Today we live in hard times. The society is apparently divided between two extremes – the bhakts and the critics. So is the media. Earlier it was said about the media that when it was asked to bend, it crawled. Today, it moves further and follows the traditional ‘shastanga pranam’ or falls flat on the ground, when asked to follow in line.
It is unfortunately true that the media has lost its backbone. There is no middle ground for the media; and if at all any media person chooses to follow a middle path, he is branded as a ‘fence-sitter’. Ideally, a journalist should have been like a judge who (though today sometimes we feel that the judiciary too is compromised) will decide or write according to facts or evidence. But the media today is full of opinion or bias and very little news based on facts. In difficult times like the present one when what we needed more was factual reporting, media unfortunately has fallen into the trap which the politicians wanted the media to be in – just a tool for the party’s propaganda.
Since the liberalisation of the 1990s, Indian society and politics have been changing very fast; so has been the media. Making more money was the rule of the day; so marketing ambitions of the media houses overthrew the editorial discipline of journalism. Many of the backroom boys of journalism along with their owners wanted to join direct politics. Some of them did, and in the process, destroyed media ethics. Once in the chair of a judge, he cannot turn into a lawyer again and argue for a particular case. A judge is no judge if he is prone to take sides. The journalists started running after glamour; and thereby hangs a tale. Most television anchors have turned into spokespersons. They give opinions; don’t report news.
Today’s social media has further mixed up the language of journalism. The unverified information of twitter, facebook, whatsapp, youtube has become the source of news. The rigour of a seasoned journalist demands one to go through a check and recheck process and write ‘both sides of the view’ which is lost forever. The politician takes the advantage of the social media (and he has every right to do so) to promote himself and his party. Like any other ‘citizen’ journalist, the inmates of the established media houses too very often believe the content and print it or put it on air, without taking the trouble of verifying the source.
In this troubled era, it is perhaps time the media take a serious relook at itself. The attempts of the political parties to polarise the country for their voting advantage are already being resisted by the new generation. The IITs, the major universities are in turmoil protesting with the Indian Constitution in hand. This is a new form of non-violent movement with no political leader or party at the forefront.
The younger participants want no discrimination on religious or caste lines. They want justice and freedom. These are terms borrowed straight from the constitution.
Media now need to speak the reality, without fear. Article 19 gives it the authority of ‘freedom of speech’; it is not to be misused for giving biased opinion. The worst sin is deliberate mixing of news with opinion. This is disinformation. If political parties create ‘fake news’ it is not the function of the media to amplify or promote it. It's time media put its foot down and go back to their traditional ethics of objectivity. It's time they regains their status of a fourth estate.