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How Can ‘Responsible’ Journalism Save And Strengthen Our Democracy?

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“If it were left on me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,” said Thomas Jefferson.

The news media and the institution of journalism are considered the ‘fourth estate’ of a democracy. If we take a look into the pages of Indian history, the media has played a crucial role during the Independence struggle. By critically examining the functioning of every act of the British government and British officers, the media played an important role.

As the fourth pillar of democracy, the media is supposed to be the voice of the voiceless. Representational image. Photo credits: Flickr/Global Panorama

Many freedom fighters recognized the ‘voice’ of the media and used it effectively. With this legacy media also played an important role in the ‘making of India’ after independence. But nowadays many questions have been raised against the changing role of media and the question regarding ‘responsible journalism’ has become a matter of concern for all.

In this article, I have analyzed the importance of media and the concept of ‘responsible journalism’ in Indian Democracy.

Role Of The Media In Indian Democracy

“Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets,” said Napoleon Bonaparte.

As the fourth pillar of democracy, the media is supposed to be the voice of the voiceless. Independent and free media can be considered as one of the important parameters to measure the success of democracy in that country. By connecting the two important stakeholders of the society i.e. government and citizens, it has become a powerful tool in shaping public opinion, setting the agenda for public debate, and impacting all the fields. The main aim of media is to mobilize the thinking process of the people.

Mass media and democracy have been always interconnected with each other. The opinions of the public are influenced by the mass media. The famous definition of democracy by Abraham Lincoln described democracy as “the government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” By promoting transparency, accountability, and public scrutiny media is the true protector of democracy. There are many instances where, Indian media acted as a ‘game-changer’ (Khap panchayat abolition, Anti-corruption campaign, and more.)

Journalist wearing a gas mask during protests in Cairo
Accuracy, precision, impartiality, objectivity, and public accountability are some of the key features which we see in responsible journalism. Representational image. Photo credits: Flickr/Alisdare Hickson.

Ethical Responsibility

“The fundamental objective of journalism is to serve the people with news, views, comments, and information on matters of public interest in a fair, accurate, unbiased: and decent manner and language.” (Media Ethics)

In India, the freedom of the press has been defined in 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India. It has been also discussed in Brij Bhushan and Another v. The State of Delhi (AIR 1950 SC 129) and Sakal Papers (P) Ltd. v. Union of India (AIR 1962 SC 305). But the question which arises is whether the constitutional freedom can be exercised in all its earnestness given the other hurdles confronting the journalists.

Accuracy, precision, impartiality, objectivity, and public accountability are some of the key features which we see in responsible journalism. Though journalistic principles are not ‘binding’ it is a matter of social and ethical responsibility as they are influencing the public at large.

We can find many examples where some media outlets, either willingly or unwillingly, have compromised journalistic ethics to attract the audience. It certainly affects negatively the democratic choices of people. By manipulating, and propagating certain ideology does not just violate the ethical value of the journalism but also lose the credential. It also affects the health of democracy.

Rather than the constant repetition of sensational news, media should change its focus to the issues which are really needed advocacy. Representational image.

The vehicle of democracy cannot be run without the wheel of media. Currently, Indian media has faced a lot of criticism for disregarding the notion of social responsibility. Rather than the constant repetition of sensational news, media should change its focus to the issues which really need advocacy.

In the current scenario too, there is a need to shift their focus on developmental and economic issues. Indian media should once again take up the matter which will address the true concerns of people. People trust the media and this trust should not be taken for granted. Media has to remind itself of the true spirit of journalism, accountability, knowledge, and transparency.

I would like to end up this blog with this amazing quote by Gandhi on journalism, so we can realize why journalism, and that too, responsible journalism, matters:

The sole aim of journalism should be service. The newspaper is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges the whole countryside and devastates crops, even so, an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy,” said Mahatma Gandhi.

Featured image for representation only.
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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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