Media The 4th Pillar Of Democracy
When you are fresh out of college and venturing into the world looking for jobs, it’s expected by default, that you are either going to be full of ideals or hope. No one starts as a sceptic; one eventually turns into one. So, here I was fresh out of college and in a newspaper office, planning to change the world. Weeks passed, and I doggedly held on to my belief that I was a part of this big mechanism that was making a change. There was a reason behind it. Media, at least in the textbooks, is considered to be the fourth pillar of democracy. On one end, there is Judiciary, Executive, and Legislature and at the other end, there are Media, constantly criticising and keeping a check on the policies, informing people on how they are being governed and also being a vigilant eye that sees it all.
Media Lost Its Credibility Long Back
After all these years, Media, at least in India, has lost its bite. It slowly started eroding when the pundits of the media houses decided that they didn’t need honesty. Rather, they needed something that they could sell, which the public would then gobble up; something that would cause enough hullaballoo to make them come the next day to see the tamasha again because hard journalism is a tough act to pull off. Hard journalism requires groundwork, reportage and manpower. Fluff, on the other hand, requires an over imaginative mind and colourful pictures. In the world, where people scroll through their feeds and chance upon news; rather than opening up a news tab, the primordial instinct took a sharp turn from journalism to sensationalism.
One of the biggest cover-ups in the recent times was the ‘Cobrapost expose,’ which showed that every major media house out there is ready to pump propaganda into the heart of Indian citizens, provided the price is right. Every single one of them is ready to sacrifice their journalistic integrity and the self-professed duty to the people for money. As soon as the videos came out, every media house went silent. There was no coverage of it; no panel on it, no discussion, no debate, not a single word from some on this topic. Honestly, nothing is there for them to say and whatever they would say would be self-incriminating, regardless of the stance. So, they did what they do best. They covered it up.
The Word Gets Out, But Did That Help?
However, the truth has a sneaky way of getting out through the cracks and it did. Although the coverage didn’t get the attention that it deserved; it did manage to find its way to the people via small outlets in India and much to our shame, to the world. While none of the Indian media powerhouses would touch it with a 10-feet-pole; the international media had a field day with it. BBC ran it with the headline “The story barely reported by Indian media,” while Al Jazeera spurred up an ethical debate with “Caught on camera: Indian media outlets and paid news” and many others took the news up and discussed it at large. So, did truth finally have a win? I am afraid, things are not that simple.
The Vote Bank Remains Largely Undisturbed
You see when old media stifles any kind of news or, as in the case of Cobrapost expose showed, tries to promote propaganda, the roots go very deep into the Indian psyche. This is because, over the years, these media outlets have spread so far and have deeply ingrained themselves in the rural areas, that it is almost impossible for new media to reach them and tell them what it’s worth. For example, there were several Hindi newspapers and regional news channels that were exposed in the sting operation. Now, when you consider the fact in some distant rural village those are the main source of news for the past 20 years and there is no way for the news of this sting to reach them because the old media has muffed it, the status quo remains the same. In the coming years, they can again be fed propaganda and no one would be wiser for it. Moreover, one has to understand that the voting strength of political parties comes from the rural strongholds and that is where they need propaganda the most. Nobody there opens up BBC or an indie news platform to read the news, they bank on the good old media outlets and there lies the hubris of the entire sting operation and its aftermath.
The Urban Denial
Even in the urban areas, there is a surprising lack of public outrage, which is the result of the apathy that one has developed in the recent years watching news hosts shouting on prime time news shows and click bait lines on their feeds. If you go to them and shout, “Look these news outlets are feeding you with propaganda, you are being fed lies,” the general vibe would be “Pata hai (I know)” and this is from the years of erosion that the fourth pillar has gone through in the public eye. Every news outlet, by default, has a tagline of “guilty” hanging from their drapes. The woe of the time is that they don’t have anything in their quiver to change that status quo. The Cobrapost sting fails to sting the urban audience because they have shifted their trust long time back from these phoney media houses.
Same Old, Same Old
The paid news issue is not a new one. Press Council of India (PCI) had set up a committee back in 2010 and once this committee finished its report; the release of the same was stalled for quite some time; as it contained information, “some council members argued that, it would destroy the publishers’ credibility and hurt their long-term interest”. Finally, a watered down version was presented and you can’t search for it on the PCI website because it has been taken down. This marks another classic cover-up story from the past, which shows that we are battling an ongoing problem.
So is there no silver lining? Well, not yet. I am afraid to say, not yet.