Ghost of Democracy in the Media Machine

‘Demo’ means people and ‘democracy’ means rule of the people. Democracy is the system of governance that has been constitutionally adopted by our country. The victory of democracy over communism, after the ‘Cold War’ ended was rejoiced all over. Hence, it can be inferred that there is a support for democracy worldwide. Democracy means rule by the people, for the people and of the people in the words of Abraham Lincoln.

In India, the constitution lays down the framework for an elected representative, who acts on behalf of and for fulfilling the wishes of the people. However, does this elected representative really represent the people? The three pillars of democracy, in India, are the Legislature – the law making body, the Executive – the law executing body, and the Judiciary – the law interpreting body. So, what is this so called “Fourth Pillar” of democracy and do we really need it in India today?

Media has become so vital that it is indeed a fourth branch of the government – not just rhetorically but in political theory, legal and ethical practice as well. They say, with great power comes great responsibility and in this case both the power and the responsibility belong to the government. Due to the voluminous scams in recent times, the media has taken the role of rescuing the Indians. The media voices the opinion of the people just as the representatives of the lower house or Lok Sabha do before the Parliament. My question is, that is democracy apparently dead, and its ghost is haunting the fourth pillar – the media?

Do the people want to trust the media instead of trusting the corrupt politicians and the police force, who are the bodyguards of those politicians? The pre-condition of a democratic society is the right to communicate, the right to receive and provide information which is made possible by the media. The Supreme Court in a case held that the Freedom of Press could not be interfered with by the Government on grounds of security of State, by enacting laws which do not impose any restriction on the freedom.

The sole aim of journalism is to provide service. Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution lays down the rules for freedom of press, which is the basic feature of our Constitution. The first recorded discussion of news in India can be traced back to Kautilya’s Arthashastra. As India is in its 65th year of independence, technology, awareness, privatization, globalization, and communication have brought about drastic changes in the role of the media.

New forms of media are coming around, awakening i the people to actively take part in the issues surrounding the country through the medium of blogs and citizen journalism. The media is trying its best to rescue the rights of the people. Is the media trying to revive democracy which seems dead? Or is the media trespassing its limits in this rescue mission? Is democracy a myth in India today according to the media? The media provides a medium through which the common man can voice his/her opinion.

The media provides information, expresses views, opinions and comments on issues of national importance. Is this kind of ‘media activism’ making a mockery of democracy? There is a Sanskrit saying “Break the pot, tear the flag, ride a donkey…Be famous, by hook or by crook”. Is the ghost of democracy haunting the media so vehemently that the media is taking desperate measures to ensure that the citizens are not devoid of their rights? Could this behaviour of the media interfere with justice?

The Indian news channels have a new trend of conducting opinion polls to draw the attention of the viewers. This could cause animosity among the decision makers and the public. The public could vote for an issue and the judgment given may not be to the expectation of the general public. It could also cause dilemma for the decision makers whether to go with the mood of the public or with the general law. There are instances where the media interviews relatives of the victims expecting them to blame somebody for the cause of the misery so that they can be ‘Godfather’ and cure the pain. While reporting about a woman gang raped by advocates, a leading news channel lamented ‘Justice Denied?’ This trial by media interferes with the administration of justice.

The media carries out shocking ‘Sting Operations’. Sting operations show the people the corrupt side of their representatives. The Tehelka case is an example worthy of mention. However, the question here arises, what was done after the media led the way to the bringing down the curtains? Sting operations for the media may mean higher TRPs, however speaker of the Lok Sabha, Somnath Chaterjee, has a different view. He opines “sting journalism” is needed to strengthen the constitution of democracy and praised for the media for exposing the culprits.

The watchdog role of the media can correct the wrong course taken by the law sometimes. Examples are Jessica Lall case, Priyadarshini Mattoo case, Reservation case, etc. However, the Judiciary may feel that it has its own system of review, as one of the most essential features of our Constitution is the Independent Judiciary. The Judiciary and the judicial process have to be respected by everyone and the media has no special privileges.

How can we judge the corporations that own these channels? Could we say that the media to an extent may be influenced by the politicians as well or can the media be passed with a clean chit? Is the media biased or is it partial to a particular layer in society? Do they feel the need to broadcast news that is much watched by the people?

Francis Moore Lappe, a social philosopher, recently said in an interview, “We must change this notion that a voice in the media belongs to those with money to spend, when it actually belongs to everybody”. Well, the media does reach out to minorities, the have-nots, and to most people who need to voice their plight. The role of the media is surely commendable during natural disasters, national events, etc.

The media and the three pillars of democracy are working at crossroads. The line between them is thin. But no organ of the government is supreme. Supreme is the Constitution. Who can we name as the true protector of our rights in the effort to keep Democracy alive?

Mehak Budhrani