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EXPLORING THE FAULT LINES OF CONTEMPORARY INDIAN MEDIA

Author: Riddhi Joshi, I year of B.A. Political Science Honours from Rajasthan University


Journalism, though not formally a part of a political system, wields enormous power in society concerning how and what kind of information is accessed by its members. The reportage not only informs the public but also shapes their perceptions about events and issues of national and local importance as well as the government in the Centre. This is why it is called the ‘fourth estate’ [1] or the ‘fourth pillar of democracy’ [2] in countries where the representative government has power.

In India, the media can digitize, so the speed is getting faster and the market is getting bigger, but the quality of news remains poor.

Inadequate coverage of issues faced by north-eastern states and cultural & religious minorities neglects the pluralist nature of Indian society. India is not just about Delhi and Hinduism as some prime time debates and front pages of newspapers suggest. It has religious, cultural and regional diversity that makes India truly incredible. Underrepresentation of minority issues is something that needs to be rectified to end alienation and ensure equitable development through adequate national exposure.

Furthermore, media outlets survive and thrive on advertisement revenue and the revenue increases with an increase in their viewership. So it is quite certain that these channels will go to great lengths to grab eyeballs and when they do, basic principles of ethical journalism get compromised.

As the competition between media houses have significantly increased, they often resort to sensationalism to garner the loyalty of their viewers or attract new subscribers. There are three commonly adopted ways to sensationalize news stories.

First, journalists tend to over-report disasters. The death case of Sushant Singh Rajput suddenly became a ‘national issue’ [3] being discussed in prime time debates and the elimination of nepotism became the sine qua non to save the country. Such over-reporting neglects the real issues like falling GDP and unemployment [4] which affects the life of a common man to a much greater extent than nepotism in an industry which does not include even 10% of Indians.

Second, some news channels disseminate fake news [5] and twist facts and present them as ‘new or exclusive’ developments first reported by them. The worst part is, oftentimes, they don’t even bother to correct their mistakes.

Third, media houses are increasingly promoting celebrity culture merely because celebrities are a profitable fit for human interest stories as they amass huge viewership. Who the top actress is currently dating is quicker to become a news story than a woman who survived witch-hunt and is ready to report the crime.

Hence, sensationalism has deeply impacted the contemporary media for the worse. Furthermore, one should note that the contemporary media is indirectly controlled and in some cases directly owned by political parties and big corporate houses ranging from telecommunications to pharmaceuticals [6]. With the independence of the media put under lockdown, journalists have stopped asking difficult questions and restrain from constructively criticizing the government. Self-censorship due to ‘media capture’ [7] is visible. Lack of adequate public funded media outlets allows vested interests to dominate the news agencies and disable its rudimentary function of being the voice of the people.


The ill-effects of such control is a proliferation of hate speech, limits on public dissent, rants aimed at particular political leaders and news anchors turning the mouthpiece of government to manipulate public opinion and glorifying particular party ideologies. Hyper-commercialism or the excessive use of mercantilism in media to obtain success and profit is just another obvious consequence. Internet and social media bans, by the government, are the worst attacks on press freedom which create an atmosphere of dictatorship in the whole country.

The few journalists who are committed towards their duty and present real ground reports and conduct sting operations despite facing indirect financial pressures and almost no professional support are often defamed, legally tortured or killed. The 142nd rank bagged by India out of the total 180 countries in 2020 World Press Freedom Index [8] compiled by Reporters Sans Frontier (RSF) only proves that the Indian media is in dire straits.

Last but not the least, as the internet is becoming more easily accessible, some responsible citizens are fighting paid news to get rational discourse in the room. However, while citizen journalism is the bright side of technology, the massive and frequent violation of Intellectual Property Rights is the dark side. Big media houses sometimes copy articles and headlines from small websites without giving credits to the original publisher. This plagiarism often goes unchecked and discourages new entrants from actively participating in media affairs.

The fundamental principles of journalism, such as verification, objectivity, originality, completeness, transparency and fairness are so blatantly compromised by the contemporary media that it forces one to believe that the idea of media as the ‘watchdog of democracy’ is noble but impracticable and unrealistic, for the time being.

Endnotes:

1. “Fourth Estate.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Sept. 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_Estate

2. Agrawal, Shivansh. “Media: Fourth Pillar Of Democracy.” Legal Service India - Law, Lawyers and Legal Resources, Legal Service India, www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-3487-media-fourth-pillar-of-democracy.html.

3. “Sushant Death Not a National Issue: Singer and BJP Member Anup Jalota - Times of India.” The Times of India, The Times of India, 12 Oct. 2020, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/tv/news/hindi/sushant-death-not-a-national-issue-singer-and-bjp-member-anup-jalota/articleshow/78602149.cms#:~:text=%22The%20Sushant%20Singh%20Rajput%20and,roads%20to%20protest%20against%20it.

4. Shukla, Srijan. “Not Sushant Singh Rajput, Not Rhea Chakraborty. It's the Economy, Stupid.” ThePrint, The Print, 5 Sept. 2020, https://theprint.in/opinion/newsmaker-of-the-week/not-sushant-singh-rajput-not-rhea-chakraborty-its-the-economy-stupid/496260/

5. Sebastian, Meryl. “Aaj Tak Fined Rs 1 Lakh For Telecasting Fake Sushant Tweets; Zee News, News 24 Directed To Apologise.” HuffPost India, HuffPost India, 8 Oct. 2020, https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/sushant-singh-rajput-coverage-aaj-tak-zee-news-nbsa-order_in_5f7eb54dc5b600470a97bc66

6. “Media Ownership Monitor: Who Owns the Media in India?: Reporters without Borders.” RSF, Reporters Sans Frontiers, 31 May 2019, https://rsf.org/en/news/media-ownership-monitor-who-owns-media-india

7. Schiffrin, Anya. “Government and Corporations Hinder Journalists with 'Media Capture'.” Columbia Journalism Review, Columbia Journalism Review, 29 Aug. 2017, https://www.cjr.org/watchdog/media-capture.php

8. PTI. “India Ranks 142nd on Global Press Freedom Index.” The Economic Times, Economic Times, 22 Apr. 2020, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/india-ranks-142nd-on-global-press-freedom-index/articleshow/75279460.cms