Is there a need for strict watchdog to stop manipulation by journalism?

[1]Walter Cronkite rightly said that “the role of a journalist is to tell people what they need to know, not what they want to know”. India is a country where 77.7% are literate, they know how to read and write and can make out the difference between right and wrong. Journalism and media have become the fourth pillar of democracy and the role of journalism has now become a profession of unveiling truth and bringing facts in front of people. The main reason why media and journalism has attracted so many spotlights in recent years is the freedom of speech and independence of media from any governmental influence. It was because of this freedom of speech and press that journalism became an open platform to debate on various political and social topics and unveil the truth in front of people, without any governmental pressure.

Journalism has been a respectful profession and not just a game of mud splashing and money making, it is a source of information for the people belonging to that nation. It should be so today as well as tomorrow. Journalism informs society about itself and makes public aware that which would otherwise be private. Journalism plays a vital role in society. Different journalists have different viewpoints, some say that it is important to go in depth of the issue and trace back its history, while others say that it is not important to know the history of power and authority however only to put the fact as it is in real is foremost important.

It has been a painstaking process to free journalism from the hands of political influence which can be found in history. One can trace the history and the developments made in order to attain Freedom of Speech, Press and Writing, when John Milton in his [2]Areopagitica, presented his argument and defended the idea of writing such a treatise. He compliments England for having overcome the tyranny of Charles I and the prelates, but his purpose is to voice his grievances. Milton defends this purpose, holding that to bring forth complaints before the Parliament is a matter of civil liberty and loyalty, because constructive criticism is better than false flattery. He concludes his introduction by encouraging Parliament to obey "the voice of reason" and to be "willing to repeal any Act" for the sake of truth and upright judgment, which can be found in impartial and unbiased journalism. According to the treatise journalism should be free from any political and social influence. In the same way, during the British rule in India, there was a strict watchdog on the pamphlets and articles published by Indians under the Vernacular Press Act. They kept a strict eye on whatever was being published in order to avoid any uprising against the British rule. Everything was published according to a set of rules and regulations in order to prevent circulating inaccurate data, media bias and disinformation across the subcontinent. This type of watchdog only gives one sided information.

In the 21st century, media constitutes the 4th pillar of democracy. It plays an important role in keeping democracy alive and thriving. The role of the media is vital as a watchdog for uncovering errors and wrongdoings in the democracy. [3]The Press Freedom Index, released by Reporters without Borders in 2019, ranked India 140 out of 180 countries. This reflects less freedom to media in the country impacting its role as a watchdog.

In today's scenario, a watchdog is necessary in journalism because many authors and intellectuals explained that media bias is methodical, persistent unbalance in mainstream news coverage for the purpose of influencing opinion on major issues. This perhaps essays the essence of the large sections of Indian Media, which proudly exercise its propaganda. There is no objective truth but a lot of malice, there is no accountability but to serve the regime. This crisis of Indian media in writing a new history that recommends the death of critical journalism with constant manufactured opinion and no accountability is a matter of concern. Media as propaganda is quite inherent to its functioning but this nakedness of representing the regimes’ voice against the objective truth is killing Indian democracy all in the name of freedom of the press. This crisis has ceased to become a disease now. News Anchors have become Judge and pass their judgment shamelessly without any ethical consideration. This making of new history is to make people consumers than citizens whose only job is to remain a passive entity. It is eroding India’s democratic credentials. News has lost it worthiness and the priorities are shifted from people to serve the regime and its supported business houses that control and set the agenda, all in the name of freedom of the press. Many instances of media biases can be found in India, like journalist Arnab Goswami, the famous channel head of Republic T. V., talks about nepotism but has made his wife the head of news production and editor's head; when a bill is passed the audience has Sudheer Chaudhary and Ravish Kumar (Zee News) to discuss about the pros and cons of the bill. [4]In the history of scams in India, the Niira Radia tapes will be remembered as an episode that didn’t just cause embarrassment to the then ruling coalition, the UPA, but also cast a shadow on journalistic ethics, especially when eliciting information is the only concern, with no thought given to the means of doing the same.

In some of the most influential democracies in the world, large segments of the population are no longer receiving unbiased news and information. This is not because journalists are being thrown in jail, as might occur in authoritarian settings. Instead, the media have fallen prey to more nuanced efforts to throttle their independence. Common methods include government-backed ownership changes, regulatory and financial pressure, and public denunciations of honest journalists. Governments have also offered proactive support to friendly outlets through measures such as lucrative state contracts, favourable regulatory decisions, and preferential access to state information. The goal is to make the press serve those in power rather than the public.

The problem has arisen in tandem with right-wing populism, which has undermined basic freedoms in many democratic countries. Populist leaders present themselves as the defenders of an aggrieved majority against liberal elites and ethnic minorities whose loyalties they question, and argue that the interests of the nation—as they define it—should override democratic principles like press freedom, transparency, and open debate.

India, the world’s most populous democracy, is also sending signals that holding the government accountable is not part of the press’s responsibility. [5]The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has supported campaigns to discourage speech that is “antinational,” and government-aligned thugs have raided critical journalists’ homes and offices. The media have become widely flattering of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who won re-election, amid allegations that the government issues directives on how the press should cover his activities and intimidates journalists who push back. The government has also been selective in the allocation of television licenses, effectively excluding unfriendly outlets from the airwaves.

Nowadays, social media have become a crucial part of the modern media ecosystem. They dramatically expand access to information and freedom of expression, and in repressive and troubled countries they remain a lifeline to journalists, activists, and ordinary citizens attempting to exercise their democratic rights. Rather than surrendering these services to the malevolent forces that have exploited their weaknesses, democracies must fight back in a way that is consistent with their own long-standing values.

India is the biggest democracy in the world and the press and media play an important role in keeping the democracy thriving. Media should be neutral in airing views, as it is a vital link between government and Indian citizens. Media is thus necessary for smooth functioning of democracy. But if media only becomes corrupt, airs biased news and information then who is going to keep a strict watchdog on the same. Hence a strict watchdog is necessary in journalism to avoid persuasion of news in a discreet manner.

[1] Walter Cronkite, an American broadcast journalist who served as anchor-man for the CBS Evening News for 19 years. / [2] Areopagitica; A speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing, to the Parliament of England [3] [4] [5]

The author of this post is Sugandha Khera (a student at Dayalbagh Educational Institution, Agra)

The views expressed in this article belong to the author/s and do not necessarily reflect those of the JEC Blog. We welcome comments and contributions to this blog – please comment below.

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