Friday, May 8, 2020

Providing free and independent news is indeed an essential service!

May 8, 2020, 12:17 PM IST  in The WriteClick | India | TOI

As the Nation set foot into lockdown 3.0, a few relaxations of the Lockdown norms have been implemented but the majority of services are still put on hold. Providing News, being an essential service remained exempted from the restriction. All these while, Global press Freedom index has ranked India at 142, a further drop of two ranks from last year’s. The information and Broadcasting Minister Mr. Prakash Javdekar, however, disagreed with the ranking and has tweeted, “Media has the power to inform and enlighten people. Media in India enjoy absolute freedom. We will expose, sooner than later, those surveys that tend to portray a bad picture about ‘Freedom of Press’ in India.”
In today’s internet world, any incident can be reported instantly by social media users, even faster than media-houses. In that thought, Tweeter, Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, etc. are all giant media houses with millions of reporters. The need for news from an established media-house outside social media though is still felt by many. One reason is to disseminate information correctly and second is for media house to be a watchdog- donning the all-important role of the fourth pillar in a democracy
As far as dissemination of correct information is concerned, the earlier pointed out benefits of the presence of millions of reporters in social media necessitated the arduous task of fact-checking through a third party ( mostly reporters/correspondents of media house) so that facts and fakes could be differentiated. While it is the duty of law enforcement agencies to check fake news and rumours menace, the media has played a key role by selectively broadcasting news feeds based on its authenticity, not to mention the busting of fake news by some media-house. Therefore people still turn to news reports of established media-house though the internet is filled with news updates every second.
If it is just dissemination of information that media houses are anticipated to do, the same could be handled by DD or a channel of the Government instead of allowing hundreds of media houses to operate. But it is because of the solemn duty that news agencies are expected to execute by raising issues and concerns of not just viewers to reach the Government but also exposed the faults and lacuna of Govt. policies to the public to ensure that there are checks and balances between the public and the Government and most importantly to form a public opinion, which will eventually decide the fate of the Government in the next ensuing elections, that necessitated the existence of independent media. Media houses are envisaged to not only exposed faulty policies of the state for the public to debate upon but also highlight issues that need urgent attention by the state and vice versa.
Media thus has a key role in ensuring the smooth governance of a nation. Unfortunate incidents like paid media and fake news to propagate certain ideologies which have surfaced in recent times have indeed led to huge misgivings on the otherwise noble profession. Of late, most media houses tend to forget their prime duty of being a watchdog, by toeing into the lines of the power at helms. Independent media is now a threatened species and the fault is not just the environment of fear for media houses who have raised voices against the state but also because of some of the media person themselves falling prey to the highly irresistible temptation of being on the same ride with the state, where the role of being a watchdog- a true characteristic of the fourth pillar is instead directed towards their fellow media in an attempt to please the powers that be.
The Indian press is surely better off than their counterparts in China. Even so, being the largest democracy, the comparison when made to some countries like the US, it left us in awe of the responsibility shouldered by the fourth estate there. Of course, ugly altercations between the state and the media exists but there are no criminal charges leveled against anyone who spoke against the state; President Donald Trump and a few media house openly arguing and disagreeing, how ugly though it looks, exemplifies what democracy and free speech truly is.  India, especially its rulers, could learn a lot from the US on the tolerance of voice of dissents.  Having said that, one cannot fully disagree with the I&B Minister’s concerns of the methodology for the abysmal ranking accorded to the freedom of Indian Press. The fact that State’s action could still be questioned shows that there is some important element of freedom overlooked by the people who ranked Global press freedom.
While improving the ranking of Press Freedom could be a concern for some, more important is the prevalence of free press environment; the rankings will eventually take care itself. There will be no dearth of news as long as the world exists and the relevance of media/news agencies in the future is only expected to grow. What and how it is presented could be a challenge and the viewers/readers have a huge impetus; at the least, we can learn to value the importance of the difference between paid news and independent news. Members of the fourth estate need to be torchbearers of unbiased truth and a voice for the voiceless. As for the state and democracy to survive, it will need all of its pillars to be strong, independent, and straight. The leaning of the fourth pillar, left or right, whether by choice or by power will be a sign that the house is in danger of a collapse.

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