Before the year 1992 there used to be some sort of stock market manipulation within the Bombay Stock Exchange. The clever and four front traders used to alter the prices of stocks by either bulk buying or by creating an environment where other traders used to buy and the prices gets higher. This manipulation was continued and in the year 1992 the biggest scam of the Indian stock market the Harshad Mehta scam came into the picture. Thereafter, the organization whose foundation was laid down in the year 1988 was made fully functional and operational in the year 1992 and granted administrative and legislative powers. SEBI acted as the “strict watchdog” to stop stock market manipulation and other unethical and corrupt practices in the Indian stock market. Today we need a Watchdog to curb the unethical practices in the Media.
Today we are in a phase where we see that as a citizen, we cannot have faith in the news we are watching or the text we are reading on our phones. In the year 2019, A Research by Oxford University researchers found that India is among the nations which is involved in organized manipulation of social media platforms, the news spread over it, along with its counterpart nations like Russia, Saudi Arabia, China, Venezuela, Pakistan and Iran. In the same year two researchers from New York University Rozenas & Stukal published a paper in the Journal of Politics which clearly emphasized and documented that in Russia mainstream television, which is mostly under the state control, censor economic facts and especially in those cases when these facts are unfavourable to the ruling government. Economist Sergei Guriev and Daniel Treisman wrote an article titled “Informational Autocrats” which was published in Journal of Economic Perspectives supported the findings by saying in their conclusion that today the economies are not run by dictators but in contrast today leaders used to act as modern-day authoritarian and they rule by projecting and demonstrating a ‘Facade of Democracy’. This fallacy is created by putting a censorship over the private media and supporting propaganda journalism.
Role of Media and Free-Press
Media serves as the 4th pillar of a democratic society apart from Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. The role of media is to raise the concern of the people living in a democratic society and this is why it's important that the media should be independent and free from any executive pressure. But in today's world this seems like a Utopian society, and in a real world the role of media has not remained idealized anymore and now and then, the citizen feel that this fourth pillar is not working and performing its duty in an unbiased manner. In the developed economies like USA, Great Britain and Europe, we found that there is more sophistication in media and the reporting standard is quite fair. USA has always been known for its strong organizations that work and perform their responsible duties. The propaganda journalism and news manipulation are less in these highly developed economies in comparison to personalized, polarized, radical and developing nations with the existence of non-liberal thoughts.
These facts are evident from the World Press Freedom Index 2020 which reports the top 3 nations in this regard are Norway, Finland and Denmark, and the worst three nations include Eritrea Turkmenistan and North Korea. The report ranks 180 nations of the world among which China comes at 177, Saudi Arabia at 170, Singapore at 158, Russia at 149, Pakistan at 145, and India at 142. These evident the nature of media and culture of journalism, or say, ‘manipulated journalism’ in these nations. The countries like Bhutan, South Africa, Lebanon, Kenya, Malaysia and Ukraine, all are placed much above than India. In that list America stands at 45th position, New Zealand at 9th , Canada at 16th , Australia at 26, Spain at 29, and United Kingdom at 35. All these facts and figures are enough to evident that all those economies which are developed today are not because of manipulated media but by saying the truth and correct and questioning the wrong and defect. The developing economies have to understand that concealing the fact is not the way to deal with the issues but by countering them we can conquer and make our economy a developed economy, a better place to live in and a true freedom of expression. Any government of any country is formed for the basic purpose of running the nation for its natives. It is formed by the people and for the people. If it is not a democracy then it may be possible that it is not formed by the people but the clause ‘for the people’ cannot be deleted whether it is Autocracy or Democracy. When a government wants to work for its country there can be multiple line of action and process of thinking and all can be correct in one or the other way. But the question here is that what path do the government chooses and whether the chosen path is in line with what the citizens aspire or it's just a fulfilment of the propaganda of the government. If it is not so and the government is trying to be an autocrat in the fake face of democracy then there arises the role of the media to act as the voice of the democracy and the people living in that society. The only voice that reaches and that acts as a bridge between the citizen and its government is the media and that is why media should be unbiased an uninclined otherwise the voice that is traveling from one side to the other will fall in between the bridge. The true concern will never be raised and the purpose of democracy could not be fulfilled and without developing your countrymen any nation in the entire world cannot be termed as developed as it can never be developed. The top list of World Press Freedom Index is an evident proof of this. The development of the Human Resource is the development of the nation.
Media Regulations and the need of a Watchdog
Media regulations in India are not much legislative and regulatory in nature, in fact we can say that the Indian media is mostly Self-regulated. Although there are bodies that serves as the supervisor of the media houses, but a strict a powerful regulator lacks its position. India has Press Council of India (PCI) which was established in the year 1978 and fulfils the purpose of maintaining the standards of newspapers and preserving the press freedom, but television media and radio media do not come under the purview of PCI. Print media can be vested with some faith but television media has certainly lost its reputation. In print media we can find big media houses like The Indian Express, The Hindu, Hindustan times, The Telegraph, Deccan Herald and Times of India. These are the well-known reputed newspapers of our country. Their news and reports find its place on the international platforms and their cited with well reference.
Television media has a different world within itself and they’re in anyway not at par with the print media. In the name of regulation India has Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, 1995 and a body known as Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) but CBFC governs the content of movies and television shows but journalistic conduct and news channels do not come under its purview. We also have Broadcasting Contents and Complaints Council. But a regulatory body like CBFC or PCI does not exist for regulating the news television channels which are watched in the same line as an entertainment channel. So, we can regulate an entertainment channel whose purpose is to provide only entertainment and it has nothing to do with the real life of the people but we cannot regulate the news channels which are directly linked with the living society of the people of this nation.
As said, Indian media is mostly self-regulated and therefore, we have News Broadcasters Association (NBA). NBA has a Code of Ethics to provide a guideline to the television news content. NBA has empowered News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) to warn, admonish, censure, express disapproval and find the broadcaster for the violation of the code. Another guideline providing organization is Broadcast Editors Association and not only media but advertisements are also regulated by Advertising Standards Council of India. All these organizational groups are governed only by agreements and contracts and they do not have any statutory powers.
A recent case was heard by the Supreme Court of India by a 3-judge bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud. The case was of a news channel named ‘Sudarshan TV’ which under it's one of the programs equated the joining of Muslims in the civil services with ‘infiltration’ and ‘jihad’. The justice asked the government to report an answer on the need of regulating electronic medias. It was discovered that the government had earlier allowed Sudarshan TV to air the show with a warning only that it should not violate the programming code encoded for the television under the Cable Television Network Rules 1994.
These are only the guidelines and not statutory law. In the case of Sudarshan TV, The NBA had requested to the Supreme Court to grant legal recognition to NBSA so that all the news channels irrespective of the membership should follow its guidelines and directives along with imposing penalties for any breach. The code of ethics devised by NBA is not included under the Program Code of Cable Television Network Rules 1994 and in this regard, NBA has filed an affidavit into the court.
A top news TV executive said in an interview published in a media report that all news TV licenses must be subjected to signing up to being supervised by an independent regulatory authority on the lines of “Ofcom” (Office of Communications) which is the government approved regulatory and competition authority for broadcasting and telecommunications sector in Great Britain. It does not contain any ‘opt out’ clause and the same line authority is required to be established in India also.
Article, Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/1995/05/why-the-news-is-not-the-truth
2020 Media Rankings, https://rsf.org/en/ranking_table
Media Regulation, PRS India, https://www.prsindia.org/hi/theprsblog/regulation-media-india-brief-overview
The author of this post is Shashank Prakash Srivastav (a student at DAV PG College, BHU)
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.