Media has played a significant role in establishing democracy throughout the world. Since the 18th century, the media has been instrumental in reaching the masses and equipping them with knowledge, especially during the American Independence movement and French Revolution. Media is considered as “Fourth Pillar” in democratic countries along with Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary, as without a free media democratic system cannot cease to exist.
Media became a source of information for the citizens of colonial India, as they became aware of the arbitrariness of the British colonial rule. Thus, gave a newfound force to India’s Independence movement, as millions of Indians joined the leaders in their fight against the British imperialism. The role of media in Indian democracy has undergone massive changes, from the days of press censorship during Emergency in 1975 to being influential in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Transition from print to electronic
Indian media has traveled a long way, from the days of newspaper and radio to present-day age of Television and Social Media. The liberalization of Indian economy in the 1990s saw an influx of investment in the media houses, as large corporate houses, business tycoons, political elites, and industrialists saw this as an opportunity to improve their brand image. The news channels were now involved in the showbiz industry, as TRPs became a cause of rivalry amongst news houses.
News that was seen as medium to educate the people on issues that were of utmost important for the society, became a source of biased viewpoints. The role of media is to make the society aware of their democratic rights and fight the three institutions of democracy. It acts as the voice of millions of citizens, when government institutions become corrupt and authoritarian or when they turn a blind-eye towards the issues concerning the society. In today’s India, media has become a mouthpiece for various political organizations and business groups, they act as amanuensis for such influential figures, as their business relies on support from such organizations.
Controversies and highlights of Indian media
The credibility of Indian media is fast eroding, as the country’s media 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.
There have been instances such as Sridevi’s death recently, where journalist became a judge by laying false accusations and created a controversy surrounding the late actor’s death. On the hand, the Indian media has played a courageous role in the coverage of Kargil War(1999), and 26/11 Bombay Terror Attacks that rocked the whole nation as the city was rocked by multiple terror attacks. Certainly, due to growing influence of political parties, there has been decrease in the quality of news reaching the audience, as media had served as a platform for parties to promote their government’s work.
Government’s role in strengthening media
The need for an independent and control-free press is really essential in a vibrant democracy like India. The Indian government’s stance on the role media has been hotly debated, ever since our constitution makers started framing the Indian Constitution. During the framing of the constitution, there was a confusion regarding the status of media in India, whether there was a need to frame an article under the Fundamental Right of Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression or to have a separate provision for freedom of the press as was the case in US Constitution.
Dr Ambedkar, Chairman of the Drafting Committee felt there was no need to have separate provision for the free press, instead he argued that “the press is merely another way of stating an individual or a citizen”, thus, right to press became a part of Right to freedom of speech and expression underIn the recent World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Border, India was ranked 136 out the 180 countries for the level of freedom available to the journalist in the country. The drop in India’s ranking has been associated with the rising ‘Hindu Nationalists’ trying to dismiss “anti-national” manifestation thoughts from the national media, reflects as a negative role of media in the democracy.
In a diverse country like India, it is difficult to have detailed legislation on the role of media in the democracy, as was pointed out by Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar.News Broadcasters Association (NBA) is a government body that has laid down the guidelines to be followed by media houses, to disseminate the information across the audience. The guidelines focus on ensuring credible news reaches out to the public with impartiality and objectivity
Role of media in contemporary Indian democracy
Media is the “fourth estate” of democracy and it plays a pivotal role in ensuring justice and benefits of the government policies reach the interior sections of the society. They act as a chain between the government and the citizens of the country, people have faith in media as it has an impact on the audience. The changing dynamics of Indian politics has increased people’s expectation from media as in this phase of transition, it is pretty easy to believe in a particular belief.
The older generation of the country is still fixated on tradition and culture, while the present-day youth is more interested in the fast-moving world of technology and social media. Thus, it becomes important for media to ensure that the information that they are broadcasting should not be a biased or tampered in a way to boost the channels TRP.