Responsibility V/s Freedom in the Media

Posted on April 4, 2010 in Media

Mireille Rodrigues:

How do we view the role of media in everyday life? Is it something that we admire and strive to emulate? Is it something to deplore about? Is it a reality check into lifestyles today? It obviously means something different to each of us. The media’s portrayal of anything can open the doors to instant fame and fortune or instant denial and downfall. Which brings us to the question, “Do media persons owe a responsibility to the public to control expression in their films?”

Of course, the limits of expression can be applied to all fields, not just filmmaking, or journalism, or news reporting. Almost every profession has scope for personal character to shine through the exterior. Managers, who have become successful, often let their charisma boost the morale of their employees. A sports coach or the captain of a team shows his dedication during team workouts and during the game itself to inspire the other members. The delicacy and expertise of a surgeon’s finger is necessary during most operations. And every teacher has his or her own method of imparting knowledge or wisdom to children. In the same way, the media is able to influence the public with their rendition of the truth, art, life etc. Filmmakers have a heavier impact, a larger appeal and have easily been more permanent through the generations.

Movies have a pretty wide influence. For example, many people protested when “Jodha Akbar,” supposedly hurt their personal interest. 2009’s “Precious” was a smack of reality in the face of other high budget films. Most movies reach out to all sections of society, class, religion, and region regardless. Cinemas are an ideal venue for promotion of public awareness advertisements, in India at least. The Government screened advertisements related to terrorism in the wake of terror attacks. During the Swine Flu outbreak, they concentrated on education about public hygiene. While other issues such as women safety, pick pocketing, corruption and so on are yet to be addressed satisfactorily, it cannot be denied that whatever issues have been covered have had a moderate impact.

The Indian Film Industry is the largest in the world, releasing the maximum number of movies every year — movies that influence their audience. Yet, with such a large volume, how many of society’s ills are focused upon? And, to what scale? It is also to be noted that the public’s interpretation of this art is highly dependent on culture and tradition, other media forms, peer influence and so called modernism. Is the correct representation lost in all the different mindsets?

Taking into consideration this often-gullible state of mind of the community, those in the media are capable of moulding the public outlook to that of their own. And, the media’s liberty lies in the hands of the few individuals who have the means to express themselves in an appropriate avatar. Many struggling filmmakers who make films on issues that matter to them have to just get lucky to hit the red carpet. Sensationalism can affect the public very drastically, so is it fair to say that those in the media field are also swayed and that this reflects in their work and from there back to an even greater following? If true, should filmmakers act more responsibly in a mere attempt to steer the public to the right path as opposed to the popular route? Maybe, it is sometimes a war between portraying a so-called ideal representation of society against introducing the public to drastic and often alien concepts in the sheer hope of attracting controversy (read fame.)

But, one can swing the argument back to expression of character in ones work by arguing that their art is an expression of themselves. And, many take their art seriously. Shouldn’t artists stick to what they can do well and how they do it? Media attention has often done well in some instances of obtaining justice for women, clearing pending criminal cases and raising political awareness. Besides which, certain issues can only seem relevant at an appropriate time. Who is to judge exactly what is good for the society? Moreover, on what grounds should this judgment be done?

The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.