Fourth Pillar of Democracy in the Present Context
Written by: Shyam Ji Mishra, Student, Amity Law School, Lucknow
"Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.” : Thomas Carlyle in ‘Hero and Hero Worship’
Mainstream Media has been entrusted upon the role to unfold the unbiased news to the masses and to make sure that the general public does not get deceived by the Political tactics of the Parties, which is why Media has been referred to as the Fourth Pillar of Democracy which keeps a check on all the other three forms of Government. Now, to ensure that the media or press remains unbiased and uninfluenced, the Freedom of Press has been covered under the ambit of Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19(1)(a). Supreme Court through numerous cases has warranted this principle, one of the cases being the Case of Indian Express Newspapers (P) Ltd. v. Union of India, where Supreme Court held that “In today’s free world freedom of press is the heart of social and political intercourse.” (Singh)
However, despite freeing up the space and providing liberty to the press and media, the level of reporting is quite not up to the mark which was exhibited when the World Press Index in the year 2020 ranked India 142nd out of the 180 countries participating, even placing behind countries like Afghanistan (RSF, 2020). One of the major reasons behind this is Media Intimidation which still persists in various cities whether small or metropolitan and makes journalism in remote areas quite difficult. Another reason is the Political Inclinations of the media houses towards a certain ideology due to which selective news are put up in front of the audience and in a way which seems biased at the first sight. This flaunts a major flaw in the upcoming as well as current democratic society as without a fledged Media, democracy is a namesake.
“Whoever controls the Media, controls the mind” – Jim Morrison
The emergence of Electronic Media and Social Media has given the general public an advantage to get updated on the news much quickly while getting involved directly with the news outlets but it has also given rise to a much bigger problem known as Fake News.
In a study done by the MIT, it was reported that, false news spread even faster than the real news. Now, Fake news is not a new problem, it is pre existing in the society for centuries and the Internet is just another medium of it, but, the level at which fake news is being spread on the social media is unprecedented. Messaging apps like Whatsapp spread fake news like wildfire and there is no regulatory mechanism to check the authenticity of the facts mentioned which brings us to the second major problem that is the propaganda fuelling.
Propaganda is being promulgated by groups and individuals through spreading fake rumors to incite violence against any certain aspect. Delhi Police reported that it had cracked down as many as 40 accounts on various social media websites like Twitter which were proliferating the violence by sharing fake images during the Delhi riots in February. (Srivastava, 2020)
Even when the pandemic began, Fake Information regarding the pandemic flooded the social media and addressing the problem the Government of India even asked the social media firms to control the spread of fake news regarding the corona virus, all of this while there exist sections in IPC [Section 505(1)] which are devised specifically for this purpose, which shows the seriousness of the problem.
Now, the Mainstream media has also created Social Media accounts to provide news to viewers through the medium and it can be effective in countering these fake news portals on social media by keeping the viewers aware regarding the facts and figures, but it seems like media is also getting more and more biased regarding these topics. Headlines written by media seem like opinion mongering rather than the actual facts, depicting the political leaning of the outlets. For example, during the appointment of former Chief Justice of India to the Rajya Sabha, a headline in a major media outlet read as “Kovind, not COVID did it” which to say is wrong is not necessary. These types of incidents are only resulting in an increase in distrust among the viewers, which is why we need an effective mechanism to regulate the content being shown through Mainstream as well as Social Media.
Regulation of Media
While the Press is governed by the Press Counsel of India under the PCI Act,1978, Movies through CBFC Board, Advertisement through Advertising Standards Council of India there is no regulatory mechanism for the media, who are rather self governed, this means that Private broadcasters have formed self regulating bodies to regulate themselves, one of them being the News Broadcasters Association(NBA). These self regulating bodies have in turn devised the code of ethics to regulate the television content, which are more in the nature of guidelines. (Simran, 2011)
Since Media has been entrusted upon with such a great role and has given enormous powers, it is also important that Media should be kept in check with their responsibilities. In 2006, the government was working on a plan to regulate the media and even drafted a bill known as Draft Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill, 2006 which made it mandatory to seek license for broadcasting and also provided with standard for regulation of the content, but due to some reasons it could not be made into an act.
