Media: The Fourth Foundation Of Democracy

Media trials have raised concerns about the role of the media as the fourth pillar of democracy in various cases such as Aarushi Murder case or the Sushant Singh Rajput case.


Trial from the media:

  • Trial by the press is a term that became popular in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. It explains the influence of television and newspaper coverage on the credibility of an individual by establishing a widespread impression of guilt or innocence before, or after, a court of law verdict.
  • The trial by the media has been criticised by different Judges of the Court because it contributes to psychological variance while giving the judgement.
  • Media trial is against the right to fair trial; Jasleen Kaur, a Delhi woman, for example, posted a picture of a man, Sarvjeet Singh, on Facebook in 2015 and accused him of sexual harassment. Four years later, the Delhi Court held the man innocent and acquitted him of all the charges.

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The fourth pillar of democracy is the media:

  • In keeping democracy alive and thriving, the media plays an important role. It is a connecting link between government and people in a way that provides citizens with knowledge about government acts, policies and inefficiencies.
  • As a fourth pillar, the media plays an important part in achieving the true meaning of democracy.

The media's role in linking government and citizens:

Source of information: For a democracy and its development, impartial information is critical. The media helps to provide people with important knowledge. For example, data on economics, health, education, etc.
media trial
Educate: To educate people on topics of paramount importance to society, the media is vital. A growing number of incidents of rape are a concern to society. It is necessary to disclose the exact number of cases and to help raise society's awareness.
Awareness: The media reminds society of their democratic rights and the media helps in maintaining checks and balances.
Ensuring fairness: The media plays a vital role in ensuring justice and the benefits of government policies reaching the weaker sections of society. For instance, the Priyadarshini Mattoo case, Jessica Lal case, Nitish Katara murder case and Bijal Joshi rape case are some famous crime cases that would have remained unsolved without media intervention.
Watchdog: For a stable democracy, Media reporting on public affairs and investigations into wrongdoing in the administration of public affairs is a must. This means exposing circumstances of fraud or abuse that favour politicians directly. This makes people vote for the best government to defeat a corrupt and dishonest government.
Ex. Cobrapost released Operation Janambhoomi (the plot behind the Babri Masjid demolition), in which the conspiracy behind the events of 6 December 1992 was brought to light.
Good Governance: In auditing government policies and spending, the media plays an important part. An unbiased media is important for transparent reporting.
Accountability: An informed person, based on facts and statistics, should challenge government policies to ensure accountability and answerability.
Dissemination of government policies: To propagate and disseminate different government policies and initiatives, the media is relevant. In spreading awareness of Swachh Bharat and Beti Bachao Beti Padhao etc., the media played an important role.

What is Press Freedom?

  • Freedom of the press has been regarded in India as part of the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution under Article 19(1)(a).
  • The limits on "freedom of expression and speech" also extend to "freedom of the press and the media."
  • Article 19(2), on the following grounds, offers reasonable restrictions such as India’s sovereignty and dignity, State protection, public order, decency, or morality, or in connection with court contempt and defamation.

Why is press freedom necessary?

  • It serves as a check on administrators and governments.
  • A free press has a responsibility to lift its voice against any social disorder or evil.
  • It works towards strengthening a nation's sovereignty and dignity.
  • It helps to create an atmosphere where peace and harmony can be cultivated by the country's people.
  • A free press is essential to a democratic society.
  • The press offers the forum for the hearing of a multitude of voices.
  • At the national, regional and local levels media is the public’s watchdog as well as it is also an activist and guardian as well as an educator and entertainer.
  • In India, the media has played a crucial role in providing people with knowledge about social and economic ills.

Verdicts of the Supreme Court on freedom of speech:

  • The Supreme Court recognised in Romesh Thapar vs. the State of Madras that "Freedom of expression and the press is the cornerstone of all democratic organisations."
  • In Indian Express Newspapers v. Union of India, the Supreme Court emphasized the importance of freedom of the press in these words:
o The expression freedom of the press has not been used in Article 19 but it is understood within Article 19(1)(a). The expression means freedom from interference from authority, which would have the effect of interference with the content and circulation of newspapers. There cannot be any interference with that freedom in the name of public interest.
  • In Tata Press Ltd. V. Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. the Supreme Court held that a commercial advertisement or commercial speech was also a part of the freedom of speech and expression.

What needs to be done to protect press freedom?

  • The "Upholder and Guardian of the Constitution" is the Supreme Court. An independent judiciary that upholds the constitutional guarantee of media freedom is an important safeguard for this fundamental right.
  • Media self-regulation along with strong institutions such as media ombudsman as well as complaints and appeals committees, make it possible for ethics to be adhered to.
  • To give the media fair play and to check its arbitrariness at the same time, a regulatory body should be formed comprising both media individuals and government bodies.
  • Reform should come from senior editors and journalists in the media particularly. They should begin to reveal instances of fake news, and conflicts of interest, and make press operations more open.
  • There is also a need for legislative support for the PCI (Press Council of India) to give it more regulatory authority.

What are the problems faced by the Indian media today?

Press freedom: Instances such as NDTV shut down for reporting during the Pathankot attack, poor whistle-blower security act, defamation cases, etc. have restricted press freedom.
Paid News seems to have taken firm roots in India, a nexus between media individuals and politicians. For instance, Fake opinion polls during elections. Between 2009 and 2013, the Election Commission is stated to have detected more than 1,400 instances of paid news. The credibility of news channels and newspapers has been dented by biased reporters, editors, etc.
Corporate and political lobbying and ownership: Most media houses are owned or sponsored by corporate corporations who may have political inclinations, which reduces the press' impartial coverage.
Yellow journalism: Needless sensationalization of problems to get TRP interferes with the actual news material. Ex. Sushant Singh Rajput case and also Live coverage of the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai.
Poor regulation: A self-regulating body such as the PCI (Press Council of India) has no authority to regulate the press or legislative support.
The advent of digital media: There is a fight for news exclusivity merely to satisfy higher obligations without testing the credibility of the news.
Media trials: Often the media declares the verdict immediately after an allegation. This is contempt of court and also violates the right to reputation of an accused who later gets evicted.

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