The media used to be the fourth pillar of democracy. It was a mechanism that used to check on the judiciary and the legislature and executive. They exist to ensure that the country’s three pillars neither abuse their power nor have a fallout against each other. They are also the tool to make people aware of the current socio-political events, economic plans, foreign relations of the state and regional events.
The impact that the media has created in the world’s largest democracy has affected the shape of history and the government’s function. However, over time, unfortunately, the media has changed. In other words, it changed for the worst.
When the world is suffering from a cruel and destructive pandemic, the media has abused their influence and power for the worst. It has also brought the worst out of people all in the name of ratings. They have not only let people down but have also let themselves down for profit.
The media has become the Harshad Mehta of society.
And just like Harshad Mehta scammed banks, the media has scammed people by spreading fake news, misinformation, taking things out of context, manipulating the public, trying to act like the judge, jury and executioner, i.e. media trials, witch hunts, etc. The nature of journalism and discussion has changed too with the media now relying on screaming tactics to discuss or even call out names during debates.
In order to understand more about the abuse of media, let’s take the example of person “ABC”, a woman who has criticised the government for how they handled the economy. And a news media company named XYZ has caught the wind of this. So, they take the words out of context and twist them so that it would seem like ABC was trying to speak against the country. Then XYZ becomes the judge, jury and executioner and assumes and concludes that ABC is an anti-national, and people will eat it up.
ABC being a woman will get rape threats and death threats. She will also face witch hunts, harassment and most likely be ostracised from society. XYZ does not care that she has a right to express her opinion under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution (freedom of speech and expression) and that there is a law for sedition (Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code). But for the insatiable greed of ratings, Article 19(1)(a) and Section 124A are thrown out the window. This is just a mere example, but it shows how far the media is willing to go for profits and ratings.
In the 1950s, U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy told the entire country that Communists had infiltrated the U.S. and that anyone could be a communist. This was the time when the freedom of speech was replaced with fear of communism. If anyone spoke against the U.S. government, they were a communist. During that time, alleged communists were harassed, witch-hunted and most likely ostracised by society.
In modern-day society, media companies that act like vultures to gain ratings are proponents of modern-day McCarthyism and it is not good for the people or government.
The Jasleen Kaur case is the perfect incident of how the media abused their influence and power. Jasleen Kaur accused Sarvjeet Singh of sexually harassing her in a Facebook post, which became huge news. The media acted like the Supreme Court and instantly supported the girl, and started calling the guy “Delhi ka Darinda”. The latter lost his job and was harassed by the mob. No one even listened to his side of the story.
Sarvjeet was eventually acquitted because the girl did not attend the court proceedings and the court also questioned the credibility of her Facebook post. Nevertheless, the accusations ruined the guy’s life and the “guilty before proven innocent” mentality of the media vultures and mob made it worse.
Another incident regarding the misuse of the media’s influence and power is the Rhea Chakraborty case. Following the unfortunate demise of actor Sushant Singh Rajput on 14 June 2020, people were saddened and furious about the ordeal. The anger was vent out against Karan Johar, Alia Bhatt and other Bollywood elites and star kids.
However, they weren’t the only targets of the angry mob. They turned their attention to the deceased actor’s girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty as they believed that she was somehow responsible for Sushant’s death. Rhea was already arrested by the NCB (Narcotics Control Bureau) for her use of drugs. With the conspiracy theories regarding Sushant’s death riling up, the media pushed and twisted the narrative that she made Sushant take drugs and asked for more money, which is why he committed suicide.
Unfortunately, Rhea became the target of the media’s McCarthyism and was subjected to a tonne of hate and death and rape threats. To add insult to injury, while on her way to the NCB, she was constantly harassed by the rating vultures of TV media. Because of this, the morality of the case has been questioned.
The double standard of the mob was called out because after Sushant’s death the people talking about the importance of mental health were the ones affecting Rhea’s health by harassing her [Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution puts restrictions on Article 19(1)(a)].
The judiciary needs to be a deterrent against the growing side effects caused by media trials. The Contempt of Courts Act 1971 and Article 129 and Article 215 ensure the right to a fair trial to citizens of India. If a media person does something that disrupts the practice of a fair trial, they shall be punished for it. An aggrieved person whose character has been assassinated by the media can sue them under Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code.
If the names of victims have been revealed, the person can be punished with imprisonment, which can be extended to 2 years.
Lastly, the media needs to understand that they’re here to give news and ensure that the other pillars of democracy function well.
In the end, the sovereign citizens need to understand that not everything the media says is right, and they abuse their influence and power when it profits them. The media needs to understand the downside of media trials and how it affects the fourth pillar of democracy. And as the new generation is coming up, they need to make sure that the media is healthy and useful for the people.