Today, India stands divided. It is divided politically, economically and socially. This type of a polarised situation has led to clashes between people who belong to different religions, caste, gender, ethnicities and intellectual groups. A free democratic society, in the simplest sense, would be one in which diverse groups can co-exist peacefully. Stating any particular group as either completely guilty or innocent in a borderless and porous society such as ours is unjustified.
Unfortunately, this division has crept into the three pillars of democracy: the legislature, executive and the judiciary. The harmonious yet mutually exclusive functioning of these pillars is a distant dream. This is not only problematic but also extremely dangerous for the people who stand on opposite ends of any discourse.
Media usually acts as the link between the three pillars and is often referred to as the fourth pillar of democracy. It acts as a watchdog and a messenger to the public about the events that are taking place in the country. In doing so, it demands responsibility of actions, and in some cases, accountability for actions that seem questionable.
Contrary to popular opinion about Indian media being under threat today, I believe that Indian media has been under grave threat for quite some time now. Any restriction on the freedom of media is counterproductive to the growth of the country. More so, in the age of social and digital media where once you have said something, the opinion floats—wirelessly and quickly.
The judiciary faces the threat of non-compliance and reluctance, the legislature—the threat of opposition and extremism, and the executive—threat of chaos and red tape. Media, too, faces threats because of both external and internal factors. The former would be the threat of being reprimanded by powerful institutions, political parties and organizations.
Questioning people or institutions (whether for public good or not) and criticism are bitter pills to swallow, and a good media house would never compromise on either. However, Indian media is lurking in unsafe waters right now with the latter being its most dangerous threat—that is the threat from itself.
Media houses are dealing with a country that stands divided and dismissive of almost all the issues that have been plaguing the foundational principles such as equality, justice and good conscience, upon which our society is built. Propagating nationalist agendas by encouraging radical people to speak up or silencing those who try to divulge the truth are two of the many immoral strategies that have been adopted constantly by certain media houses today. And both are devoid of journalistic value or integrity. It is important to realize that the role of the media is to divulge information for everyone—not just for one particular group. Choosing a side is something that the media must avoid at all costs.
Inequalities exist in every sphere of society. We are far from an ideal society where every individual is equal. Where inequalities exist, frustrations will too. For instance, if one has lived under the fear or threat of a mob attacking their home because they belong to a particular religious community, it is bound to create a sense of injustice and anger. So, while the role of the legislature is to acknowledge the rights of such people, the executive’s is to enforce those rights, and the judiciary’s is to protect their rights; the role of the media is to report those rights for public awareness.
Reporting on the rights would enable people to draw their own conclusions about what is fair or unfair. Once an unbiased narrative is out there, it would not be such a threat anymore. Contrary to this, if the media were to engage in any of the roles that are within the scope of the three pillars, it is bound to face a threat. Sticking to its role of a watchdog and/or a messenger of good values and ethical reporting could possibly help protect it from external forces.
As the reality of a divided India becomes more apparent every day, so does the threat to Indian media. The best way to avoid injustices and violence on innocent journalists is to project an image of being cool and unaffected yet extremely cautious of the kind of information being disclosed. And to ensure that all information is in fact backed by real facts, true evidence and credible sources.
Given the current state of affairs, with innocent journalists being reprimanded and arrested for releasing the truth, it may seem as though such an opinion is too privileged. However, the intention is to remind any media house that is questioning their mission and vision, remembering that a country cannot function without them and that democracy would not survive without media.
And while it all must feel unfair, chaotic, scary right now, the media has a much more significant and important role to play now and in the future of our country.