Of late, questions have been raised on the role of the media in India as newspapers and TV news channels are locked in fierce contests of the competitive kind in their bid to occupy greater space of tiol democratic imagition, including regiol imagitions of diverse political and non-political groups in an increasingly globalized world. As our democracy matures and shows signs of greater resilience as it grapples with its systemic aberrations – it is a good sign though that this hard-earned democracy sustains itself despite the aberrations – and as the tion competes with neighbouring Chi to evolve into the world’s fastest growing economy, the media noise too has become more robust and shriller, thanks to well-researched and fearless opinion pieces on editorial pages, the greater space that the Letters to the Editor column has come to acquire, and of course the many panel discussions aired on prime time TV shows. And now we have the digital space too coming in to render a new nuance to the media discourses of the day, including citizen jourlism. This is not all. The buzz is also around convergent jourlism, a platform where different media forms converge and help shape debates that are sensible and reflect ratiolly – and very importantly, fearlessly – on the kind of march charted by the tion in the wake of the reforms unleashed in the early 1990s that set the stage for our new economic outlook and consequent growth despite a whole gamut of hiccups and jittery reactions from sceptical, old-fashioned circles both in the socio-political and intellectual domains. It is in this backdrop of media developments, which are often unpredictable, that what Prime Minister rendra Modi said in Cheni on November 6 assumes monumental relevance.
Of Media Accountability
Modi was speaking at the platinum jubilee celebration of the Tamil daily Thanti and drove home the point that editorial freedom must be used wisely in public interest and that the freedom to write could never mean the “freedom to be factually incorrect”. He pointed to the power of the media to transform society, and therefore, as he rightly said, the media had as much social accountability as any elected government or the judiciary would have. This newspaper has always advocated press freedom in a democracy that is relatively young compared to well-established democracies in the West, but we have also held on to our considered view that with greater power – especially the power to mould public opinion along both directions, right and wrong – comes greater accountability too, especially social accountability that the Prime Minister has dwelt on. Now what really is social accountability? Simply put, it is the accountability towards society as the media champions societal causes and concerns and as the society feels empowered in the presence of a free, robust and vibrant media. Modi has only taken the debate forward at the right point of time in the history of media growth in the country. “Today newspapers do not just give news. They can also mould our thinking and open a window to the world. In a broader context, media is a means of transforming society. That is why we refer to the media as the fourth pillar of democracy… Even though media platforms may be owned by private individuals, they serve a public purpose. As scholars say, it (media) is an instrument to produce reform through peace, rather than by force. Hence it has as much social accountability as the elected government or the judiciary,” he said. These are doubtless wise words. But the reform-oriented leader had something more to say and suggest: “Today every citizen alyses and attempts to verify the news that comes to him from multiple sources. Media, therefore, has to make an extra effort to maintain credibility. Healthy competition among credible media platforms is also good for the health of our democracy.”
Some parallels may be drawn in the context of Assam that has in recent times seen a rich and continued flourish of media outlets, especially news channels. There was a time when only newspapers – just a few, including this one – used to be sources of news and views. Now you have news channels aplenty that feed viewers with both news and views. What augurs well is the obvious contest of the right kind between the print and the electronic media. This is obviously good for the health of democracy in this State ragged by years of senseless violence of the terrorist brand in the me of ‘revolutions’ coupled with lack of development (especially infrastructure development), chronic unemployment and the grand architecture of corruption with politicians in general having to make an expedient choice of remaining mute and blind to it all. There is no gainsaying that here the media, with competitiveness at its best towards serving democratic causes, can play a vital role in moulding public opinion by articulating the core issues of the day in the right fashion. Nonetheless, if some media outlets, with just TRP ratings in mind, choose to obfuscate real issues or give them a wrong or even anti-people hue, democracy – still a fledging one here – suffers jolts. This, we do not want. And why should we? We have all along been advocating ourselves as being “of this land, for its people”, and we want the whole media fraternity to be committed so – all for the sake of our hard-earned, deeply cherished democracy. For instance, when it comes to the two core issues plaguing our beloved land of birth – terrorism dressed up as ‘insurgency’ and the million-dollar issue of unchecked illegal immigration from Bangladesh which has resulted in the indigenous people being reduced to a minority in district after district in their own homeland – this newspaper, since its iuguration, has had a very clear and known stand: we are totally against such evil; we must fight back tooth and il, democratically. This, we believe, surely falls within the domain of media social accountability and responsibility.
That said, in a democracy that yet has miles to go before graduating into a truly functioning system, the media ought to come to the fore with greater vim and vigour, greater courage and conviction, and with greater dedication to social accountability. This remains, and will remain, our media leitmotif.