The Responsibility Of The Fourth Estate Versus Its Power

Posted on January 21, 2013 in Media

By Manika Jain:

Media has always been accused of deteriorating news coverage. With the advent of the era of numerous 24×7 news channels, cheap newspapers, blogs and e-subscriptions; the competition has become dirty, the ultimate victim being the quality and reliability of news coverage.


Like a lot of other things in India, private news channels came into existence after the liberation, privatisation and globalisation policy of the government. With more competitors came more challenges, the foremost being getting most sponsorship which directly depends on viewership. Similarly, highly competitive nature in print media began when Hindustan Times brought down its cost to Rupees 2 and hence other newspapers had to follow the trend. In times of everything getting ‘e’ and the advent of widespread internet journalism in form of numerous blogs and newsletters, the competition has become stiffer.

Though competition is good, but in case of media, it has resulted in a disaster as sensationalising the news has become more important than the quality of news coverage. What followed were several cases of media using sensitive issues to create ‘Breaking news’. Thus, when journalists find a story that has some potential of attaching public sentiments, they would pack it in a fancy wrapping and broadcast it. They did sting operations, their own trials and had their own version of stories which was and is still labelled as public sentiment and public opinion; because unfortunately we live in a century where protests of a few thousands coming over on call of unelected and unrepresented civilians from amongst a population of millions becomes the ‘aam aadmi ki awaaz’ (voice of the common man).

What can be done now? Where do we go? The absence of media is not even a remote possibility. Media is the carrier of happenings around the world and is the only medium through which public sentiments can be let out. The question that matters is what can be termed as public opinion? Who is responsible for forming it? What is the authentic force behind generating it?

The concerns for media censorship have been widespread, but is it feasible? Don’t 1976 emergency experiences ring enough bells? Another solution was formation of the Press Club of India, but the guidelines have again resulted in failure because if Press Club guidelines are to be followed in letter and spirit, then no piece of information can be made public.

The solution is with journalists- who have the sole responsibility of keeping the integrity and respect for their profession. Media has been labelled as the fourth estate, but they have failed to realise that with great power comes greater responsibility. The rate of media trial and sting operations has been catastrophic and has led to various misguided interpretations, value judgements and biased perspectives by public.

Also an important concern here is that media has become irresponsible because it is unaccountable. Years back when Mr. Nehru was the Prime Minister, he tried to bring in laws for media accountability (and readers please take note that media accountability does not mean media governance). The bill proposed that whatever is published in media cannot be anonymous and considering today’s scenario, it can be assumed that such laws would have helped the nation a great deal during its formative years after independence.

At the same time, I would like to point out that I am in no way suggesting curtailing freedom of speech or denying the importance of media. It is an undeniable fact that media has done commendable work in bringing to light scams (like 3 G scam, Aadarsh Society scam, CWG scam) and misrepresentations (like the claims of Delhi Police that a constable died because of being assaulted by protesters at India Gate). But I also urge everyone not to forget the case of the Zee editors. Thus, even though journalism needs to be protected under the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression but it also needs to act upon its duty of responsible journalism.