The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses – Malcolm X
Media is unquestionably said to be the fourth pillar of democracy. It is so because it supports and complements the other three pillars: The executive, the judiciary and the legislative. Media is responsible for making sure that all the other pillars are accountable to the people by ensuring that the citizens are aware about what is going around.
This can also be considered in a metaphorical manner. Imagine a structure that is supported by three pillars, each of the pillars occupying a distinct corner. Obviously, the larger structure (Democracy) would not hold still without the fourth pillar. It is media that attains the distinction of being this particular pillar.
Unlike a Communist or Feudal system, where, media is mostly controlled by the state, and hence, the general public gets to hear only what their government wants them to hear. But, in a democracy, the media, apart from informing the public of the latest happenings in the country, has the added responsibility of being independent of the state in obtaining the correct data, and also being impartial while presenting it in public. There is no individual or institution that can question the media and its opinions. Even the Prime Minister is accountable to answer the questions placed forward by the media.
However, the world does not work in such an idealistic manner. For example, while the media has to sound impartial while delivering the news, it has the added responsibility of “moral conditioning” of the public. If the sample population has a skewed sex-ratio, the media not only has to inform the public of the latest figures from the Census, but also to impress upon the public, the ramifications of such a situation in the future.
To this end, media has significantly lived up to its expectations. Before going any further, we should note that the term “media” doesn’t end at the daily newsreaders and journalists, it expands to prime time television, movies, magazines, etc. The media has significantly helped the cause of woman empowerment, caste and religion differences, communal harmony, freedom of expression, right to information, etc.
There are a number of recent events that took place in our country which emphasized on the importance of the fact that media is the fourth pillar of democracy.
The Delhi Rape Case:
To begin with, we could look at the recent Delhi Gang Rape Case. An important part in this case was played by the media, both national and foreign. As the news of the rape broke, the media went into frenzy, not just in tracking the case but in leading people to introspect. A responsible section of the media asked people to be part of radical reforms the country required while it continued to give expression to the public grief, the mourning and reconciliation as people watched in horror the victim’s final moments.
However, the media was also accused of activism and leading a trial of its own while covering the case. As the movement to bring the gang rape victim to justice went viral, the nation saw widespread protest that spilled on streets across the country. The media covered the demonstrations day and night, following the protesters to every street and corner, giving a voice to their demands for justice and bringing them to the center of political debate. Moreover, it exposed the growing crime statistics, especially in the national capital, against women. Basically, the media laid bare the growing frustrations of an entire emerging aspirational urban class and generation. Rapes were a common crime in urban as well as in rural India, but the way the media portrayed the brutality and gravity of this case; the nation was suddenly jolted from an everlasting sleep and forced into action. The media highlighted the case so much that it ultimately led to speedy trials and a fast verdict.
Next, we could look at the way the Indian media handled the Commonwealth Games Scam. It all started with a series of exposures done by the Times Now team which showed how openly public money was being used to serve corruption. It felt as if everyone knew about it, but no one could even point a finger simply because no substantial proof was there. After that, several other media channels started exposing one or the other thing. 2 months of long negative publicity across 50 odd news channels was enough to tarnish the image of Games. The common man, by now, had come to know that the Games weren’t as corruption-free as they were being projected as. The public demanded answers, and this in return roused the government to look for explanations and take action against the culprits.
On a much more recent note, we could take the example of media’s role in the Asaram Bapu sex scandal case. People used to blindly believe everything he preached and had elevated him to a somewhat godly status. But, in August 2013, he was accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year old girl in his Ashram at Jodhpur on the pretext of exorcizing her from the grasp of evil spirits. Two days later, a complaint was filed against Asaram Bapu by the girl’s parents under section 342 and section 376 of the Indian Penal Code. When he did not appear for interrogation till August 31, the case got much highlighted and when the media dug deeper, they found much more stories buried within. A lot of cases involving Asaram Bapu came into the limelight, which were otherwise rotting in the dungeons of oblivion; tax frauds, land encroachment frauds, blackmailing, pretty much everything wrong that he had done while fooling the public. Therefore, we see how media brought out the truth regarding a man who was considered divine amongst people and debased him to the status of a criminaL.
And these were just examples from somewhere within our country. There are a lot more from around the world to prove media’s place as the fourth pillar. But, lets keep that for some other day.