The Fifth Estate of The Indian Democracy
The fifth estate or mass media is the most glorified institution of modern democracies. In most such democracies, including our own, media not only upholds the “right of free expression” but also thereby, acts as the biggest resource for information and communication. What we read in the newspapers or watch on television or even the kind of movies we watch have an immense influence on how we learn to perceive the world around us. So, it would only be fair to consider that in a modern democracy, mass media is a huge force which has the capacity of upholding or breaking beliefs, forming public opinion on various matters, creating grounds for protests or uprisings and hence, in a way, the power to decide the course of the populace.
Yes, sure our government is the one which forms and implements policies and ensures justice but media is what has the power to hold them accountable and inform them of the public opinion. Without it, the government runs the risk of resorting to draconian methods and be completely ignorant or ill-informed of what the people of the country want.
But like any other resource which exudes such power, media also runs the great risk of using this power against the people. With the heavy information overload in this century, it is nearly impossible for us to decide on our which news is actually real and which is not. The government may use media to put up a good face in front of the people and give them a hope of false security. Also, nowadays, it is not uncommon to find the “entertainment” news occupying as much space (if, not more) in a newspaper as the usual affairs. People tend to think that what media report is important.
For years, the media denied the phenomena of “global warming” and mocked any activist who showed evidence to the contrary. It led to years of delay to create public awareness about it or implement regulatory pollution laws. It was only in the eighties due to the efforts of some researchers that the truth came to limelight. Now, looking back at the chain of events, many people speculate that maybe the media was just serving the rich oil and coal corporations while carefully dissolving the public’s interest.
Mass media also remains a great tool for politicians to spread their own agenda. If a certain political party in power constantly preaches religious fundamentalism through the new channels, social media, and newspapers, it is obvious to create an Islamophobic atmosphere. The “freedom of expression” here is misused by the powerful to serve their own purpose while sidelining public opinion. During elections, though the media should remain impartial and report in an unbiased way, it is common to come across flashy, first page ads with a politician’s deceptively amiable face every day! And then there is the misinformation communicated about international affairs. From constant, unreasonable threats of a possible Chinese invasion to presenting our government’s “favorite” countries in the best possible light, our media fails miserably when it comes down to reporting from the overseas.
There was a time when media became a tool for our Independence movement. After Independence, it was a medium to spread information about various policies and even health and education and to discuss these matters with varied opinions via television, radio and newspapers. It was due to this mass media that some very tragic incidents were reported and the legislature was pressurized to uphold justice. A media, which does not take a side and acts as an abundant source of truthfully communicated news and ideas and allows for a more variety of opinions, is an indispensable need for our nation. Sure, censoring a person’s views is never a solution but preventing a person with contrary views to express them should not happen either. And in the matters of reporting the news, a braver generation of journalists who refuse to hide the “other” side of the story will go a long way in creating a better informed and a more just and compassionate society. Hence, it is about time that the powerful and influential controllers of media also acknowledge the responsibilities and duties that come with it.