THE ROLE OF THE PRESS
THE FOURTH Estate ranks first in shaping public opinion when society is politically literate and socially insensitive even in this information age and knowledge era.
We have not yet fully realized the profound importance to our democracy of an educative, objective newspaper, which publishes promptly and marshals information without fear and favour, affection and ill will. Journalistic independence, intelligence, investigative ability and probity are integral to the greatness of the Press. In the Mudroch epoch, sex, vulgar values, purchase of the readers’ souls and propaganda which beats cultural heritage and vintage traditions, are apt to captivate readership and buy up the media with monopolistic hunger. There are newspapers even today, which are no mere mechanical messengers but are dailies with a message, which makes the reader more informed, illumined and thoughtful.
John Pilger (Hidden Agenda) writes: " I have become convinced that it is not enough for journalists to see themselves as mere messengers, without understanding the hidden agenda of the message and the myths that surround it. High on the lists is the myth that we now live in an "information age" – when, in fact, we live in a media age, in which the available information is repetitive, ‘safe’ and limited by invisible boundaries. In the day-to-day media, much of this is the propaganda of Western power, whose narcissism, dissembling language and omissions often prevent us from understanding the meaning of contemporary events. ‘Globalization’ is a prime example. This smokescreen extends to journalists themselves.
Today global control of media and popular mind is the great peril. Erosion of integrity seems inevitable. If power belongs to the people and the Press is a trustee, resistance to exotic pressure is a new challenge to the Indian media.
Fawning servants, obedient aides, and the symbols of success surround the powerful in the country. In our country those who reach the mountaintop are so pampered and so insulated by the trappings of power that they can easily forget that they are servants, not masters, of the nation. It is far more pleasant to write puffery about the powerful in the social, political and religious fields, of course, than it is to probe their perfidy. " Public officeholders are usually likable; that is why they get elected (or continue to occupy high positions in public and religious and educational institutions). Many reporters taken in by this "personal charm", are awed by the "majesty" of office/position; and they become publicists rather than critics of the men who occupy the offices"(The Anderson Papers).
Jack Anderson, wary of the collapse of moral standards in the media observes that they become the lap dogs of government (and also powerful persons in the private institutions) instead of watchdogs over them. They wag their tails and seek approval instead of growling at the abuses of power. The reporters who go along with the powerful, and act as explainers and apologists for those who violate the public trust, must be considered accessories to the pillage. Like the politician and special seekers, these men sell a little of themselves each day; and the chumminess between the power structure and the Press apparatus robs the reports of integrity.
One must agree with the great Thomas Jefferson when he said about the Press: "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." (Jawaharlal Nehru also has effectively expressed the same idea.) It is worth noting that even after irresponsible newspapers had abused him, Jefferson, as President, did not restrict his earlier statement. Rather, as he neared the end of his first term, he wrote to a friend: "No experiment can be more interesting than what we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that men may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues of truth. The most effective hitherto found, is the freedom of the Press. It is, therefore, the first to be shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions."
Delivering the Eighth Rosalind Wilson Memorial Lecture in New Delhi on "Media in the New Millennium", B.G.Verghese said: "The media makes instant heroes and villains. It can be brutal, callous and utterly casual in doing so. Sensationalism sells. Serious issues can be trivialized in crisp but meaningless sound bytes and photo opportunities or in the manner of their display and editing. This makes it that much more important to insist on and uphold media values professionally and socially. Distorted mirrors can warp society…From being a marketplace of ideas, newspapers came to be marketed more than edited – commodification of news, sensation, trivia, gossip, the tabloidisation of broadsheets…Often there has been less depth, inadequate follow-up and a certain arrogance of power manifest in disdain for correction" (quoted by G.S.Bhargava, Blue Pencil – Mainstream, August 12, 2000).
It is high time Indian newspapers returned to their moorings and maintained their high standards.Why? Because the media influences what people think of and the way they think. If the focus is wrong, direction is lost. A people without reliable news, rooted in its vintage values and primitive of its progress will sooner or later be a people
without the basis of swaraj.
Newspapers by plurality of editions, should not indulge in fragmentation and localization of news, missing the national perspective which alone keeps alive the unity and integrity of the country. They, with their long history of glory in the field of nationalist struggle and thereafter for the freedom of the Press, have a soul to preserve and a struggle to wage, so that they are no longer opium but tonic. The patriotic duty of the Fourth Estate today is to stress democratic discipline, expose untruth wrapped in gloss and party and individual interests in appealing dross.
The soft stories demanded are a slice of a cake. It is being presented as if it is the whole cake. There’s an overwhelming emphasis on the light and trivial. We are not an affluent democracy. The media in a poor country like India must be the voice and face of the voiceless, faceless millions; it is warped just to be the face of the upwardly mobile, urban middle class."