Young Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s tragic, untimely death left the entire nation in shock and distress. Yet, the investigation of the case by TV news anchors who consider themselves the “harbingers of justice” has been no less harrowing. Media moguls have declared themselves the “vanguards of the fight for equality” leading a “legitimate” struggle to free Indian society from its festering social problems and entrenched inequalities.
But their actions so far reflect the opposite. They have, and continue to display distorted or “out-of-context” evidence, push arguments in directions to make them “sansani khabar” and undermine the autonomy of various government organs. The independence of the judiciary is being questioned since it is now paying heed to the opinions of the unhinged mob guided by the “TRP-driven” media. These actions are an assault on the very social fabric on which our democratic values and systems are based.
The media should instead live up to the role for which it was initially established: to act as the fourth pillar of democracy. Media anchors should present facts as they are and not mix them with conjecture to befuddle the general public’s perceptions on crucial issues. I think the media of current times must be given a sense of direction by a “moral compass” as they seem to have lost basic human ethics.
Instead of extensively covering pressing issues such as the “partition-era-like” migration, the 23.9% GDP contraction, massive unemployment, the India-China LAC tensions, and the unprecedented rise of COVID-19 cases, they have taken over the duties of the police and court without actually having the expertise, qualification or the right to do so.
The media at large has forgotten its primary role and is no longer an information provider. On the contrary, it has become a source of entertainment or a veritable primetime “circus” with Arnab Goswami as the “ringmaster”.
These media “tycoons” are profiting from society’s insouciance, reinforcing the deeply-rooted injustices, polarising people on political lines, promoting pseudo nationalism, invading privacy and promoting sexism and misogyny through their patriarchal argot. In this way, their “disinformation-for-profit” business model, that uses our psychology against us, is minting the most money.
By the rule of law, a person is innocent unless and until proven guilty by the court. Therefore, the instant verdicts handed out in newsrooms and the declaration of people as guilty by presenting inconclusive evidence debase the values enshrined in our Constitution and the supremacy of law and order.
To understand this better, consider the following hypothetical scenario: A robbery took place at your house and you were the only person present at that time but did not witness it. Naturally, you will be the prime suspect. However, a proper investigation will be carried out and the court will deliberate on this matter, and till that time you will be considered innocent by law.
Now imagine a third party having no conclusive knowledge of your case, the media, for instance, declares you guilty. Millions of people blindly accept this verdict and are now creating unfounded pressure on the police and court to send you to jail. How would you feel? The thought itself is terrifying, but this is what is happening to people around us and we are obliquely encouraging this phenomenon.
The media, with their skills of persuasion and incendiary rhetoric, manipulate and seduce the general populace. Imagine, if they can successfully mislead well-educated individuals, then the remaining sections of our society will certainly take the information they present as gospel truth. By acting as the “de facto government” that operates on the surfeit of fake news and patriarchal impulses, the media has become the biggest perpetrator of crime on our democracy. As a result, our democracy is facing the direst crisis of any kind.
Social media is no less guilty in this regard. Jeff Orlowski’s Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma aptly highlights how social media has psychologically trapped us and transformed us into lab-rats on which large-scale experiments are being carried out. By keeping us engaged and addicted, this trillion-dollar industry is adding more trillions to its profits.
Since fake news has a greater potential to be sensational and addictive, the algorithms of these tech-giants bombard our feed with conspiracy theories. This, in turn, has the effect of radically changing and polarising our opinions. Artificial Intelligence (AI) tailors the information that is presented to us and completely blocks our thought-process. Moreover, these rankings-based algorithms devastatingly affect meaningful dialogues in democratic countries, since people lose their open-mindedness by being constantly subjected to biased and one-sided information.
The 2020 Delhi riots, Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and 2017 Rohingya genocide in Myanmar were all spurred by social media. These horrifying instances shed light on the highly vulnerable nature of democracies worldwide and the critical need to regulate social media.
On this Day of Democracy, we must pledge not to let the media fool us. We must actively seek out information from unbiased sources and form an opinion only after critically assessing the facts. We must not become prey to this facade and drama-of-sorts that the media is putting up. Let us promise to be open-minded in this age of disinformation, and by doing so, commensurately pay back our freedom fighters who gave up their lives for our independence and democracy.