On one hand, there is increasing violence against journalists, no job guarantee, lobbyism, political patronage, internal issues, and on the other hand, many unions, clubs, and associations are mushrooming with the claim to protect the rights of the journalists. Many journalists were the victims of violence. In fact, India ranks ninth in a list of the 20 deadliest countries for the journalists. Nine journalists have died in the last four years and many face death threats on a regular basis. The political correspondents who expose corruption pay the highest price. These days, even the job of a journalist is decided by the political groups, no one is independent in his/her expression. In a country where the journalists need basic dignity, having so many unions are of no use there. If you look at the data, these unions just protested or mourned for the journalist who landed in casualty but they could hardly create any pressure on the government or safeguard the scribe.
Media is the fourth pillar of democracy and it cannot be trodden. There was a campaign on social media called #journalismwithoutfear which asked the media people to share their story of courage and how they kept going in the face of fear. Their aim was to make India a better and safer place for journalists. What happened after that campaign? Some noise for some time and now, everyone has almost forgotten about it. More disturbingly, India features in the list of 13 high-impunity countries where a tremendously large proportion of such murders have remained unsolved, according to a 2016 CPJ report. Most journalists who have been murdered for their work covered politics and corruption. Another community, which has been targeted, is that of Right to Information (RTI) activists. Death is the ultimate price that the journalists, writers, and whistleblowers pay for challenging powerful vested interests or for expressing dissent. While such murders represent the most extreme form of attack on journalists and writers, less extreme forms of attacks such as death threats and abuses are common. The advent of social media has only worsened the problem, with women journalists facing the brunt of the attacks on social media. When journalists raise such issues, they are often told that the rise in such abuses or attacks at least partly reflects the declining credibility of the Indian media.
However, the rising reach of Indian media over the past few decades has been accompanied by greater trust in it, data from successive rounds of the World Values Survey shows. It is nobody’s case that Indian journalists are infallible, but the long-term trends suggest that their credibility has been rising over time.
As the charts illustrate, trust in the Indian media has risen sharply since the mid-1990s, when state monopoly over the broadcast news medium was broken. Confidence in the press was higher in India than in several other countries surveyed, the data shows, as we reached to 2019, media completely lost its credibility and it remained a political mouthpiece. India has hardly been a harbour for journalists.
From the past five years, the reporters and editors have faced harassment, pressure, and threats from vested interests in the government as well as private ones. A number of them have even been killed for performing their duty or voicing an opinion. No wonder India is the third-most dangerous place to be a journalist, behind war-torn Iraq and Syria. Aiming women journalists as the ‘soft targets’ exposes the intolerance towards others’ views. The freedom of expression by the Press needed legal protection in the current climate of intimidation of presspersons. The media must be the watchdog, the mediator between the leaders and the public. The mainstream media’s independence is currently being questioned, and see how ultra-nationalism has dominated the political narrative, refusing to accept dissent. In recent years, the media has also lowered the quality of India’s public dissertation. Media expansion has led to a shrinking of the public sphere, resulting in the spread of elitist and socially conservative values.
The media is divided into religions, castes, and creeds; some publication houses and media channels go random against minorities, and some claims to be leftists and attack Hindu upper class in this Hindu Muslim era of journalism, Dalit magazines turns the spotlight on India’s low-caste plight. The readers too are divided into these lines. Apart from these divisions, some media houses got mortgaged to powers. The true test of a vigorous democracy is the independence of its media. Over the past few years, our media has become the mouthpiece of the party in power. Coupled with the fact that the corporate owners of media houses share close links with the government, the Indian media has tragically lost its voice.
Serious issues like the beef ban, the crisis in Kashmir, dissent in universities and even the unrest in societies where Dalits — the lowest level of India’s caste system — have been discriminated or killed or have received scant mention in the media coverage. Still, there hasn’t been a bigger debate about why the media has failed to effectively perform the critical tasks it’s supposed to do in a representative democracy. In such situations, what can be the role played by the unions and associations?
India has over 400 news channels in various languages and another 150 channels are awaiting clearance. The South Asian country also has tens of thousands of newspapers and magazines. However, the quality of Indian journalism is poor, as evidenced by the fact India ranks 136 among 180 countries in the index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, an NGO.
When it comes to press freedom, India fares worse than even countries like Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates. Over the last few years — especially after Prime Minister Narendra Modi won the general election of 2014 — the Indian mainstream media has allowed itself to be undermined by the unmatched political power that he represents. In fact, given the current state of how the mainstream media works, it will be difficult to expose tweaked data and opacity in government functioning. A new note of muscular nationalism has crept into media discourse. Also prominent are the curbing of dissent and the rise of the surveillance state — developments that bode ill for the independence of the Indian media. If you notice, why we don’t see much criticism in the media is that the government, in the person of the Prime Minister, has the ability to completely dominate the media’s agenda, by saturating the public and media sphere with the message, image, and his voice. Therefore, the media is bound to only react to the news agenda offered by the government, rather than investigate its activities independently. Read any big newspaper, there are hardly any bylines; some newspapers have dropped writing editorials, some newspapers randomly publish news provided by DGIPR or Press Trust of India and they do not get into investigative stories. What more do you expect when the media industry is dominated by such big players of the corporate industry and political parties? Some prominent Indian media is now the B team of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Modi government. The increasing liberty of the ‘Hindutva brigade’ as he termed it, of attacking those that did not conform to its ideology of hate and intolerance and targeting of minority communities. Sections of the media helped in spreading the mindset. When media is in mafia hands, be it political or corporal, how can these mushrooming unions change the plight of the fraternity?
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