Indian Media urgently needs to reshape its priorities in nation-building


The steep fall in the journalistic moral standards has seriously jeopardized democracy and if media is to remain free, self-regulation is the only option, writes former IAS officer V S Pandey


Newspapers are truly the fourth pillar of democracy.  An enlightened and informed public opinion is the key to success of democracy and a free press is a precondition for any democracy to succeed and thrive and for the people to enjoy freedom of choice. With so much weight on the shoulders of media, things seem to be going southwards. Today, the  media is, generally, with a few exceptions of course, mired in various kinds of ills, carrying the weight of corporate profits, pressure from market forces wherein  “advertorial” and “response” and “response features” far outweigh the  editorials. Over a period of time, the media has become a tool to project the moneyed, page three personalities, models, players, actors and others of their ilk as the icons of our society.

The father of our nation had set out a very clear role for the media and it would be worthwhile to revisit Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of journalism. According to him, one of the objects of a newspaper is to understand popular feeling and give expression to it; another is to arouse among the people certain desirable sentiments, and the third is to fearlessly expose popular defects. Gandhiji’s papers never published advertisements. For him, journalism was not a vocation to earn his livelihood; it was a means to serve the public. In ‘Young India’ of July 2, 1925, he wrote: “I have taken up journalism not for its sake but merely as an aid to what I have conceived to be my mission in life.”

In Gandhiji’s words ‘newspapers are meant primarily to educate the people. They make the latter familiar with contemporary history. This is a work of no mean responsibility. It is a fact, however, that readers cannot always trust newspapers. Often facts are found to be quite the opposite of what has been reported. If newspapers realized that it was their duty to educate the people, they could not but wait to check a report before publishing it.”

On receiving Advertisement support for running a newspaper Mahatma Gandhi wrote -“It is now an established practice with newspapers to depend for revenues mainly on advertisements rather than on subscriptions. The result has been deplorable.” He would have found it outrageous currently. We  are witnessing  the falling standards of all sectors of our civic life, in our country , including media. But, as pointed out by our Mahatma, the fall in the journalistic moral standards is going to seriously jeopardize our democracy. Since the media has to remain free, so self-regulation is the only option. Instead of remaining busy filing juicy stories about celebrities, movie personalities, chatterati, rich and famous, our country will be served better if the newspapers and media direct their attention towards investigating the wrongdoings of the current crop of those ruling us.

Throughput the year, and 24×7, the media of all hues remains busy telling people who said what instead of analyzing and investigating who did what, who looted public money and how much. (it has to be a comparative study, as barring few exceptions, all are neck deep in the loot business). People are fed up with the way politics in our country has been conducted for decades. Everyone knows it has got mired in caste, religion and black money and there seems to be no way out of this morass. The Courts did try to intervene in various ways but have so far failed to stem the rot. It is for the fourth pillar of democracy to come to the forefront to play its part. The solution is simple. Instead of wasting its time covering speeches, tweets, facebook posts and statements made by the political class, let a consortium of conscientious section of the media come together to expose the plunder of these politicians who are at present occupying the centerstage in the political arena. They are the people who have been giving tickets to rapists, murderers , dacoits , thieves, liars , frauds and made them parliamentarians, legislators, ministers and chief ministers. Because of their own misdeeds, they ought to have been behind bars, locked up for decades, but instead they are our beloved “leaders” on whom media spends all its time -discussing their politics , strategy , alliances and  future prospects of their gaining power and then resuming their loot happily thereafter. The time has come to expose the misdeeds of such politicians whose crimes are more heinous than those criminals who are  locked up  in our jails . They are the ones who are responsible for the all pervasive corruption, poverty , deprivation and inequality in our country .The media needs to adhere to the saner advice given by the  Mahatma of our nation at least now . It is clear that politicians had junked  Gandhian morality long back , let’s trust that the media will adhere to the path shown by the Mahatma of our nation -at least now. He wrote in  his autobiography: “The sole aim of journalism should be service. The newspaper is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges the whole countryside and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy.”

(Vijay Shankar Pandey is former Secretary Government of India)

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