Media continues to be very powerful in India, the largest parliamentary democracy of the world. Over the years, it has grown much stronger and mightier. It has a far more expansive reach today than ever before as, according to the available figures, the readership of newspapers and magazines in the country is over 190 millions while over 384 million Indians watch television news and other programmes.
But, unfortunately, while media is growing, it is not growing up. There have been very disturbing trends in terms of quality. Apart from truth being the first casualty, the disturbing trend includes subjectivity, inaccuracy, misquotation, marketing men functioning as editorial heads, sting operations with dubious methods and morals, TV studios working as court rooms, sms sting presented as serious news, human rights violations and prejudice of editors.
Now-a-days, media has become an entertainment industry in the wake of globalization and entertainment is now treated as synonymous with sex and crime. Unfortunately, on this account, Indian newspapers and magazines are full of photos of semi-nude models, nude pictures and articles on kissing, bed-room manners and office romances. It is really distressing that media is making us a nation of sex-alcoholics. It is really unfortunate that national English dailies are serving their readers soft poison every single day. Parents are very much worried over the sinister effects of these dailies on their children. Incidents of rape are published with livid details. It is no exaggeration to say that today the spurt in crimes is to be attributed to the lascivious material being published by the print and electronic media. It matters little to the media if, in the process, our highly precious values are subverted and our cultural ethos are destroyed.
It is really distressing that media has degenerated into a highly counter-productive force and has abandoned the path of idealism.
The main factor responsible for this phenomenon is that the lever of control has been transferred from editors, who used to command respect, to the media mughals for whom only circulation figures and profit are the main objects. Means are of no consequence. It is the ends that matter. Today, media’s culture is one of seeking power. It no longer aspires to change the world. It is becoming insensitive and profit-driven like any other commercial activity. It is now not only Influenced but even led by grossly malevolent market. It is slowly hijacking the country and destroying out time-honored and highly precious national culture.
Freedom of press, implicit in the fundamental right, includes freedom of speech and expression but this freedom is not simply for the benefit of the press but for the public good. The Press Council of India was set up as a watchdog but media takes it very causally as the council does not possess any punitive powers. There are a number of instances when the council issued guidelines which were treated with contempt by the media. Distinction between broad-sheeet journalism and tabloid journalism, which is sedulously maintained in the West, stands obliterated in India. Media has the unique privilege of unaccountability. Today, there is inaccuracy and mis-interpretation on a very large-scale in media reporting but there is no punishment for an errant judgement.
Media which dishes out sermons for all sections of the society, from the legislature to the judiciary, does little soul-searching itself. It is high time that Parliament gives punitive powers to the Press Council of India to deal with the irresponsible sections of media representing hit-and-run type of journalism.
Most unfortunate is that important issues like the on-going agrarian crisis leading to suicides by farmers, dowry deaths, displacement of tribals across the country are being sidelined and Muslims are maligned over teen talaq which is very uncommon. Media must introspect and rediscover its past, i.e., the glorious role which it had played in pre-Independence India.
Dr. M. Hashim Kidwai
Former MP (Rajya Sabha)