Journalism as the fourth pillar of democracy has been granted the freedom of speech and expression in almost all constitutions world over. Press freedom is globally and ideally guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The first amendment to the constitution of United States of America (USA) makes a special reference to the freedom of Press. The freedom of speech and expression in Indian constitution is guaranteed under Article 19(1) (a) as the fundamental right. Press freedom is also customarily observed by societies. China has an ambiguous relationship to standard conceptions of democracy, the relationship between journalism, the general population, and the state is calibrated rather differently, but still draws upon the trope that the media should act as the representative of the people and are therefore allowed to undertake specific enquiries.
However, the concentration of ownership of media has put entire media fraternity in a tight spot. There is always a possibility of using media for the benefit of the interests of certain individuals. Lawrence Britt (2003) termed one feature of fascism as “Controlled Mass Media”. In concentration of ownership of media, framing of analysis is done in such a way that it is completely in support of established privilege. This media scenario is only playing havoc. The tectonic shifts happening in media framing and media content is indeed redesigning the media trends but encroaching and intruding the social standards, cultural ethos and canons of journalism.
Media is used by political parties for dissemination of news and information for their own perpetuation. During the reporting of political events, the ‘controlled’ media exaggerate situations in such a way like they are making a tempest in a teapot. The press has to function as the watchdog of democracy being vigilant towards the functioning of legislature, executive and judiciary. Under this function the media should never provide a chance to any political party or political system to play rough and tumble. However, media has become an instrument for politicians to destabilise the social and political framework by sensationalising stories. Media should act as an agent of change in development in shaping up the policies of the government.
The concept of ‘watchdog’ function of the press was propounded by the social theorist James Mill. The watchdog function is one among the oldest main beliefs in journalism which maintains that the media is supposed to keep a check on the government. Instead of working within the spectrum of watchdog function of media, mass media misuse the freedom of speech by propagating hate speech. In our country, sometimes media while debating any political subject leans towards majority. Majoritarianism in any sector never proved fruitful. We all are well aware about the majoritarianism of Sri Lanka in 1956 where Sinhala speakers came in power and made Sinhala as official language by passing act in legislature. However, Tamil speakers in the country felt alienated. This resulted in civil war from 1980s to 2009. Media is influencing the public in same way by creating the majority versus minority situation in our country. In the supreme written constitution of India, there is no minority or majority terminologies. India has cultural, religious and lingual diversities, anyhow, media must respect the diversity. Thus, media should be representative of the diverse social character and not be a mouthpiece of the government, corporates or any established institutions.
Media stretching or media expansion has led to shrinking of public sphere. It has generated a rich and dynamic market of media cultural industries resulted in the concentration of supply in the hands of very few players. Thus media industries are selling their stories in commercial media markets. Because of concentration of ownership of media in the hands of few groups and media expansion, the press freedom of India fares worse than even countries like Afghanistan and United Arab Emirates (Pamela philipose, an ombudsman for the Wire). This current scenario of how the mainstream media works makes it very difficult to expose tweaked data and opacity in functioning of government. Filings with the registrar of companies in the ministry of corporate affairs have revealed that few Indian news media companies - News Nation, India TV, News24 and Network18 - are indebted to either Mukesh Ambani, the richest Indian and the owner of Reliance Industries, or Mahindra Nahata, an industrialist and Ambani associate, who is also on the board of Reliance's new Telecom venture, Reliance Jio. Thus media is bound to only react to the news agenda offered by the people controlling media market rather than investigate its actions independently. Therefore, media is deviating from its essential watchdog function. Basic ideals of journalism gets violated and ethical standards of professional journalism are encroached in a jiffy.
