The Power of Media in Our Democracy: Is It Excessive?

Posted on May 13, 2012 in Media

By Girija S. Semuwal:

It may not necessarily be viewed like this. But the recent trend of Indian news media making headlines and becoming an issue of debate and discussion in itself raises a very obvious question in my mind: Is the media in India exercising inordinate power?

The answer ought to be a “yes” and as far as I see only our media fraternity might have some dispute with this. But their self-righteousness is only a facade, an outwardly show of ethics and integrity. Arguments to this end are only politically correct and defensive; they do little to hide the overwhelming position of power the mainstream media currently enjoy within our democracy. Most journalists relish this elevated status vis-à-vis the rest of the citizenry and if one is an insider to the profession, he or she would tell you the real plus-point of being in it.

How else do we explain the fact, that the Indian judiciary and the Indian media, two pillars of our democracy, which ought to be on the same side for having a propensity for justice, are somewhat caught in antagonistic tendencies? At a deeper level, aren’t recent events like the so-called Judicial ‘gag orders’ proposing restrictions on media reporting on certain issues or matters of public importance, the SC’s decision to formulate guidelines on court reporting and the constant allegation of trial by media (or “prosecution” by media) symptomatic of judiciary taking suo moto cognizance of the unchecked influence of media?

Notwithstanding the supremacy of the judiciary, the media object and rebut any comment from the court regarding their operations and state-of-affairs citing freedom of speech and expression. But freedom of speech and expression is hardly the point. Ideological clashes often occur when the balance of power begins to get disturbed.

The recent “troop movement” story published by The Indian Express was met with sharp criticism not just by the political and legal classes but by a large section of the media fraternity as well. This ‘loosely-written report’ with ample scope for drawing implications – to be read between the lines — drew a lot of flak for depicting a major confrontation between the government and leadership of the Indian army.

That it “undermines democratic institutions” was an allegation one would have normally expected, but here the issue became “endangering national security”. Again, whether it was within the purview of constitutional rights is not the point. Rather, it can be seen as an extreme case of media phenomena that floated in the news-space for a while and then died down without being called anything more than “alarmist”.

Nothing really happened that can foreclose the possibility of a media event of a similar scale from recurring. The report, a risky endeavour even by journalistic standards, could happen only because the media know that they are in a position of power within our democracy that can’t be undermined. Eventually, all reactions will wither away and the status quo will always remain. Whether or not the pen is actually mightier than the sword, the media are definitely a part of the establishment, a part of the network of power that dominates.