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Why Is The Indian Media No Longer Free And What Can We Do As Citizens?

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“You were asked only to bend, but you crawled,” said LK Advani, about the media during the Emergency years (1975-77).

Indeed! This month, the Chief Justice of India (CJI), NV Ramana, said that debates on TV caused “more pollution than anybody else.” This is not the first time something like this has been said by the CJI.

 

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Former CJI, Dipak Misra had asked the (electronic) media not to behave like the “Pope sitting in the pulpit” and broadcast or write anything containing baseless insinuations. He added:

“Question of gagging the media does not come at all. I have myself rebuffed all attempts to gag the media, but we do expect media, especially the electronic media, to become more responsible. They cannot publish anything only because they have some websites.”

Historical Origins Of The Indian Press

James Augustus Hickey is considered to be the father of the Indian press. He started the Bengal Gazette in the year 1780. However, it was seized by the British government in the year 1872.

Other eminent personalities who majorly contributed to the journey of the Indian press later on, include Ram Mohan Roy (Bangodoot and Sambad Koumudi) and Dadabhai Naoroji (Rastiguftar).

Other papers at the time included Samachar Sudarshan, Hindi Patriot, Rayam-e-Azadi, Neel Darpan, Bombay Chronicles, Kesari Doorbeen, Gyan Prakash, Maratha, and Deccan Star. They played an essential role in the fight for independence against British colonisation.

Current Status Of The Indian Press

The picture of the Indian press has completely changed nowadays. The situation of the freedom of the press has also deteriorated.

It is arduous to put into the words that today, the Indian press (mainly, the electronic media) is free to speak, but with limited freedom, imprisoned words, prejudiced thoughts, and by acting as a mere lapdog of the powerful.

Recently, on November 23, 2021, the NBSA (News Broadcasting and Standards Authority), headed by justice (retired) AK Sikri, made some key observations. The NBSA noted that certain headlines and taglines used by the channels violated existing norms.

For example, civil war on republic day; a conspiracy of a war against the republic; plan Khalistan for insurgence against the republic.

Furthermore, an observation made by the NBSA said that during the farmers’ protest at Red Fort (on January 26, 2021), the media had inadvertently identified the nishan sahib (Sikh flag) as the Khalistan flag.

The NBSA also stated that “All news channels will, keeping with the principle of due accuracy and impartiality, ensure that significant mistakes made in the course of broadcast are acknowledged and corrected on air immediately.”

We Are At 142 Out Of 180 Countries

What does this tell us? Being a public-spirited citizen, I have some questions, concerns, and worries about my nation. Citizens, who are spectators, follow the media with the belief that what they are watching, listening to and reading, is credible. In reality: is that true?

Media is the fourth pillar of democracy. The role of the media is pivotal in democratic countries. The youth has moved on from watching the news on TV channels to reading articles on some prominent news portals such as The Wire, The Guardian, The Print, The News Minute, Scroll, Faye D’ Souza’s Instagram page, and many more.

The prime reason is there is no news on TV channels, except for debates full of squabbles, false reporting and incoherent talks. To sum up, it’s nothing more than full of hot air.

The World Press Freedom Index (2021) produced by Reporters Without Borders, a French NGO, has placed India at 142, out of 180 countries. In addition, if we compare it with India’s rank in the 2016 index (133), our country has fallen by close to ten ranks.

What Does The Media Stand For?

Such indices expose the truth of the current state of the Indian media. When we think about freedom, the word media is one of the first ones to pop up in the minds of citizens. Nowadays, mainstream media is no more than a “joke” to us.

What does media stand for? In light of the contentions and facts stated above, the definition of media would be:

M stands for misappropriation,

E stands for egregious,

D stands for deceptive,

I stands for incoherence,

and, A stands for agitative.

 

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Each word says a lot in itself. Each word stands for something in today’s times. So, it is essential for all of us to clamour rather than keep the reality of the Indian media under wraps.

The Indian media is inclined towards TRPs (target rating points). There exists a TRP rat race among all the channels. The fascinating fact is that TRPs have become all about how much one can shout on the TV screen. And nowadays, nobody is interested to hear them because it’s too much noise.

We Need To Come Together To Raise Questions

Again, the question arises: what is news? As a citizen: what is your definition of news, and what would be the apt definition? The answer is simple: neutral, equal, wise and common sensical. However, the reality is bitter and far from these virtues.

The need of the hour to ask this question: do we need media reforms? The problem is that we are credulous. We don’t care too much about what is going on around us. Most of us just are oblivious and act as if we are mute spectators.

This is the problem with our country’s people. This is our media. We are responsible for this chaos. We can’t put the full blame on the government. What we are doing as citizens of this nation? Now, it’s time for all the readers to think about what our media depicts.

I would like to end with these famous lines by Rudyard Kipling:

The Pope may launch his Interdict

The Union its decree,

But the bubble is blown and the bubble is pricked

By Us and such as We

Remember the battle and stand aside

While Thrones and Powers confess

That King over all the children of pride

Is the Press-the Press- the Press!”

__

REFERENCES

  1. Chief Justice of India criticises section of media for ‘irresponsible journalism’, Hindustan Times.
  2. From Watchdog to Lapdog, Weaponisation of the Indian Media, Sabrang India.
  3. India is ‘one of world’s most dangerous countries for journalists’: 2021 World Press Freedom Index, News Laundry.
  4. India again placed at 142nd rank in press freedom, The Hindu.
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