By Shareen Sharma:
The meaning of media might not change over the decades but its objectives and tools have progressed owing to major transformations in society pertaining to economic, political, technological, social as well as ideological changes. Media is idolised as the fourth pillar of democracy but the content and structure of media till date is far from being free of constraints and restrictions of powerful institutions.
Like most other major introductions, media was introduced through the British colonisers. The Bengal Gazette by Augustus Hicky was the first newspaper published in India and Hicky had to face jail time and monetary fine from his own statehood partners as a result of expressing his views. This was the first step of journalism in India and it paved the way towards media playing a vital role in the Indian fight for freedom, social reform, emancipation and for the first time, unity of an institution called India. Raja Ram Mohan, Gandhi, Nehru utilised the tools of media to bring Indian citizens together breeding the idea of Nationalism. Prior to independence, media was an asset to India as it brought the diverse population under one umbrella.
Post independence and post the emergency crisis in India, media transformed from a public asset of free speech and opinion to a constrained tool under the invisible claws of the rich and powerful. With no laws pertaining to multiple and cross-ownership of media platforms, foundations like Bennett Coleman & Company Ltd and Zee monopolised the economy influencing the public greatly. As the media institutions focused more on profit than their initial objective of disclosing truthful information, media became an industry.
2009 elections witnessed the large scale practice of undisclosed ‘paid news’. Unfortunately, this practice continues in contemporary times and it is difficult to trust the news anymore. As major political parties and corporates have identified the key role that media plays in influencing the public, they are ready to pay more for more space and the media is ready to sell more for more price. Media today varies from traditional, non-conventional and experimental means of dissemination of information. The moment role of media as a defender and upholder of public interest relegates to the background; its commercial persona takes over.
While there still remains few media institutions that function independently, these numbers are not good enough for the largest democracy in the world. Even though media is self-regulated in India, it is not a just and free platform yet as media has transformed from being a social organisation to an industry.