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Welcome To A World Of Truth And Lies: The Frustrating Situation Of Indian Media

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“Freedom of press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy,” said Walter Cronkite, the ex-journalist who was cited as the most trusted man in America during the ’60s and ’70s. There is no denying the fact that freedom of press is one of the most vital components of a genuine democratic set up. Authoritarianism not only flourishes through stifling opposition but also by suppressing information. Now, let’s think of a democratic system where the media is entrusted with absolute freedom of expression. Is that the happy ending to the story? Perhaps not. The simple reason behind it is that it only generates further questions. Is our media credible enough? Does it reflect genuine public concerns? What is the extent of accuracy our media has? Does it inform and educate the masses in an unbiased way?

Let’s scrutinise the whole issue to get a comprehensive picture. Broadly we shall try to draw a contrasting picture of media as a world of truth and a world of lies.

Simply put, ‘truth’ implies something that is factual, realistic, and genuine; the reverse of it is nothing but a ‘lie’. Suppose ‘X’ says, “Charminar exists in Hyderabad,” then ‘Y’ comes and says, “No it does not, it exists in Islamabad.”  Now, a herd of people come and started supporting Y. Will that make Y’s statement true? Obviously not, because Y’s statement is not factual, realistic, and genuine. But we are living in a post-truth world—truth matters in the least and we are dominated by emotions instead. And a large chunk of media fraternity has taken absolute advantage of us for their commercial gains.

A common sight on Indian TV screens are the news debates between an unusually large number of people. Image source: YouTube.

Media: A World Of Truth

These days blaming the media has become quite a fashion trend. But nobody can deny the fact that if there were no media, the human civilisation might not have evolved or would have remained stagnant. Be it traditional palm leaves or contemporary social media, messages have always been helpful in spreading knowledge and information.

If we go through any mass movement in our history, the media has always played a crucial role. Right from Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s socio-religious reform movement, the first War of Independence, three Gandhian movements, those led by J. P., and up to Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement, the media had a pivotal role in these struggles.

There are many past instances (scams and scandals) in which media organisations directly or indirectly exposed. In the recent past, too, there have many pseudo ‘Babas’ have been detained due to pressure from the media. Further, from time to time, there has been reportage of several irregularities, malpractices, and criminal cases where action was taken basing on media pressures.

The technological world has blessed us with social media, which has empowered the common citizen. We now have multiple platforms to express ourselves, free of cost. When a matter of public concern is repeatedly shared, viewed, and debated on such forums, it pressurises the mainstream media to take up that issue for reportage and discussions. For the last couple of years we have also been observing several administrative steps and legal actions taken due to viral posts about several inhuman practices. Broadly, the crux of the matter is that if media (mainstream or social) complies with the truth it leads to positive outcomes.

Media: The World Of Lies

A couple of months ago, Cobrapost (a news portal based on investigative journalism) conducted an operation called “136”, which exposed several media houses that had agreed to run political campaigns, mock opposition leaders, and propagate Hindutva for money before the General Election. Paid news has become an integral part of media houses. This is the real face of our contemporary journalism.

Paid news and fake news are mostly inter-connected. Media houses are paid to spread fake news in order to satisfy a certain motive or interest. The BBC conducted a survey in five countries in 2017 and found out that in India 83% do believe that fake news do exist, but 75% could not distinguish between fake news and genuine news. This is really worrisome. Further, social media has facilitated the spread of fake news.

Sometimes news can be biased, or present a half-truth. Portraying one side of an event or issue makes a media house biased. It is always evident that a section of media houses always praise the establishment (even when it commits a blunder), whereas other sections always criticise the government, even it does something commendable. In my opinion, there doesn’t seem to be a single media house which portrays the complete picture.

The tussle among media houses to catch the most eyeballs has wiped out the real issues like poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, or untouchability. These days, our anchors are more concerned about Mandir-Masjid, Hindu-Muslim, Nag-Nagin, existence of Hanuman, and many more sensational stories. These days, television studios have become a battleground where panelists fight on live shows, and where ten people appear on a single screen to pass a judgement about who is patriot and who is not.

Conclusion

The above are few concerns have struck all progressive thinkers and citizens. I think the problem does not lie in the style of journalism, but rather within us (the readers, the viewers). We prefer sensation, thrills, and controversy over factual information. Such content is being sold to us because we like to consume it. Media literacy is very essential in any democratic set up, where people should be able to decide who is speaking the truth and who is telling lies. But I strongly believe those who have thrived in the media business with the help of lying cannot succeed forever. As Abraham Lincoln rightly said, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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