The Malfunctioning Fourth Pillar of Indian Democracy

Indian democracy stands on four pillars – the Legislature, the Executive, the Judiciary and the Media. Media has been given such importance because it acts as a medium of communication between the other three pillars and the ‘fifth pillar’ of the Indian democracy, viz., the Citizens of this country.  It is an open secret that in any democracy laws govern the country; laws are governed by the politicians; politicians are controlled by the voters; voters are controlled by opinions; opinions are controlled by the media. Media then becomes the master of the democracy. The duty of the media is to bridge the gap between the three other pillars and the people, so that fair opinions are formed and the deserving people come to power. But, what is happening at present?

Everything was fine till a person called Abhishek Singh made some serious allegations against the media regarding the recent Unnao and Kathua case. However, he refuses to mention proper sources, making it difficult to examine the credibility of the shocking facts that he revealed.

One of those allegations he made is that in both the cases, rape never happened. According to him, the allegation of rape in the Kathua Case is simply made up by the media and in the Unnao case, the accusation of rape is made up by the victim, over some family and property dispute, just to nail the MLA. The arrest of two BJP MLAs does ring the bell, given this the time of elections, but this factor does not negate the possibility of the cases being true. The discussion here is definitely not whether the cases are true or not, but if these allegations are true, it raises serious questions on the ethics and the reliability of media. Is it just that they simply twist cases to something else and broadcast them and the people, like fools will follow them and grow their sentiments based on this news, whether real or fake? Unfortunately, this is the present scenarios. The common man is just being viewed as a receptor of the facts that media shows and expected not to raise any questions on their credibility or to just keep quiet. Is this not the exact opposite of the qualities that a democratic system expects from the citizens?

Social Media –The Stage for Endless Rumours

This reminds of a game played back in school.  The teacher would say a story to one student of the class. That student narrates the same story to another and this chain continues till the very last student is told the story. The last student who heard the story should narrate it openly to the entire class. There are a few rules – there should be no repetition of the story to a single person, one person should not narrate the story to more than one person and nobody should overhear the story. We remember having a hearty laugh after hearing the story from the mouth of the last student, which used to be a hilarious version, completely different from the first story. This activity was for fun, but this demonstrates the way rumours spread, going off the track from person to person.

The same applies to social media as well, the difference is that the same posts are shared by a chain of people. Anybody familiar with the social media like Facebook, twitter, to name a few, are generally aware how easily a viral post can be created, without even a speck of truth. To name a few, fake news about death of celebrities (who then post saying, “I am still alive!”) or those photos of the war aftermath which are photoshopped to gain the sympathy of the people and gain maximum circulation, this list goes on growing.

Social media is an excellent platform which enables each citizen to be both a reporter and a reader, reaching out to a large audience. This helps people get firsthand information about any case (This could have been used as a tool in exposing the truths of the Kathua and Unnao cases, where the locals would just have posted the true facts). But unfortunately, this platform is being misused by people who want to manipulate the public opinion to carry out their political intentions.

People should be sensitive, at least with regard to such sensitive cases like rape or murder and should not help spread such news, without knowing the credibility of the facts. If they are not sure whether the case is true, they can simply refrain from sharing the posts or mentioning specifically that he/she does not know if the incident is true and asking the others to confirm if they have any leads about the case. This can be a constructive use of the social media.

The Print and the Electronic Media

It is astonishing that most of the newspapers and the news channels are either partially or fully owned by the politicians. So, quite obviously, it cannot be expected that they give unbiased news. There are a few channels that claim that they give unbiased news, let us get into little further details. They are privately owned, not by anybody in politics. In the beginning, they do give somewhat unbiased news, but they soon lose their share of TRP and then they start selling advertisement slots for survival.  These advertisements, again will be about the politicians. If the channel somehow survives and gets a wide viewership, its owners and the reporters are often threatened and/or assaulted by the ‘victims’ of their coverage (politicians).

Another astonishing fact is that the debates or panel discussions held in some of the news channels, which aim at providing quality facts of particular issue, with various points of view, often end up in endless loops and shouts. Instead of brining a clearer picture to the viewer, they often confuse him.

The newspapers can be classified based on their guest columns because there is nothing much they can manipulate, except the editorial columns, because the news has already spread through the electronic media and social media.

Responsibility of Media

Indian media has had great journalists like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Dadabhai Naoroji, and many more who started newspapers as a service instead as a business. They put in their everything to start newspapers and even staked their lives and prestige for the cause of enlightening the common man.

Unfortunately, today, most of the newspapers and the news channels are business ventures, focusing on making profits, rather as responsible institutions aimed at creating a well-educated and a well aware public. Media now –a-days seem to have forgotten what their purpose is and the ethics that they are expected to imbibe in them.

What needs to Be Done Next?

There are a few steps that could be taken to minimise this manipulation of news by the media:

  • Any person involved in political activities should be barred from owning any newspapers or news channels or involving himself in any affairs regarding those organisations.
  • Strict regulations should be passed to punish the media organisations for hiding the facts or manipulating them in the news they cover. They are to be mandated to show the evidences to the claims they make openly available to the public through their websites.
  • Social media users should be cautious about the news they hear and cross verify it before    sharing it.
  • Common people, who are at the receiving end of the news, should try to keep aside their emotions while receiving the news and should try to analyse the news as unbiased as possible, like a third person.
  • Those in possession of the first hand true information about the case should share the same with documentary evidences, so that right information is available freely to all.

Final Appeal to the Media and the Public

First, to the media: Please do not manipulate the facts to serve the interests of a few. Remind yourselves about your ethical responsibilities and try to give the true information about any incident with documentary evidences. If people find out that your channels / newspapers are unbiased, your viewership will definitely grow substantially. No human on this Earth wants to be told false facts. All want to know the truth. Please do not come in the way of the truth. Let truth alone prevail.

To the Public: Please keep aside your emotions while seeing the news or reading news in a newspaper. Keep aside your political interests, aspirations and become responsible citizens of India, building a stronger India with true and fair opinion as a strong foundation. Then alone will India will be the world’s first biggest and successful democracy. Then alone will the dreams of our forefathers and those who sacrificed their all for the cause of the nation will come true. Only then will we be eligible to reap the fruits of their selfless sacrifice.


Author: Ms. Nayana M R