This marks a major flaw in the working of media as just like any pillar of democracy we need to have a regulatory mechanism to keep the functioning of media adequate and just. Now, it is to be made clear that regulations here by no means refer to as restricting or controlling the powers of media but to keep in check the powers which is the basic principle of democratic societies.
Former Supreme Court Judge Justice Katju has advocated for the Electronic Media to be brought under the purview of Press Council Act instead of being under a self regulatory body and has said that “Self-regulation is not always enough and that is why we have laws” (The Hindu, 2012)
The recent News of killing of a journalist in UP shocked the nation and resurfaced a long held problem of Media Intimidation which is still prevalent in the society and is junking the system for decades. Media reporters are being suppressed from reporting certain things which will reveal the state of society and put questions in front of the authorities. Often Journalists are threatened by goons of political parties for reporting and writing against their leader due to which more and more journalist are refraining from speaking up against the injustice.
Even the Public Servants have been involved in the ill acts of threatening the media reporters in order to stop them from presenting the truth, and harass the reporters in numerous ways to stop voicing against the ill system. Recently in Fatehpur, UP, FIR was filed by a sub divisional magistrate against a journalist for mere tweeting about the closing down of the community kitchen in the area. (NL Team, 2020)
The problem is that news like these fails to get traction and do not get highlighted by the media at all which is why the public remains unaware of these events. While there are promises being done by the government to curb the threat being imposed on the journalism but the execution of the same is non-effective.
Suggestions and Conclusion
Media is a major and the only source of information for many and misinformation to a large group of public can be very devastating which is why the government must step in and create a regulatory body which should govern the conduct of the media.
However, in spite of the laws, there needs to be a morale development and self- acknowledgement among the Media reporters regarding their duty towards a proper socialist and democratic state. Journalist need to refrain from writing click bait headlines and should focus on content which is proved true. Laws must be established regarding appointment of Editor to any media outlet and the political affiliations of the editor must be investigated before appointment.
The concept of Separation of Power is enshrined in the Constitution which provides for division of functions among the three branches of government: Legislative, Executive and Judiciary. This feature is also known as ‘System of Checks and Balances’ because through this feature each branch keeps a check on the function of the other two branches. If we think Media is the fourth pillar of Democracy, we need to treat Media as such and have a separate independent column for them, where the function of media is checked not controlled, where it is given an independent status while having a non government body regulating them.
Also there is a dire need for strict laws and a separate legislation in order to curb the threats that are imposed upon the reporters and a fixed and strong mechanism for effective implementation of those laws in order to make media free from any coercion.
NL Team. (2020, June 8). Uttar Pradesh: Fatehpur's journalists stand in the Ganga to protest against harassment by administration. Retrieved from Newslaundry: https://www.newslaundry.com/2020/06/08/uttar-pradesh-fatehpurs-journalists-stand-in-the-ganga-to-protest-against-harassment-by-administration
RSF. (2020). World Press Freedom Index. Retrieved 2020, from RSF: https://rsf.org/en/ranking_table
Simran. (2011). Regulation of Media in India- A Brief Overview. Retrieved from PRS Blog: https://www.prsindia.org/theprsblog/regulation-media-india-brief-overview
Singh, M. (n.d.). Freedom of Press - Article 19(1)(a). Retrieved 2020, from Legal Service India: http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/1847/Freedom-of-Press---Article-19(1)(a).html#:~:text=In%20India%2C%20freedom%20of%20press,freedom%20of%20speech%20and%20expression.&text=of%20the%20Supreme%20Court%20of,Bombay)%20(P)%20Ltd.
Srivastava, A. (2020, March 2). Delhi riots: Police crack down on fake messages, 40 accounts suspended. Retrieved from Hindustan times: https://www.hindustantimes.com/delhi-news/delhi-riots-police-crack-down-on-fake-messages-40-accounts-suspended/story-NmxTCWbzTu2NXpQ9PdibcK.html
The Hindu. (2012, April 18). For media, self-regulation is not always enough: Justice Katju. Retrieved 2020, from The Hindu: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/for-media-selfregulation-is-not-always-enough-justice-katju/article3328803.ece
Opinions expressed in the blogs are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The L Word Blog