“Press is the fourth pillar of Democracy”

"Press is the fourth pillar of Democracy"

“Press is the fourth pillar of Democracy”

Freedom of the press is the freedom of communication and expression through mediums including various electronic media and published materials (Source: Wikipedia). Every year on 3rd May, the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek is observed as World Press Freedom Day. This day is said to celebrate the fundamental principles of freedom of press, asses its state throughout the world, defend the media from attacks on their independence and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Media is not only a mirror of the society, it also acts as an instrument of social change. Its job is to inform and educate the people and act as a medium of communication between the various organs of society and masses. It holds great power as it has the ability to affect and change a culture and sway public opinion in a particular direction.

In the early days, media was only limited to print and radio. Gradually, it expanded its horizon to the television medium and today internet has become the fastest mode of sharing news world over. The new communication technologies provide the much-needed oxygen for the democratization process of the media. It has increased public participation exponentially.

One of the basic tasks of the media is to provide truthful and objective information to the people, enabling them to form rational opinion, which is a sine qua non (end result) in a democracy. But is the Indian media performing its role properly?

Over the period of time, media has increasingly become a tool for marketing and has turned into a commodity. Today, advertisements rule the roost in media. Between electronic and print media, the latter was known for its accuracy and ethics, but we have seen a drastic change in the way all media houses carry out their operations where advertising has become the prime agenda. News is being treated like soap operas, diluting the real purpose of media.

The problem lies in the corporate ownership of media which has led to news organizations facing the demand to increase profits. It has been frequently alleged, especially in India, that the freedom of the press is in danger because of the ownership of the newspaper industry, a combination of state agencies, businesses tied to the state, and private-sector cronies of the political leadership along with the predominance of some newspaper groups. Another defect is the pressure to telecast news 24×7 which has led to sharing of unimportant issues, while we see real issues getting sidelined.

Having said this, there are always two sides to an issue. While the media might have strayed from their role of being the fourth pillar to our democracy, it also faces threat to its freedom of bringing unadulterated news to the public.

The freedom of press is said to be the freedom of a citizen. Under the Indian constitution, independence of media is part of the freedom of speech guaranteed by Article 19 (1) (a). However, no freedom can be absolute, and reasonable restrictions have been placed on it.

In recent times, we have seen active censorship in the name of restriction – keeping a check on content and suppressing opinion on the internet. According to the Information Technology Rules 2011, objectionable content includes anything that “threatens the unity, integrity, defense, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states or public order”. It’s a classic case to see how the government at times uses religious arguments as well as other powerful techniques to support their censorship efforts. Not just the print media but the internet also has been under constant and furious attacks all over the world.

We have seen drastic increase in internet censorship in India in recent times. Projects like central monitoring system (CMS) are being adopted by the Indian government that gives them access to India’s telecommunications network and the ability to listen in on and record mobile, landline and satellite all in real time. Like other projects, CMS also is not under parliamentary scrutiny and this raises serious civil liberty violation issues in India. No matter how we look at it, internet censorship regulates what the masses can and cannot access online and changes the way we access the mass media. Having regulations in place can only lead to government control, which can infringe on basic human rights.

The media needs to have the right to disclose information. Setting limitations upon the press as to what kind of information they can and cannot share, greatly intrudes upon their freedom. Unless this whole structure of ownership and control in the media industry is changed, the press cannot be free in the real sense.

By-Shantanau Negi

Media Team – Fiinovation

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