Guest Column| Changing paradigm: Media moderation in governance - Hindustan Times
close_game
close_game

Guest Column| Changing paradigm: Media moderation in governance

Apr 30, 2024 03:30 PM IST

The media’s responsibilities to critique government policies and decisions, hold power to account, and advocate for the public interest remain paramount. Constructive criticism, grounded in evidence and unbiased analysis, serves as a check on government power and fosters transparency and accountability.

The press, referred to as the Fourth Estate of democracy, wields substantial influence in shaping public opinion and holding those in power accountable. Throughout history, the regulation and influence of the media have sparked intense debates, reflecting the intricate interplay between power dynamics, information dissemination, and public discourse. As India traverses elections to the Lok Sabha, the imperative of media moderation in governance becomes increasingly evident.

As India traverses elections to the Lok Sabha, the imperative of media moderation in governance becomes increasingly evident. (Representational image)
As India traverses elections to the Lok Sabha, the imperative of media moderation in governance becomes increasingly evident. (Representational image)

In the pre-Independence era, luminaries such as Lokmanya Tilak demonstrated the indispensable role of a free and independent press in safeguarding democratic values, notwithstanding constraints imposed by external forces. Post-Independence, particularly in the formative years following 1947, the media, especially newspapers, contributed to fostering national unity, carefully balancing freedom of expression with the promotion of nationalism.

Now catch your favourite game on Crickit. Anytime Anywhere. Find out how

However, the relationship between the media and the government has been marked by periods of tension, exemplified by instances of governmental control and intolerance towards media criticism. The utilisation of Doordarshan, the primary electronic medium of the time, for political propaganda, underscored the challenges of maintaining a free and independent media ecosystem amid political pressures.

Commercialisation of media

The advent of the coalition era witnessed a diversification of the media landscape, accompanied by an unprecedented expansion of electronic media fuelled by technological advancements and globalisation. However, there has been a discernible shift towards a pro-government narrative dominating the discourse, compounded by the exponential growth of print, electronic, and social media platforms. This trend, coupled with the commercialisation of media entities, has raised concerns about journalistic integrity and impartiality.

The imperatives guiding media practices today are shaped by the vast expanse of information and the commercialisation of media entities. Digital technologies have democratised access to information, empowering individuals to become active participants in news consumption and dissemination. The Right to Information Act has also contributed substantially to these developments. However, this has also led to the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation, exacerbated by opaque information generation processes and widespread indifference towards new technologies among segments of the population.

The commercialisation of media, while not a new phenomenon, has reached unprecedented levels. The convergence of media and business interests has blurred the lines between journalism and advocacy, raising concerns about the integrity and impartiality of news reporting. The rise of media start-ups, particularly those by non-professionals and fly-by-night operators driven solely by commercial motives, threatens to tarnish the reputation of the media profession. These challenges necessitate collective introspection within the media community and judicious government intervention, if necessary, to preserve journalistic integrity.

Responsibilities and challenges

The media’s responsibilities to critique government policies and decisions, hold power to account, and advocate for the public interest remain paramount. Constructive criticism, grounded in evidence and unbiased analysis, serves as a check on government power and fosters transparency and accountability. Globally, it is viewed as a key performance indicator of democracy.

Yet, the media’s role as a watchdog is not without challenges. Regulatory measures targeting national security and public order should be judiciously implemented without infringing upon freedom of expression or stifling dissent. The delineation between legitimate regulatory measures and attempts to suppress dissent in the guise of national security remains a contentious issue. Efforts to establish a code of conduct that balances media freedom with national interests have often fallen short, underscoring the complex and multifaceted nature of the media-government relationship.

The media’s role in moderating governance should be acknowledged and appreciated, but it is necessary to distinguish between responsible journalism and sensationalism. Sensationalised reporting, driven by profit motives or partisan agendas, undermines the credibility and integrity of the media profession, eroding public trust in the Fourth Estate. Further, misinformation and disinformation pose a grave threat to the democratic process, necessitating collective action to combat falsehoods and uphold the principles of truth and accuracy in journalism.

The media’s role in shaping public opinion and building perceptions, though important in a liberal democracy such as India, must be exercised responsibly, with full regard to ethical imperatives of truth, accuracy, and impartiality. Regulatory measures to safeguard national security should be balanced, upholding freedom of expression and tolerance of dissent. Collective action is needed to combat sensationalism and misinformation, ensuring that the Fourth Estate continues to serve as a bulwark against tyranny and champions the voice of the people in the corridors of power. sureshkumarnangia@gmail.com

Suresh Kumar (HT file)
Suresh Kumar (HT file)

The writer is a retired Punjab IAS officer. Views expressed are personal.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Share this article
SHARE
Story Saved
Live Score
OPEN APP
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Thursday, June 20, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On