Santosh Kumar Mohapatra
nquestionably, the success and survival of democracy depend on the freedom and transparency of media. But most mainstream media run by corporate houses and the rich and powerful are used for personal aggrandisement. They also cater to the interest of the rich and powerful. That is why, some days back, while speaking on the role of the media in India, former President Pranab Mukherjee reiterated that media must serve the people, not the powerful. The Fourth Estate of democracy must be a watchdog, gatekeeper and mediator between the powerful and the public. By stridently sticking to the truth, media can act as the upholder of fairness and integrity. The watchdog must forever be on the alert.
Watchdog means media should make critical analysis of government policies, performances and expose its failures, loopholes, suggest solutions so that the government can rectify mistakes. It should be vociferous when liberty and freedom of expression are curbed; constitutional rights are jeopardised; survival of democracy is threatened; poor and vulnerable are marginalised and national assets are plundered. But those who are at the helm of affairs want to retain power as long as they can.
Most mainstream media run by corporate houses and the rich and powerful are used for personal aggrandisement. They also cater to the interest of the rich and powerful
The BJP is not an exception to this. Its fear of losing popularity and vote banks is more. Through allurement of advertisements or veiled threats, media is throttled, emasculated by incumbent the NDA government at the Centre to camouflage its failures or masquerade failures as success.
Instead of the media being a watchdog, government representatives are watching the media with a hawk eye. It is reported that a large team of 250 employees at the BJP’s old headquarters in Delhi is tracking the tweets and writings of hundreds of journalists across the country, sorting who is against the party and who is in favour of it. From a room of in Suchana Bhawan, 200 government officials are also watching various TV channels and preparing reports of how many times and in what form, they are showing Modi and Amit Shah and whether they are in favour or against the government. If anybody is against government, they are warned to be sensitive to the government, understand the present situation or they (party spokesperson) will not participate in their programmes. Consequently, many media houses have adopted self-censorship and India’s position continues to slide in the world freedom index.
Media is an instrument for expression of dissent. The Supreme Court had once said “Dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If dissent is not allowed, then the pressure cooker may burst.” However, many blind supporters, trolls have been created based on religious fundamentalism, superstition, unscientific temper, closed mentality, who are made to believe intractably that BJP/Modi is symbol of development, saviour of Hinduism and the nation. Government and its trolls continue to create revulsion, abhorrence against people expressing dissent. Any dissent, criticism of government or BJP or Modi is dubbed as treason, anti-national, anti-Hindus, anti-Modi, anti-BJP, Communistia or Maobadi activity.
In history or mythology; we have read some kings used to move at night in disguise to know the feelings of the people about their regime so as to correct themselves if there is any mistake. Now, it is the media which should act as a mirror to reflect the failures of government. But government has become too intolerant of criticism. The very purpose of government advertisement is make people know about various schemes. The government spends crores of rupees in publicity and media hype to create an illusion of progress and prosperity to gain political dividend. After a huge publicity blitz, there is hardly any positive feature left for one to write. However, when government distorts data to hood wink masses, it needs to be exposed.
Pro-people journalism is being discouraged now. When the ruling dispensation speaks for the poor, actually it caters to interest of rich, powerful and corporate. Pro-corporate journalism has been masqueraded as real journalism, which treats concessions given to corporate, rich as good for the economy, while concessions given to masses is anti-growth and populists. The rich and powerful, who amass wealth by exploiting others, are projected as social worker and rewarded, while real talent is shrivelled and genuine sacrifice remains unnoticed. Media is failing to bring truth in to limelight.
Further, an investigative journalist has to expose the more negative aspects so that powerful fears to lead an unethical life and refrains from committing any mistake or crime. However, investigative journalism is almost defunct today due to increased risk ingrained in it. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a press freedom watchdog, which released its annual 2018 Global Impunity Index ranking, has revealed that in the last 26 years, 48 journalists have lost their lives in India and the condition has worsened in 2018. India is ranked at 14 amongst countries that have the worst record of prosecuting the killers of journalists like Somalia, Pakistan, Mexico, South Sudan and Syria.
We are in a society where many opinion makers are from the richer class who speak in favour of rich and powerful, especially the ruling class. This undermines the sanctity of media. What is reprehensible is that now the ruling class and exploiters, whose activities are supposedly subject to critical analysis, are occupying the space meant for genuine writers or columnists. This leads to decimation of the voice of the voiceless.
The author is an Odisha-based economist and columnist. e-Mail:firstname.lastname@example.org