The media today is ascending the mountain of TRPs by crushing democracy. But this did not happen all of a sudden. The media has been playing its dirty cards for a long time now, it’s just that a clearer picture of the destruction caused by them is visible now.
But what does the media have to do with democracy?
The media is considered the fourth pillar of democracy. The main job of journalists is to interrogate and question those in power. Journalism also forms an important link between a country’s government and its people. In simple words, it showcases the policies, plans and statements by a government to the people and in return, makes the voice of the people heard by higher authorities. However, what we currently experiencing is a change in this ‘hypothetical definition of journalism’.
We all know the whole exaggerated drama that the media has been portraying for the past 2-3 months. The entire #JusticeForSSR episode is nothing but a distraction to hide the skeleton of the shrinking economy. This episode is being used by the media houses to sway people away from the real, and much more serious, issues in India, such as the rising number of coronavirus cases, and India’s shrinking economy and unemployment, to name a few. In fact, the Bombay High Court on 10th September, 2020, said, “We are surprised to find there is no state control over electronic media.”
A lot more has happened in the country over the past 90 days, other than Kangana Ranaut receiving Y+ security cover and Rhea Chakraborty’s black magic amongst other unimportant things. The number of coronavirus cases in India has crossed 4.93 million (as of 15th September, 2020), India’s GDP is – 23.9% and five million salaried people lost their jobs in July 2020. And the media is completely ignorant of these serious figures.
However, as I said earlier, it’s not the first time that journalism has been at stake in India. During the 1975 emergency, there was a complete suspension of freedom of press, amongst suspension of many other constitutional rights. Journalists and opposition leaders were thrown in jails for speaking their minds out. The printing presses were ransacked, newspapers not allowed to be circulated for two days and journalists asked to strictly adhere to the government’s “guidelines”. Newspapers had to take permission from the Chief Press Advisor before printing anything. Such was the scenario in 1975. Skip to 2020, and more than 50 journalists have been arrested, physically assaulted, threatened or booked for critically reporting on Covid-19.
And not surprisingly, India is on the 142nd position in the World Freedom Index 2020. Its rank is even lower than Bhutan (97th), Afghanistan (122nd) and Myanmar (139th). This clearly shows the true picture of the deteriorating condition of journalism in India.
But, this is not it. The fourth pillar of democracy is shattering in new ways now. Journalism has become more of a business than an information provider. How? Advertisements play a big role in the type of content we see on news channels. Let me make this clear to you that the monthly subscription you pay for the news channels is not enough for them to sustain. To gain profits, news channels depend on advertisers.
These advertisers invest in the channel that has greater “reach”, meaning a channel with more number of viewers. Secondly, they look for those channels for which the average time spent by viewers is greater. Studies have found that people very frequently switch channels. So, the main focus of advertisers is on the average time spent by viewers because they believe that only when a viewer watches the advertisement multiple times that they tend to purchase that product/service.
So, to increase their rating to get more advertisers, TV channels try to increase the time spent by each viewer by ‘entertaining’ them. This is the reason we see catchy headlines, triggering statements and unhealthy debates. These news channels try to emotionally arouse people by bringing up hot topics such as terrorism, communal politics, national security and what not.
This is the reason why debates are so popular on news channels, just to “hold viewers” so that these news channels can fill up their pockets. A very recent trend of “shout debates” has emerged and the reason is the same. Such debates make people stick to a particular channel and this is exactly what these so-called “news channels” want. These debates also prove to be a money-saving exercise for these media houses. All they need is a studio and a few people shouting at each other. That is it. And this is how media houses are using the public to make their pockets heavy.
It is definitely true that the Indian media is weakening our democracy. But we can’t ignore the fact that with a steep fall of TV media and print media, there has been an increase in independent news sources on various platforms such as YouTube, open blogs, etc. It is rightly said that “Every cloud has a silver lining.”
But what can you and I do as consumers to save this essential pillar from falling? The very first step should be to stop viewing toxic news channels and their toxic debates. Secondly, we should pay for the news we want to see. This can be done by donating or subscribing to the news houses we consider are doing good-quality journalism. Lastly, we as citizens should stay conscious and aware.
I would like to conclude this article with a quote by Malcolm X:
“The media’s the most powerful entity on Earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”