Media in some form or other has remained an integral part of human civilisation serving its purpose as a medium to inform people. In Indian society, the form of media has been changing over time. Its form evolved from the vedas and upanishads in ancient India, ashokan stupas in medieval era to modern day television and press. Media in India has played an important rôle in shaping our society. Even in freedom struggle, media played an important rôle. Several freedom fighters made use of newspapers as a platform to criticise excesses by britsh government and to put forth their demands. These include newspapers like Tilak’s Maharatta, Annia beasant’s common weal etc. Post independence, Indian media has grown phenomenally and today is one among the world’s largest comprising of over 50000 news papers and hundreds of televisions channels.
Technological innovations have expanded the scope and coverage of media. With television entering the drawing rooms of Indian households in 1990s, a new segment of electronic media emerged. The World Wide Web and web 2.0 technologies have enabled web journalism through blogs, facebook, twitter and other social media sites. All these have led to creation of a richly diverse media industry in India.
Media is considered the fourth pillar of democracy along with Judiciary, executive, and legislature. Media plays an important rôle in informing the public and creating public opinion on important issues. It serves as a link between the government and public.Indian democracy would be poorer without an active media. Media provides a platform for the voiceless many to put forth their greivances. Media serves as an important tool to ensure accountability of government to the public between elections. It informs public of the government schemes and its beneficiaries. At sametime it also highlights the mistakes committed by government. Hence it ensures government’s accountability. Impact of indian media can be seen in the fact that all the recent scams ranging from Common wealth to 2G were first brought to light by television and print media through their in-house investigation. Constant pressure by media on government to act led to the government taking actions ranging from suspension of ministers to sending sitting MPs to jails. Had it not been for the constant media campaign, government might have been slow on taking action.
The flood of scams has created a public mood against corruption. This has been well captured and packaged by media. This led to peaceful organised protests across India, sending a strong message across to the political fraternity. With modern day tools , news media are able to better grasp mood of public and put it across to the political masters.
New age media like social media sites have helped organise people and also enabled interaction with government. Even government has realised the potential and crucial ministries like finance and external affairs ministry have their presence in facebook and twitter. It provides an opportunity to provide information and also receive instant feedback from people. It also serves as a medium for greivance redressal. However there are drawbacks that arise from it like the anonymity allows people to spy or stalk on people without revealing their identity. In India, social media is limited to only upper middle class. But through the huge numbrs online it acts as a pressure group thought it doesn’t represent the majority. While traditional media involves few publishers of information, social media and internet allow anyone to publish and hence can’t be regulated. Social media in India is still in a nascent stage and its impact on society is expected to remain minimal as it is limited to only a literate minority in India.
Despite the commendable work done by media in exposing the scams and making governments accountable, there are problems that exist within the media which threaten the legitimacy that they enjoy in Indian society. The recent trend of paid media, sensationalism, private treaties don’t augur well for Indian media fraternity. The true purpose of journalism is to communicating reliable, accurate facts in a meaningful context. The advent of 24X7 news channels led to intense competition in electronic media. The urge to increase their TRP ratings lead to sensationalism. Focus is now more on politics and celebrity trivia while the real issues bothering the nation are being put on backburner. Issues like malnutrition, sanitation which don’t appeal to Indian middle class, who form bulk of viewers ,were deliberately given a lookby. As a result non issues became issues. This sensationalism has lead to shallow reporting. Often little or no research is done on news item before being telecast. There is widespread manipulation, distortion of facts. The recent instance of paid media has brought to light the collusion between the politicians and journalists. This is especially rampant in the regional newspapers.
Most of media houses are owned by business houses and political parties. With such ownerships structure, its difficult to have unbiased reporting. Often media is used as a tool for political vendetta. This has lead to erosion of legitimacy of indian news media. Apart from these factors, there is the issue of government control over media. Although consitution enlists freedom of expression and speech as fundamental right, often this right is violated by government by way of sensorship. Although media in India seems to be under no direct government regulation, yet most of revenue for media houses particularly in print media come from government advertisements. Governments often use this to arm twist media into providing favourable coverage to them. This has lead to curtailment of free and fair reporting. Contempt powers and defamation laws also put curbs on freedom of press.
Another major concern that has emerged oflate is the media trials. This has become more rampant now with increased TV viewers in nation. The traditional judicial principle is to treat an accused as innocent until proved guilty. Yet, media coverage projects an accused guilty even before he/she is produced before court. TV anchors are turning into judges. This brings courts under undue pressure.
It is hightime that media houses introspect and take corrective measures. The major threats to Indian media arise form their limited autonomy and commercialisation and politicisation of news media. Indian media houses need to strike a balance between their business goals and the journalistic goals. Media houses should have separate research wings to conduct indepth study on problems faced by indian society. This will help identify rootcause of problems and provide solutions. Hence journalists will not just report news but also provide solution to issues.
India should setup a public broadcasting organisation onlines of public broadcasting service in US and BBC in UK. This organisation can help set the standards of journalism which may inturn improve the standards in other media organisations. More competition can also help enrich the news content. Government must reduce the entry barriers for setting up news channels. Although consitution guarantees free press, it doesn’t imply unregulated press. Any right is bound to have reasonable restrictions in interest of public. Hence media too needs to be regulated to some extent. However this regulation should be done by a regulatory body which remains independent of government.
Paid media is a threat to Indian media and democracy. Election commission in collaboration with press council should formulate rules to prevent the malaise from spreading further. Steps should be taken to depoliticise media houses. Advertisements or sponsored news should have a different font from that of regular news items. Every newspaper and news channel should have an in house ombudsman to redress greivances if any.
Contempt powers of court and defamation laws have acted as a deterrent for journalists to provide free and fair views. These laws were framed during the british era when there were severe curbs on indian media. These laws are a misfit in 21st century in India. These laws need a fresh relook in interest of society.
As India marches towards becoming a developed nation free from poverty and disease, its media has important rôle to act as a vehicle to carry forwards the vision of developed India. Oflate there has been an increased negitivity in media coverage comprising of scams and scandals. There are several good things happening in this nation of a billion, it is important that while media exposes the malapractices and wrongs in India it also highlights the achievements and successes of indians. It is only through positivism that we can instill a spirit of optimism in Indians. This optimism will inturn help India face challenges more confidently on its path towards becoming a developed nation.