Media and Irresponsibility

By A Hameed Yousuf

Media is the fourth pillar of democracy. As a mature democracy, India allows complete freedom to the media. The media was supposed to fearlessly and independently publish news and analysis that is unbiased. It was supposed to criticise government policy, be the means of conveying public grievances to the government, raise a voice when public interests had been disregarded during formulation or implementation of policies. In short, media’s job was to be the society’s ethical guard.

Though media had to go through a turbulent time during the 1975 Emergency, it managed to survive and flourish. When the going got tough the tough got going, as they say. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay tried to suffocate independent media but they failed due to the brave men who ran the media.  The atrocities of those times are recorded only due the work of the brave mediamen. The media kept the democracy alive. As a result, the Congress faced a humiliating defeat in 1977.

With the advancement of time, media has grown in strength. The monopoly of the government over the news broadcasting has ended and there are hundreds of TV channels and thousands of radio stations providing minute-to-minute updates to the audience. The industrialization and commercialization of the media and the resultant competition have extended its scope.

There has been an addition in a kind of “investigative journalism”. True to its name, this genre of media has successfully unearthed many scandals and several people involved in them. For the government institutions assigned to check irregularities, this would have been an uphill task. This kind of journalism sometimes is ahead of investigating agencies too. But there are occasions when investigative journalism has influenced public opinion even before there was any evidence.

In electronic media, news channels are most popular. Most of the channels are run by big corporate houses which, naturally, have business interests.

Consider the role played by the media after it has managed to expose a scandal. It behaves as an investigating agency, presents its case as a prosecutor and the gullible viewer passes his judgment based on the one-sided argument. Does this not affect the trial of the accused in real courts? Soon, the story is forgotten and the next one is being prepared. Thus, the verdict of the media is hurriedly passed. The verdict by the honourable courts should wait.

The media is expected to, at least, not do a TV trial of a sub judice case. Courts should freely hear a case without external or public pressures. This is impossible in a case under media glare. Is this not contempt of court?

Presumably our electronic media, after any incident of public outrage, construct a narrative that soon turns out to be completely bogus. Of late, it’s always the case that within hours of a blast the media starts mouthing terms like HuJI, LeT, IM and SIMI. As it turns out, the media just made up its mind about who has done it.

Stereotypes shown by the popular media are polarizing society. Unknowingly, the electronic media is fuelling the agenda of forces which will eventually destabilize the country.   

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 September 2011 on page no. 12

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