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Can democracy survive without Journalism?

What was journalism once practised throughout the world, has largely been replaced by rumour-mongering, blatant promotion and parroting, mindless opinion writing, not the least – “paid news”.  Real journalism is simply truth-telling and reporting and there is a huge vacancy of these practices. There may still be some objective reporting being practised in isolated pockets, but not enough to maintain a viable culture of journalism. That requires a critical mass information sharing, feedback and support from owners and media publishers, all of which are lacking. This applies to print, broadcast media and online journalism. Walter Lippman rightly said, “Cronysim is the curse of journalism.  The bigger the media, the less courage and freedom they allow. Bigness means weakness”.

Democracy cannot survive without public awareness, for which transparency is critical. If media outlets no longer effectively explain and analyse the issues, its records and platforms of the parties and candidates, how can the voters decide who to elect? Perhaps this partially explains why many people have given up on democracy and no longer vote. Democracy is on life-support, like a terminal patient on oxygen.  Will it make a miraculous recovery, given new life through new sources of information, disseminated by citizen journalists, social media or the next generation of reporters enroute emerging forms of digital and electronic media?

If journalism is defined as objective reporting, democracy can’t survive without it. Any citizen anywhere who reports objective and true facts is akin to a journalist. And this has been a factor in democracies before professional publications were produced.

Most professional journalism is corrupted to varied extent, primarily due to money and power interests, which always impact democratic outcomes. Since both are near-omnipresent, meaningful citizen journalism is vital to democracy.  The media –all of them- are full of commercials, which are sponsored by ‘the big ones’ of the industry.  And how often can a journalist, a publisher bite the hand that feeds?

Democracy cannot survive without a free press. But if there is a press that claims to successfully run on the illusion of freedom, what we will have at the end of the day is an illusion of democracy.  Journalism and democracy are both having identity crisis, and the results aren’t always impressive. It is necessary to acknowledge that producing democracy sustaining journalism is no easy task.

By the use of digital media, the main costs of publishing get eliminated, thus the necessity of commercials. No paper, no printing ink, transporting logistics necessary anymore. Just some server capacity, journalists salary and minimal overheads is all you need to reach your readers, and even worldwide. So, why journalism would fail, if it could actually thrive?  Information has always been the source of power of any ruling class; yet who is actually the ruling class in a democracy?  Isn’t it, we the people? There is a new era dawning, if we would just allow it.

Journalism has always struggled. Certainly some news agencies and reporters have done better than others. Just like a good science, good investigative journalism needs to find better ways to acknowledge and resist structural bias.  As critiques, we have a duty to quantify our concerns.  That’s no small chore. It will be interesting to see what happens over the coming decades.  There is so much potential.

C.S. Krishnamurthy

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