The relationship between media and culture is reciprocal because most of the communication is dependent upon social and cultural ethos while the communication also influences and makes changes in the culture by its interventionist approach. Marshal McLuhan in his well-crafted book ‘Understanding Media’ indicates the power of mass media to influence the individual and their cultures when he talks about the very popular slogan “Medium is the message” and then goes on to explain how print, electronic, telephone and cinema have not only provided the new-media of communication but it has also changed the social behaviour. According to Gerbner model, we understand external reality or any event only when it gets matched with our internal patterns of thoughts or concepts. When this match has been made, we have perceived something, we have given it meaning. We perceive meaning according to our culture and psychological process. When media gives more importance to cultural diffusion and ignoring the diversity of cultures, accurate meaning is not perceived. People have unique social upbringing and different views about society. When the emphasis of media is obliterating the cultural diversity, then people might not be open to so called as ‘new views’. Mahatma Gandhi once remarked that, “the true function of Journalism is to educate the public mind, not to stock it with wanted and unwanted impressions”.
Instead of using social responsibility approach (1947), media today uses hypodermic bullet theory to influence people where people cannot react against the messages of media. Framing of analysis of media content is done in such way that people hardly understand it critically and become blind believers of media. People are bombarded with new sets of information which results in mental discomfort which is called as cognitive dissonance (L.A Festinger 1957). When we today watch any TV News channel its content is dramatized so much that we prefer to choose other news channel having limited effect of media content. We feel discomfort while watching news debates or news exemplification. Media content is exemplified with misinformation and bias. Thus it is not quite representative.
Media should be seen as agents of social change allowing the ‘silent voices’ to be heard because the sole aim of journalism should be service. When media literate people analyse the contemporary notion of global journalistic practice, it has been seen that media works on changing attitudes of people rather than encompassing the awareness of cultural and social developments. Carl Hovland explains this in very broader perspective in his ‘Attitude Change Theory’. The attitude change theory was used in starting some historic wars like Iraq-US conflict during and post Saddam Hussain regime. Attitude Change Theory is being used by media in negative connotation. Media should use this theory for the positive developments in society by changing the attitudes of people in very optimistic way. Media should allow social communities to gain insights into the socio-economic and socio-political systems and its procedures. Peters and Broersma declare quite bluntly that ‘most journalism is not a public good’, pointing to the ‘disconnect between journalism’s normative assertions’ and its present condition.
Media today is advertising ‘news stories’. However, these news stories are told in a way such that they become more like mystery clues, rather than reveal complete facts. This method is adopted to keep the audience guessing and hence glued to the channels to know more. Media is thereby presenting news stories and its manipulation strategies by using advertising and Public Relations (PR) techniques. One such example is the news stories presented by some international and local news channels of Australia about the recent Australian bushfire. The local media highlighted the issue but assured the public that all was under control by revealing few facts about the bushfire. Only a few clues were let out during news debates. Whereas, the fact is that the Bushfire has been one of the largest calamities of recent times affecting the flora and fauna of the country, causing deaths of millions of animals. This catastrophe also is largely due to human intervention and climate change which was never discussed in detail.
Contemporary societies have been described as ‘mediatized’, based on the argument that media practices have become key elements in the production and articulation of social life (Marcinkowski, 2014). Contemporary cultures are not only ‘mediated through technical media’, but is also ‘moulded’. Media houses are, therefore, not acting as a mirror of the society but instead are more concerned about viewership and ratings (TRPs). The PR efforts of media organizations are becoming more professionalized and institutionalized today. That is why the father of modern journalism, Walter Lipmann, once remarked, “Press is not the mirror of society but is like a flashlight which moves restlessly from one episode to another.”
A re-look at the role of media is the need of the hour. Media organizations have a societal function and thus also a social responsibility in that they are the major providers of information to citizens. Media needs to play an active role in national development, cultural integration and public service. The structural changes over the past decades have led to increased journalistic and economic competition in the media industry. The owners and managers of the media must realise social responsibility and aim to provide information that is authentic, reliable and free from bias. Media should facilitate a well-informed citizenry for the socio-political structure. An informed citizenry means an engaged citizenry, an engaged citizenry is well informed and more participatory. Thus the result is a more democratic society. Media must respect its surveillance function and should provide the stories within the framework of its watchdog feature and function.