Manohar Manoj, Editor, Economy India
I think it is very unfortunate to explain the whole setup of mass media as a subject of freedom only. It is always seen when one discusses media, its positivity gets reflected only when it is said how much media is enjoying its freedom part. This perception about media is so old and so deep-rooted that nobody is even able to enjoy the freedom to think about media beyond this perception. To my mind, this perception is very vague and this word never allows us to enquire about the numerous facets of media in a comprehensive and holistic manner. In fact, freedom of media is not the alone factor that champions the cause of modern democracy, it is also the ‘separation of power’ principle of democracy which cannot manifest itself without the constitutional status of fourth estate media like the other three estates of democracy. Of course, this ’freedom ‘word has been carved out from the greater principle of democracy but in the absence of media’ts constitutional status, we leave many more important things of media to the vagaries of the system.
If we think that freedom is a very exciting democratic word, that is why we should confine our whole thinking on media around its freedom only, then we cannot address the various issues related to media adhering to democracies and society which has evolved out till now with many more new characters. First and foremost, we should try to think that ‘freedom of media, for what’? Is it for covering the news, event and issues in a wayward, illogical, sensational, and sporadic manner? Or this freedom requires better dealing with the masses, showing all causes of concern for the society, and establishing a true democratic spirit of separation of power between the legislature, judiciary, and executive along with maintaining all values, principles, and ideologies of the whole set up of the public life. If the latter objective has to be attained by ‘media’ then that is not possible just only by allowing freedom to media, These objectives can be achieved when the whole duty, responsibilities, and foremost the sustainability of media are getting prescribed in the great constitution of the respective country which usually contains all the fundamental code of statecraft within it.
To say media as the fourth estate of democracy along with the legislature, executive, and judiciary is just a notional one. Nobody replies where is media in the constitution? The absence of media in the constitution book creates so much vagueness and confusion about media. One who says that media needs only freedom, actually they are falsely referring to media as one of the fundamental pillars of democracy. Unless the media has a defined status in the constitution, it will not create its importance, nor will it prove itself a responsible organ for the society and nation. If we really want the media to act truly as the watchdog of democracy, an ardent agent of the separation of power formula of democracy, then its constitutionality is imminent.
‘Freedom of expression’ is a right word in itself, but freedom of media or press is not a completely ideal statement or an act anymore. Unfortunately, this great ‘freedom of media’ perception does not provide that sort of aura that can address several issues attached to the media. Apart from this, it does not mention that each and every concern of the people of the country will mandatorily and compulsorily take into account under the ambit of free media. Freedom of media is not sort of a guarantee of high-quality news, analysis, views or research and investigation based on ethical, ideal, factual, inspirational, and enlightening approaches being rendered upon by media. Additionally, free media cannot ensure the economic sustainability of those media setups that are working in a mission mode. The fact of the matter is that the media who work for the solemn cause of democracy and society should be fully protected in economic terms and also by the system in the same manner the other three pillars of democracy are being protected. The answer to all these issues lies in only one fact that is providing the media with a constitutional entitlement. It will take care of its legal, financial, societal and moral safety all.
In the existing circumstances of media, one should try to know does this present freedom of media helping the cause of financial viability and organizational sustainability of any media organization. Or it even fulfills the vast national and social interest of the masses. In fact, the present freedom of media merely gives them the right to carry news items in either a spicy way or in a sensational way, or in a seductive way without having any parameter of its social or national responsibility and accountability.
‘Freedom of the press’ in the present circumstance, is fundamentally a hypothesis that has been dealt with through the establishment of corporate media which has been coming out vary from the past period. The benefit of the fundamental right of ‘freedom of expression provided a right to corporate owners of media to go to any extent which they aspire regarding their business venture, may not necessarily in protecting the economic interest of their media organizations, but rather their several other interests. This freedom of the press provides the corporate a weapon to make their lobby and pressurize the government and administration people for the sake of their several business interests.
When we know the fact that media has become the unavoidable necessity of modern society, modern administration, modern government, and above all modern democracy, then it can’t be run in a vacuum. We must understand this fact that in the modern era of the world, nothing must be kept out of the regulation because it actually harms the interest of its all stakeholders which ultimately makes the objectives of an organization unachievable. There would be no exaggeration to say that the role of the media is even bigger than the judiciary, but paradoxically, it still has no insertion of a constitutional tag on it.
As we say three prime objectives of media, are to inform the people, to acknowledge the people, and to entertain the people that should be entrusted with larger creativity as well as accountability. The first and foremost thing is to ensure every citizen of the country IKE (Information, knowledge, and entertainment) through establishing a countrywide mass media network, secondly, to ensure compulsorily coverage of the all-cause of concerns of all the citizenry of the country without any discrimination, biases and tilting manner. Thirdly, to act as a watchdog organization against all those corrupt, tyrant, idle factors prevailing in other 3 organs viz. legislature, executive, and judiciary. But on contrast when we throw light on the present-day media arena we find it looks unorganized, unregulated, and unconstitutional and a corporate-owned mass media which do not have a defined and solid pathway to address the several causes of democracy, society, and public government. In this direction, the present-day media is working and also not working both things are there.
If the constitution empowers mass media to cover all kinds of irregularities and oppression occurring in society, no one will dare to attack the media and the media will also not act in a partisan and bargaining manner.
