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Is the media as the 4th pillar of democracy losing its credibility?

Media as the watchdog plays a very important role in every democracy so in the world’s largest democracy its role becomes largely important. In the history of India, media has been recognized as influential, patriotic and trust worthy in the socio, economic and political climate of the nation. But with the growth of TRP and paid news environment in recent years, the trust over the media has taken a drastic hit, and, because of this the biggest victim here turns out to be the Indian Democracy. This outreach of crony-capitalism in the media is destroying the profession and ethics of journalism. The foul practice of taking money or taking favors from the corporate houses, government, political parties or big organization, in order to show favorable news about them, is becoming a very common practice in journalism. As a result, the truth is not shown due to which people suffers and at last the democracy loses. The media has been receiving private treaties involving share transfers between media companies and non-media companies in lieu of advertisement space and favorable coverage disguised as ‘news’. This is referred as the ‘paid news syndrome’.

India is the biggest market for the 4th pillar of democracy with over 82,237 registered newspapers, being circulated across different regions, and almost 700 television news channel, running all over India, and these numbers are increasing day by day. For social media platforms also namely Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Whatsapp India provides for their largest user base because of its lenient and restriction free cyber laws. Despite this large user base and circulations the media in India covers news to a larger extent of Entertainment, Politics or corporate advertisement only rather than to educate and show truth to the people.

Legislations For Media

Media has the enormous power of influencing the society at large and due to this influencing power they play a huge role in making and unmaking of the government, therefore it wouldn’t completely wrong in saying that the media is very important in modern society. So because of this ability of influencing the society, the media is regulated and controlled by various laws. In people’s rule, the media faces less restriction and enjoys more support as compared to other forms of government. In fact under military rule or authoritarianism, the media is not free at all.
In India the laws regarding media are like constitution, i.e., they are rigid and flexible at the same time. Article 19 (1)(a) of the constitution is the biggest support for the media because this provision guarantees freedom of expression, but at the same time Article 19(2) provides for certain reasonable restrictions. Besides, there are various other laws and rules that regulate the functioning of media.

Due to the media’s impact on the society that can either be positive or negative, the media laws have long history, starting right from the British era, to curb the negative effect of media on the integrity of the nation.

Some of these laws are:
1. Press Regulation 1799
This regulation made mandatory for the newspapers to print the names and addresses of printers, editors and publishers as well.

2. Gagging act 1857
This Act made it mandatory for licensing of running a printing press and empowered the Government to prohibit the publication or circulation of any newspaper or any printed material. This gave the Government power to ban the publications news which had a tendency to cause criticism of the Government.

3. Vernacular Press Act, 1878
This act gave the British government the power to curb the newspaper which is printed in Indian languages. This also played an important role in British strategy to destroy Indian languages.

4. Indian Press Act 1910
This act makes it mandatory for the owners of presses were required to tender a security deposits, which can be forfeited if they printed any objectionable matter. It also give the police force an extensive power to conduct search and seize any objectionable material.

After independence the media were given freedom but with certain reasonable restrictions, and these were Integrity of India, Security of the State, Friendly Relations with neighboring Countries, Public order, Decency or morality, Contempt of Court and Contempt of Legislature, Defamation, and Incitement to an offence[1]. Therefore various legislations were introduced for this such as:
1. Contempt Of Court Act
This was introduced in order to maintain honor and dignity of the Judges and their Judgments. This is one of the restrictions of freedom of expression which are mentioned in Article 19(2) of the constitution.

2. Young Person's (Harmful Publications) Act, 1956
This act was introduced in order to prohibit the publication of any literature which glorifies crime, violence and genocide in order to protect the minds of young readers.

3. Cable television regulation act, 1995:
This act provides for mandatory registration of all operators of cable television network, and also, it makes it compulsory to transmit at least two Doordarshan Channels through the cable service. In fact, this act along with cable rules makes it very clear that transmission of communal polarization is an offence[2].

4. Press Council of India act 1965
It is a statutory body to govern and regulate the function of mainly print and televised media. Its preamble states that this institution was established “For protecting the freedom of the press and maintaining and improving the standards of both newspapers and news agencies”. Its main job is to monitor the conduct of the media; it’s basically the watchdog of watchdog. The press council also provides the “norms of journalist conduct[3]” which is the guidelines for the principled and ethical journalism.

The paid or sponsored news by the corporate, political parties or big organizations easily deviates the media from the real objective and aim of news to the propaganda of these sponsors. The media, instead of being an eye opener and mirror to the society, becomes a puppet in the hands of few powerful. Hence the media instead of working for the people, by the people, and of the people starts working for the sponsors, by the sponsors, and of the sponsor, as a result the democratic spirit of the nation gets hurt.

