I remember reading an editorial by Vinod Mehta, one of India’s finest and fearless journalists, in the Times of India on how self-regulation is best for media.
He says “most in the profession are aware they wield enormous unsanctioned power.” As a man who uses his words carefully, he realizes the power of media. Yet, highlights the perils of how this power is often used callously and irresponsibly.
Calling it the Fourth Estate in a Democracy doesn’t mean it really is the Fourth Estate. Like Mr. Mehta rightly points out, “Media credibility is sinking fast. We are not yet a rogue press, but as the Radia tapes showed, we are halfway there.”
Well, we’ve achieved our goal. What media and ill-informed journalists do today is quote an unknown source as a trusted source (without checking the authenticity of information) and pull off a story as a lead story. In olden days of journalism, they were called opinion pieces not news stories.
Time and again, we see, all big names in today’s Indian journalism talking about ethics and morality. Why haven’t we forgotten how these big names got embroiled in several controversies that can’t be erased from our tiny little brains?
Journalists today have become deal-makers – with politicians, businessmen, actors, et al. If the deal goes the wrong way, they dump their ethics and publish a negative story, spewing venom on that individual/group/party. This is a classic case of friends turning foes. While it might not come as a shock to many these days, it points to a precarious trend gathering pace – media’s unnecessary interference in private matters.
What’s more? The entertainment drama that follows on the electronic media – more like a verbal war that will compel you to shut the television and realize that you live in a world where it’s not the Judiciary that’s trying criminals, but it is ‘trial by media’ – of anyone and everyone.
In print though, the new journalism is all about scribbling the editor’s point of view (based on his links to a particular political party) in the form of a banner story without sources.
The media, today, has blurred the line between being critical and criticizing. The latter is popular and grabs more TRPs. Not only are today’s readers and viewers more informed, but they also watch what the media is doing to them.
For instance: Compare reporting of an issue across various news channels, one will immediately realize there are different versions of the same incident flashed on our screens. So, how does a viewer or a reader trust the media organization?
The media’s role, which is now a forgotten skill, is to report facts and not to distort them. It is not the duty of the media to conduct an investigation or collect evidences. Especially in high-profile cases which are in the court, the media needs to tread carefully. It has to present facts and remain unbiased instead of tilting the scales in favour of one party or another.
This trend points out how media’s credibility is in danger. Not only is the media playing a huge role in misleading people, it is also damaging reputations of individuals/families beyond repair.
Coupled with this negativity is the advent of social media networks. While dissemination and absorption of news has become quicker and easier through Facebook and Twitter, hate campaigns and virtual wars occupy more space on the Web. Interestingly, we have news channels/newspapers (on Twitter) deciding the future of a person within 140 characters, without any confirmation.
One wonders whether the media is aware of its follies or whether it believes that the Fourth Estate doesn’t need any regulation and is above law. And, when questioned, we have seen many journalists raise the issue of Freedom of Speech and Expression. The Constitution mentions this as a Fundamental Right. Yes. But, this comes with accountability.
Like Voltaire said: “With great power, comes great responsibility”. And, hence, self-regulation is the best for media. That doesn’t spare the newspaper that published Mr. Mehta’s article.