“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.
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.
“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.)
“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.
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.