Hence, before acting as a fourth pillar of democracy, media has been subjected to many limitations for various nationally important reasons to curb the misuse of freedom of Speech and expression. The following has both positive and negative impact. The optimistic approach of the following legislation is for security of the nation as its republic(the instance where the Supreme Court ban the broadcasting of live in-action of the police and military force during 26/11 was necessary so to avoid any leakage of information to the terrorist). The negative impact of the following is that it prevents the transparency. The news that are published are synthesized and contemplated according to the rules and regulation.

Shocking Scandals of ‘Paid News’

Andhra Pradesh is always on the top line in the paid news scenario. The size of the market for paid news is very big; it is somewhere between Rs 300 cr to Rs 1,000 cr. Politicians who stood for elections during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections in Andhra Pradesh paid for favourable news coverage about themselves. It is really unfortunate that journalists forget their dignity for petty gains.

The Election Commission disqualified UP MLA Umlesh Yadav for filling an incorrect statement of election expenditure and for paying two local Hindi newspapers for sponsoring ‘paid news’ before polling. She was the first political victim of the paid news phenomenon.

The controversial telephonic tapes between corporate lobbyist Nira Radia with journalist Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi resulted in a controversy for running scripted interviews with politicians and lobbying for A Raja the then Telecom Minister for his role in 2G Scam.

The former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan was involved in the paid news controversy. While contesting for Bhokar Assembly constituency in Nanded district, he had paid money to various Hindi and Marathi newspapers to get publicity and news praising him. He spent huge amount of money on advertisements, which was not accounted properly in his election expenditure account.

· One of the biggest expose of this so called holy fourth pillar of democracy was the sting operation conducted by the cobrapost in video operation 136 which took place in 2 parts. In these sting the cobrapost showed that how the number of media houses, whether televised, newspaper or on social media; are willing to promote and show the reports which could easily lead to communal polarization and result in gaining electoral gains for some. With the undercover reporter, cobrapost did an sting operation on media houses like India TV, Dainik Jagran, Sab TV, Daily News Analysis, Amar Ujala, UNI, Samachar Plus, Punjab Kesari, Swatantra Bharat, Scoop-Whoop, Rediff, Sadhna Prime News and many others; these media houses have huge audience, circulation and subscribers and are easily able to influence the opinion of the viewers, but these media houses are misusing their ability to change the viewer’s opinion in order to campaign and set the agenda of the political and communal groups, to help in increasing their electoral votes, in consideration of money. This expose of the cobrapost has shown the true greedy and irresponsible face of media whether mainstream, regional or national, big ones or small ones, old ones or newer ones. All of these media houses agreed to set the campaign trail in return for unaccounted cash.

This sting operation has found that most of the media houses has a vicious nexus with the political parties specially the regional ones, or they are favored by politicians, hence they become the voice of their masters. This is a clear cut example of crony journalism. For instance, “ABN Andhra Jyothy, a prominent Telugu TV news channel is patronized by TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu, in fact the newpaper chief also claims that their newspaper Andhra Jyothy holds so much sway that they could even influence the outcome of the Karnataka elections.”[4]

· Another case of paid media or media fixing came out when a leaked video of off record chat between Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and well known Journalist Punya Prasoon Vajpayee. The clip shows that at the end of the interview Mr. Kejriwal is asking the journalist to play some part of the interview while airing it, which in his opinion will influence the voters, and the Mr. Punya Prasoon agrees by saying that this will be revolutionary and will catch lot off reactions. When this interview was aired Mr. Kejriwal’s statement of comparing his resignation as CM to the ultimate sacrifice of Bhagat Singh was played repeatedly.

Paid news is lowering ethical standards of journalism. Corruption in Indian media will eventually devour Indian journalism. Many believe that paid news has taken deep roots. Today, more and more people are losing respect for the media. They are subscribing to multiple newspapers and switch of TV channels because they do not trust media.

All these show that the ethics and principles on which the journalism stands is no longer being followed by the journalist. the journalist are not even following the guiding rules of journalism set by the press council of India, well that’s what the above mentioned cases says as loudly and clearly as possible. In the hide of Freedom of expression the watchdogs of democracy are having a nexus with the political parties, corporate and big organizations for their own petty gains. The greedy media is killing the people and the democracy, not at the rate of authoritarianism but killing the same.

[1]Constitution of India, 1950, art 19(2).
[2] Rule 6, Cables Television Network Rules (1994).
[3]Norms of Journalistic Conduct, Press Council of India.
[4]“Operation 136: Part-II” (Cobrapost, 25 may 2018) <>accessed 27 September 2018.

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