The media, widely referred to as the fourth pillar of democracy has not remained unsullied in this age of cult politics. From newspapers to television; each organisation has its own star journalists. The current scenario is in stark contrast to the earlier age where ground reporting was considered momentous and more efforts were paid to keep the cameras towards the public. Each channel is blowing its own trumpet of success, ostensibly flashing its soaring TRPs. The purpose of having a so-called ‘Newshour’ seems to have digressed from the issues concerning the public to being about every news channel having the best team of journalists who can continue shouting for hours uninterruptedly. Rather than having cogent debates on real issues, the media in the recent times has tried to build public perception by evoking emotions and sentiments.
In addition to this, there has been a tremendous amount of polarisation in the media fraternity. The idea of journalism lies in neutrality. However, in recent times, specifically after the JNU incident on February 9, 2016, there has been a clear manifestation of collision between ideologies and moral ethics of journalism. This collision has resulted in an unprecedented division between the so-called ‘nationalist’ media and the intellectual media. It is true that neutrality shouldn’t come at the cost of being truthful, but for a healthy democracy, it is fundamental to recognise the presence of a grey area between black and white. Journalism’s agenda is based on the art of asking questions and not supporting the prevalent narrative. For example, it’s fine to support the Indian army. Yet, it should not mean that it is above criticism. Alteration in the way of reporting to build a perception changes with the ebb and flow of state politics and power. But never before has history witnessed this much political divide in the media.
Questioning the government is seen in a bad light these days. Retorts, especially from the ministers clearly indicates this. For example, take this. “We should stop this habit of raising doubts and questioning the authorities and the police. This is not a good culture. What we are observing in India is that people have developed this habit of raising unnecessary doubts and questions. Facts will come out.” These were the words of Kiren Rijiju, minister of state for home when he was asked questions on the Bhopal jailbreak. Not only this. When Smriti Irani was asked to comment on the issue of demonetisation by Rajdeep Sardesai, she said, “Rajdeep, the whole world knows that I do not speak to you much and I am surprised that Rajdeep Sardesai is stalking a woman.” The journalist replied, “But ma’am, I am just asking you a question.” In both these cases, the signal is loud and clear: do not question. The act of denigrating media organisations is a worrying proposition if it persists. Especially for those honest journalists who try to unearth the facts and put the issues of concern before the public.
On the other hand, India holds a bad reputation when it comes to press freedom. According to the 2016 ‘World Press Freedom Index’ released by Reporters without Borders (RSF), India ranks abysmally low at 133 among 180 countries. The report stated, “Journalists and bloggers are attacked and anathematised by various religious groups that are quick to take offence.” Without mentioning any particular incident, the report chastised the Modi government and stated, “Instead, in a desire to increase control of media coverage, Modi envisages opening a journalism university run by former propaganda ministry officials.”
Such reports and statements by the ministers undoubtedly point out the need of such a media which is unbiased, neutral but truthful. Most importantly, a media which questions everything rising above the sphere of political influence. The need of freedom is urgent. I’d like to quote Rivera Sun: “A freedom given up is not so easily regained.”