People do not think that many problems of media like the cost and output imbalance of a media organization, the matter of priority of coverage and news, the advertisement matter, the negligence of public utility news and more focus on marketing-oriented news, the plight of media person, the economic and professional insecurity of media workers and tiny media publishers, there are so many…. Under these circumstances, if media gets a constitutional status, it will automatically solve all imbalances prevailing in media. It will ensure carrying all information items which are related to the wrongdoing of the 3 pillars and 3 tier democracies. It will check the obscenity and sensuality coverage that emerges because of a number of circulation races among print media and the TRP rating race among electronic media. It will check the untimely death of many media organizations and the insecure condition of media persons. These formulae can be framed for the media just on the line of the judiciary or a alike module. Because the judiciary is that pillar of democracy, which is financed by the government means executive’ here judges are in a way appointed by government executives, but the same judiciary gives verdicts, gives notices against them. In the same pattern, the media can be also modeled. Fact of the matter is that the constitutional validity of media will omit many evils persisting in the media world.
Some people say that bringing media under the constitution will place media in a role of a drum beater for the govt., Actually, these people are living in a fool’s paradise, they think granting constitutional status to media will bring media on the line of the old model of govt. controlled Akashvani and Doordarshan. It is totally wrong. People should understand that there is a difference between govt. controlled media and the media having constitutional status.
Actually, the granting of constitutional status to media will make it more responsive to the nation and society and it will legalize media to go all out against all the odds prevailing over a democratic society and nation both. Secondly, it will make the economic foundation of media secure and solid. At present what we see, in the name of media, there is media capitalism here. The big media house does not bother about the balance sheet of their media organization, because they are more interested in fulfilling their inherent objective and indirect gain through their uncontrolled media outfit. Actually, people must understand the regulated and the constitutional status achieved media will better serve the cause of the nation, the people as well as the media fraternity. In the contrast, free media just maintain statusquoism in our system.
What we see now, there is a lack of transparency in the media. Everybody knows that media companies in general earn lesser revenue than their costs incurred. The circulation price and pay channel fee are not enough to fill the cost incurred over the media operation, so the rest is being balanced through advt. revenue. The whole advertisement policy either by govt. organizations or private sector organizations is decided by a number of circulations and TRP ranking. In order to do this, every media organization indulges itself in circulation and TRP race, thus leaving the media ideals and greater public and societal concern aside and getting involved in that kind of media coverage which is based on sensual, sexual, criminal, spicy, erotic, concocted, repetitive, and revolve around TRP -Circulation raising news and views items. Apart from this media usually involve themselves in blackmailing activities with different govt. and non-govt. authorities, and accordingly revelations and cancellation of news are being done. Does everybody know media require revenue in order to sustain and meet out the several costs of running media organizations? But the way we saw how Zee blackmailed the Jindal group, it proved that the media can go to any extent in order to earn money by blackmailing. The fact is that Jindal group was ready to pay 25 crores in form of advt. to check the coal mine allotment story. But the Zee group was adamant to take 100 crores.
It clearly means the media house was playing with news for the sake of revenue. And on contrast, the corporate house wanted to cover up its irregularity by paying money in terms of advt. to the media house. It was truly a case of corruption of the media, but this episode actually got leaked out. If both parties were agreed upon their mutual give-and-take agreement then people would not have been regarded this as a case of corruption.
In the given circumstances, if we say that media must not bother about their advt. revenue, it would be not called fair to them, the question is who will bear the cost of finance?
We need actually a very strong code of ethics having full constitutional and legal entity attached to media, therefore we need a media policy that can deal with, define and frame a broad policy guideline regarding the whole editorial, advertisement, and public responsibility of media.
I think the time has come when we must go for the establishment of a ‘new media commission’ in the country, which will deal with various aspects of media, the aspects which are related to empowering people, society, and nation through the media. After all how long we will keep saying that media is flourishing obscenity in society, creating sensationalism, covering spicy items, and exploiting criminal and sensual attitudes of people? Media commission is very much needed in the country. Because we generally say that the media is after spicy news for more and more circulations and TRP. On the other side, it is also said that media is after more PR and market-oriented coverage simply because it has to ensure maximum advt. revenue for them. Media commission will try to define and look into the various aspects of advt. policy, the circulation policy, the policy on media content, the policy on the priority of the news, the policy on the economics of media, the policy on employment in media, , the policy on recruitment in media etc,, the policy on the professional and social security of the media people.
The fact is that the triangle of ‘media coverage’, TRP race, and legal-illegal procurement of ad revenue are creating various kinds of ailments in media. In general, the corporate group spends money on advertisements in those sorts of media which can attain wider publicity and increased sales, so they pick spicy popular media, in place of good content media, so their position is quite understandable But as far govt. advertisement policy is concerned; they are expected to choose good content media and promote healthy journalism, but they also do not do this. At least, govt. advt policy should be framed in such a manner that can promote pro-people and non-spicy media with good content journalism. The combination editorial -advt. has to be balanced in such a manner that can be helpful in enacting and performing better social commitment on behalf of the media. Therefore for all print media, there must be a defined limit for the space for the advt. and rest for the social coverage and for the electronic media time slot must be stipulated as well.
Some people say if media gets constitutional status like the judiciary, what will be its structure? I think, it can be operated as a trust or public-private partnership or even it can be run without altering the present-day organizational structure of media, it will only have the insertion of empowered wings. As we see in the judiciary, apart from judges who are paid by governments, it has also it’s core organs of registered lawyers and advocates; who are not on the payroll of the government. In the same manner govt. can develop that sort of media module where even by keeping the status of media owners unchanged it can be injected with the factor of accountability, responsibility, morality, and sustainability and with that sort of working frame which allows them to make coverage with full objectivity, with social and public priority and enabling to raise voice against all sorts of oppression, tyranny, injustice, exploitation, corruption, bad governance, discrimination, irregularity, hooliganism and all sorts of anti-democracy, anti-humanity, anti nationality, and anti-society and above all the maker of impartial, progressive and sound public opinion and thus to the cause of strengthening of democracy.