Media is the fourth pillar of democracy and is the voice of the people. It is a conscience keeper of the state. The freedom of press is the indicator of democracy. While balanced, free and fair press can take the country forward, paid media, bought journalists, fake news, politically divided media and threatened media can destroy the image of a country and may send democracy towards the chaos of autocracy.
In India, unfortunately the situation is grim; TV, social media and print media are highly divided and personal opinion and leanings of journalists have come to the forefront which eventually blinds them and they become brand ambassadors of a segment of society/religion/political party instead of listening to their conscience and presenting the truth.
These days as the elections are going on in a few states and general election is on the horizon, the rift in media is all too clear. Indeed elections have become the biggest division creator among media houses. Journalists have only 2 choices: either praise Modi government while condemning the congress or keep silence. Anyone opposing or criticizing the current government would find himself in deep trouble. Cases will come up from nowhere and a black future will stare him hard. Therefore, many journalists and media houses play safe than ruining their businesses or even existence.
Added on this is the bombardment of fake news and over influence of Social media which is dangerous for not only media but also society and country. Security of journalists is another big threat. Many journalists have lost their lives due to their leanings towards a certain political ideology. Killings and assaults on them covering sensitive issues are very common.
Beware! BJP War Room is watching you!
The biggest political party of the world BJP has the biggest and most elaborate and high tech ‘War Room’ where the employees are mostly journalists, lawyers and graduates from IITs and IIMs. As per insider sources, different wings of the war room are deployed in different tasks to help create electoral strategies for ongoing and future polls. While a wing may analyse the last available voting data, another may be busy in gauging popular mood and accordingly reaching out to people on different digital platforms.
Then there are digital campaign managers who have created hundreds of Whatsapp groups controlling the public opinion through all means, fake as well as real. Nearly 100 employees of the war room have just one task – scan social media and launch troll army if any post comes up against Modi or BJP.
Many employees may be seen closely reading newspapers, watching TV debates, then submitting the report of the day to their immediate bosses who then report to party heads and actions are immediately taken. Sources say that BJP has en-massed enough founds to pay them well.
Media as tool of Political parties:
Literally speaking, media has become a tool of political parties and winning election is more important than keeping the freedom of the press. As most of the channels and print media are funded by groups/individuals with political leanings, press cannot have full freedom or will to talk against their masters; they can only talk against opposition parties who fund other channels.
As no leader would like to lose votes due to media freedom, they will continue to suppress media or buy it.
Defy & get raided:
We still remember how one year back, NDTV Chairman Prannoy Roy’s properties were raided; experts said that this happened as his channel is anti-Modi. There is a sense of fear under this government; either you praise Modi, or be ready to face the CBI.
Roy had then told the journalists, “They're trying to tell us we can suppress you even if you have done nothing wrong … and to be clear, that is a signal for the entire free press of India."
Throttling of media and its division has disturbed and angered all free speech activists in the country. They trash what finance minister Arun Jaitley once said that freedom of expression should be subordinate to upholding the sovereignty of the country.
The media activists are concerned that threats to freedom of speech and the press have intensified since the BJP government of Narendra Modi took office, and that new forms of censorship are proliferating.
India slips 2 points on Media Freedom Index:
In May 2018 World Press Freedom Index, India has slipped two points than last year and stands at 138. Compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RWB), 2018 World Press Freedom Index reflects growing bitterness towards journalists. The report said that the antagonism towards the media which is openly encouraged by political leaders poses a great threat to democracy.
India’s position is one spot below Myanmar (137) and one spot above Pakistan (139). China also did not perform well with a rank of 176 (one spot above Syria). Sri Lanka came to 131 and Nepal to 106. The Maldives secured the 120th spot on the Index while Bhutan secured the 94th spot and Bangladesh held its ranking of 146.
RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said: “The unleashing of hatred towards journalists is one of the worst threats to democracies.”
It appears the ruling party BJP is a bit scared as it has lost many bypoll elections including the power seats of Gorakhpur, Phoolpur and Kairana. It is scared of alliances ganging up against it as voters are divided. BJP wants division of votes among its various opponents to easily win elections. Moreover, since not much development has taken place on ground as promised by the PM Modi before and just after the 2014 elections, the party is shifting its focus on Ram Mandir to lure the Hindu majority before the next elections.
BJP’s ‘bad luck’ continued as the party had to withdraw support to the alliance government in J&K and lost the Telugu Desam Party as an ally in Andhra Pradesh. Even its relations with Shiv Sena touched a new low.
Hence shaping of the public opinion is crucial for winning elections and second term for Modi. Changing city names, Yogi’s numerous visits to Ayodhya are seen as steps in the new direction.
Fake news sharing more by BJP supporters: BBC study
The new BBC study shows that sharing of fake news on social media is done more by BJP supporters than other parties, particularly those that oppose it. The study was published on Nov. 12, 2018 and it tried to investigate why and how citizens share misinformation in India.
The study authors used network analysis to map the relationships between around 16,000 influential Twitter accounts that may have shared or amplified fake news. This revealed a dramatic difference between “pro-BJP amplifiers” clustered on the far right side of the map and “anti-BJP amplifiers” on the far left.
The researchers said: “The anti-BJP amplifiers are very loosely interconnected, but the pro-BJP amplifiers are very closely interconnected.”
The study also noted that while Rahul Gandhi did not follow anti-BJP amplifiers on Twitter, Prime Minister Narendra Modi followed many pro-BJP amplifiers, including sources that have published fake news. In fact, the researchers found that up to 30 accounts in the pro-BJP cluster had been the original sources of at least one piece of fake news and Modi followed 15 of them.
The report added that raw and immature nationalism is one of the main factors fuelling fire to the wave of fake news. BJP is the harbinger of this nationalism.
Sold & divided media:
Overseas observers, who closely watch Indian media and political scene, say that Indian journalists and top editors are simply not faithful to their profession. They do not value their professional ethics, honesty, and integrity. Many of them are working for political parties brazenly, shamelessly and money, political power are the major driving factors. Sometimes, their funding comes from outside the country in few cases and the political agenda is set by somebody from outside. Their news reporting is given a twist according to their political leanings and their debates are accordingly orchestrated.
This unprofessional working style at media houses is outright corrupt, immoral and unethical which does not follow the code of conduct, professional international standards, and ethics nor there is any professionalism or their professional commitment to deliver factual reporting. Of course, most of them are following corrupt practices in journalism and instead of informing facts to their readers or viewers, they are dishing out misleading news stories, views and reviews, with their editorial turns and twists. Every TV channel and print media house has its own hidden agenda and most of them have already sold their conscience for money or due to fear of being prosecuted in some false cases.
The way forward:
But the larger question remains- are voters so gullible that they can be fooled by one sided media, hate speech, fake news and propaganda? When will they evolve and have their own understanding instead of believing what news channel anchors (brand ambassadors of some political parties) ask them to believe. Where is our own thought? Where is our own idea of democracy? Did they ever ask why CDs appear only during elections to malign someone’s character and destroy his political career?
The main reason for this sad state of affairs is that mejority of people in India are poor, lack education and understanding of political wheeling dealings. During the time of elections they get easily swayed by little perks or in the name of cast and religion.
Till the general population evolves to be informed citizenry, indeed elections will remain the biggest media divider in India.