Authors – Priya Kumari and Suhas M.P
Media holds a strong power and responsibility in a democratic society. They are the ones who can influence the thought process of millions of people. A media that is free to put forth harsh and genuine realities of the society, independent from all political and religious influences and powerful to make the guilty suffer is proof of effective democracy. The great importance and power of the media make people to consider it the fourth pillar of democracy. It is considered as the eyes, ears and mouth of the people. The freedom of the press is not explicitly mentioned in the Indian constitution but it can be derived from Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution i.e. freedom of speech and expression. However, along with time, media deviated from its ultimate task of providing authentic information and started playing the game of TRP. Media trials is also an emerging issue. In the present time, the media is just a puppet of political and religious dominant people. As said by W.H. Auden, “What the mass media offers is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten and replaced by a new dish”. This paper tries to answer whether it is correct to consider media as the fourth pillar of democracy. For this, it deals with the role of media in society, its role in the COVID time, rights provided to media by the Indian Constitution, the problem of media trials and religious disharmony, etc.
Keywords: Media, democracy, Article 19, media trial, authentic
“The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed.”
- Hannah Andret
The 16th President of the USA, Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”. This definition clearly points out that in a democracy, the supreme power lies in the hand of the people. There are three important basic pillars of democracy which include the legislature, executive and judiciary. Taking into consideration the emerging significance and power of media in the present time, it is often considered as the fourth pillar of democracy. For the first time, the term “Media: Fourth Pillar of Democracy” was used by Thomas Caryle, a Scottish historian. According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, media can be defined as “a medium of cultivation, conveyance, or expression”. It is in different forms like print, virtual, social, etc.
The Constitution of India and the media
The media derive significant power from the Constitution of India. The Constitution of India in Article 19(1) (a) lays down that “All citizens shall have the right, to freedom of speech & expression”. However, it is now well settled that the words “speech & expression” in this Article include the freedom of the press also. Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution is subject to certain restrictions laid down in Article 19(2) of the Constitution. These grounds of restrictions include – “Sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, contempt of Court and defamation or incitement to an offence”.
Role of media in present society:
The present time is the era of technology. Today, a major part of our society is connected to a virtual mode of media. These modes include televisions, mobile phones and other devices. The world is moving at such a rapid speed that there are so many incidents which happen in a single day and need to be reported to the people so that they know what is happening in the country and the world. These incidents may be political, religious, economic, health-related, etc. The role of media is to inform people about all such political, social and economic activities. Media performs like a mirror and reveal the truth and reality before the public. Along with this, media also works as the link between people and the government.
In different cases, pressure from the side of the media has made the investigation much faster and fair. In the Nirbhaya case, the media played a major role by demanding justice for the victim. Also, the way the media presented the case influenced a lot of people to protest against this incident on a huge scale and put pressure on the authorities to do a fair and fast investigation. After so many years of struggle, finally, the death penalty was awarded to the accused people and justice was done by changing the rape laws.
Similarly, Asaram Bapu Case and Ram Rahim Case, the media was the one who reported the information of each minute which resulted in making the entire country aware of the issue. By this, the media made sure that there is no possibility of corruption or any political or religious pressure in the trial. Finally, justice was done.
Media during COVID-19:
Media being a very active part of society has played a vital role in protecting the public interest. In the present time, the world is facing a pandemic, COVID-19. The responsibility of media doubles in such a situation. When people are going through hard times, the media is the one providing information to the people by the authorities and vice versa as well. Along with this, they are reporting the harsh realities of the scarcity of ventilators, oxygen and vaccine which put pressure on the government to do the needful as soon as possible. There are instances of migrant workers moving a long distance to reach their home which has made the government accountable for its acts.
Because of media, the judiciary also gets to know certain issues among the society and has taken suo- moto cognizance for ensuring justice to people. In the instance where people were not taken proper care of in hospitals and are losing their lives, the Apex Court took matter suo-moto directed authorities to make proper arrangements and thus making governments accountable and ensuring justice. Therefore, in such situation, it is the media which provides the information to the authorities and helps in ensuring justice to all.
Negative aspects of the media:
Every coin has two sides. On one hand, media is an essential element of democracy and on the other, some loopholes are there in its system. The major ones among them are as below:
- Media trial
Media trial is an emerging problem in the present time. Sometimes, along with informing people about an incident, the media also assumes the role of the judiciary and pronounce the decision even when the matter is pending in the court, based on the facts the news channels have which may or may not be authentic. This is known as a media trial. This creates an influence on judicial decisions and hampers the real administration of justice.
There are many cases where we can clearly see this happening which include the Sanjay Dutt case, Sushant Singh Rajput Case and other well-known cases. The basic harm it does is that it creates an opinion in the minds of people which damages the image of the person so accused. Here, the media is neglecting the fact that a person is accused until he/she is convicted by the court. For example – In Sushant Singh Rajput Case, many TV channels, based on their own facts, concluded that Rhea Chakraborty is the real accused. They even started demanding her arrest. This created her negative picture in the mind of common people and she has to suffer a lot.
There are various cases where the courts have commented on the working of the media. Some of them are:
Delhi High Court in a plea by Shashi Tharoor seeking an injunction against defamatory Broadcasting directs News Anchor Arnab Goswami to exercise restraint and stated that “Media Cannot run parallel trial”.
In a plea by Rakul Preet Singh against broadcasting of maligning campaign against her by media, Delhi High Court stated that “Media should exercise restraint, follow programme code”.
- Communal disharmony
Sometimes, the media also provide such news or in such a manner that it creates hate among the communities in the country.
One of the basic instances of this is where a channel named Sudharshan TV in a programme Bindass Bol, a particular community was targeted and was stated that Muslims joining civil services is a deep-rooted conspiracy. While dealing with this issue Supreme Court held that media cannot attack a community. Justice KM Joseph stated that “Media promoting communal attitude is against diversity and harmony of our country”.
Justice Chandrachud stated, “As a Supreme Court of the nation we cannot allow you to say that Muslims are infiltrating civil services. You cannot say that the journalist has absolute freedom doing this”.
Both these acts of media trial and communal disharmony are against the spirit of democracy. At this point, there is a need to regulate the media. It has to understand its duty and has to work within the defined limits.
- Strict enforcement of the law, which must give a clear window for media channels to apply licence where corruption can be controlled.
- Restricting political influence on media channels by setting up an independent body which should work like grievance redressal agency and must directly report to respective state “High Court”. This independent body must be framed by judiciary wing only.
- New law must be framed where if any politician tries to topple media house they must be tried and convicted for proper punishment under penal code.
- There must be a quarterly audit from the judiciary regarding compliances that need to be followed by a media house. The audit report must be submitted to an individual body established by the judiciary wing.
- Funding for a media house must not be done by any politician, businessmen, foreign nation. This will control the interference of powerful hands in the media industry.
- Regulations on the media house in showing contents which is the item of sovereignty.
Example- News regarding the country’s security and defence system.
Media can be surely termed as the fourth pillar of democracy. However, this pillar is not standing as strong in the present time as it used to be. It is the need of the hour to have a media which is free from all sort of prejudice and do the work freely and in an honest manner. The media should scrutinize the policies of the government critically from time to time and deliver honest information to every citizen of the country. Also, the government should provide adequate support to them and work in a harmonious manner with them. After it will be achieved, media can be termed as the fourth pillar of democracy in a true sense.