How responsible has the Indian media been in the last two decades? What type qualitative transformation has taken place in the functioning of this fourth pillar of democracy? These are some of the questions we are faced with when we discuss the status quo of journalism and the media’s conduct in India. It includes the ethics, philosophy, the ownership, the financial status, the structure, the size, clout and the conduct of the media houses. Moreover, these important factors are related to the working style, their tendency of sensalization of stories, their failing of self-regulation, the new concept of ‘paid new’ and blackmail. Last but not the least, we have to consider the hiring and firing practices of editors and reporters. All these issues are inter-connected and conducive to the falling levels of standards of media in the last few decades.
Even a cursory observation could verify that this profession seems to be hollowing out the last vestiges of integrity and honesty. One media house is competing with other to find its place in the good books of the power de jure. In the fast changing world, print media and TV- both should play an important role. They should be free from prejudice and pride. Today, print media is considered as adversarial while electronic media is awed as gladiatorial. Both are supposed to educate and inform. Media has well defined lines of demarcation also. It someone thinks that media, by itself, could become the harbinger of REVOLUTION, then that would be an overshot. If you think that the media could bring about a change in society then you’d be better off talking to a politician or a statesman. On the contrary, the media’s job is to portray the complete persona and criticize the politician and his/her politics.
What is Journalism?
How is it different from politics or literature? Media has a very limited and well defined purpose. It has something and everything to do with news and news alone. Any form of presentation through which news and comments on news reach the people is journalism. Eric Hedgins says- ,“Journalism is conveying of information from here to there, with accuracy, insight and dispatch, in such a manner that truth is served.”
The profession of journalism is the guarantee of freedom: freedom of thought and freedom of expression. A free media must be free from all compulsions. Only public support can be accepted as a genuine and free criterion. Unworthy media output will find few buyers and it would soon cease to exist. In fact, freedom of press/media is not an end in itself. It enables people to express their thoughts freely and bring forth the best possible decision out of all shades of opinions.
The Duties of Journalism
The foremost duty of journalism is faithfulness to the society it aims to serve. But, to fulfill the duties to society the media should be and must be independent. To be independent it must stand on its own feet, earning a profit with subsidies. It cannot serve if it had to depend on other resources. John Dolane, the editor of ‘the Times of London’ from 1841 to 1877 summarized the duties of journalist in the following words:
“To perform its duties with entire independence, the media can enter in NO close or binding alliance with the statesman of the day, nor can it surrender its interest to the connivance of the ephemeral power of any government. The first duty of media is to obtain the earliest and most correct intelligence of the events of the time and instantly by disclosing them, to make them common property of the nation. The press lives by disclosures. The duty of the press is to speak.”
The duties of journalist are parallel to that of a historian – to see the truth and present to its viewers or readers, as near to it as it can attain. The media must be fair, accurate and honest; the press must be honest and decent. The purpose of journalism is to inform, interpret, guide and entertain. The aim of journalism is to disseminate the information to vast masses of people.
The Media Today
Unfortunately, today, many journalists flaunt qualifications but lack professional skills, commitment to the profession, and do not feel the need to take time to collect all the facts and to cross check them before publishing the story. It has now become more of a casual approach and armchair efforts without getting the hands dirty. Stories lack depth and churn out poor quality – lacking reliability and credibility. Public do not take them as seriously as even in the near past. In the good olden days, even newspapers used to have faithful readership. Today, the public no longer trust the twisted and turned headlines. Today, most media houses have political affiliations. Their intent of airing the news is doubtful and duplicitous. Friendly media jumps to defend their respective political parties. Their anchors take sides for spokespersons in television debates. It has become a tool of the corporate, political and financial establishments that seek to mold and manipulate the public opinion.
Nira Radia tapes have shown how the media can go overboard and start power broking instead of doing their duty of honestly putting facts in public domain and letting the people judge them. It is neither on a straight road nor for a straight walk. Today’s media is perfectly capable of turning vice into virtue, slander into truth, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, brutality into patriotism and sadism into justice.
The situation highlights the challenges as well the urgency to revamp the ethics of media house that informs the public.
By Naim Naqvi