Thursday, October 23, 2014

Let us think and Act with an open mind to
Develop a Vibrant Democracy – Article 16

Introduction: I have identified thirty obstacles which cause a distorted and ineffective democracy and possible solutions for these. Because very few people have time / inclination to read long articles, these are presented in separate brief articles for pointed attention and easier assimilation. I hope this will lead to spreading of awareness and facilitating point by point debate on each of these for saving our democracy.
(Please keep these articles within easy reach for referring back till the series is completed.)

Role of media

Effective functioning of democracy requires an alert media with broad vision which functions as a watch dog of democracy, informs people about the state of affairs and provides a platform for public debate. The media in India needs to improve its functioning to reach the goals in all these aspects.

It has to make more alert checks on the functioning of our democracy. For example, Articles 1 to 15 had identified twenty-three obstacles which caused a distorted and ineffective democracy.  These articles have made use of some media reports to emphasize on the sinking of our democracy. But, sad to say, media was not alert enough to fulfill its responsibility for (1) creating awareness among people about these and other obstacles which are ruining our democracy and (2) starting meaningful debates.

Article 15 has listed number of deplorable situations which are shameful for the country, despite a misleading GDP growth rate.  Unfortunately, the media did not adequately question government and MPs / MLAs about these. Article 15 has also emphasized that Government and Parliament were so obsessed and boasting about growth rate that they did not have the time and inclination to rectify many shameful situations pointed out in Article 15.  Media failed to highlight these to make people aware of all these shameful situations so that they will cease to be misguided by GDP growth and will raise their voice to rectify matters (as required under a democracy).

Moreover, media has not been sufficiently active in provoking and encouraging debates about saving our democracy and arriving at consensus on possible solutions.

Article 15 has also pointed out that Parliament (1) has a highly imbalanced and unhealthy representation of people with a large majority of MPs in both houses being crorepatis and (2) has brought disgrace on itself due to (a) lack of guts to punish government for breaking promises thousands of times and (b) lack of dignity by spinelessly tolerating such disrespect so often. Sad to say, media did not start a debate on why we should spent thousands of crores of public money to maintain such an unworthy Parliament. It ought to do so immediately without further waste of time.

Ministers and important political leaders have not been subjected to periodic media scrutiny to ascertain their assessment of the situation and plans for improving governance and welfare of people. Regular checks needs to be carried out by media on fulfillment of accountability by these leaders who have serious responsibilities for governance and ensuring welfare of people.

Panchayat Raj institutions at village, taluk and district levels play a major role in sustenance of democracy at levels closer to people. But, media has hardly cared to review their activities (on a sample basis) and inform people about these even though these deserved constant scrutiny and praise where due.

Editorials did not focus adequately on the decaying democracy and how to save it. Printed media did not adequately encourage journalists and social activists to publish articles discussing need and / or suggestions for improving democracy. Acceptance of articles by media is decided more on the basis of the status or influence of the contributor than by the quality of the article.

Those who watch panel discussions on TV get the impression that the moderators are more interested in hearing their own voice than eliciting the views of the panel for the benefit of viewers. Their attitude and expressions seem to depict that they are all-knowing “judges” and not investigators of truth. What is worse, these discussions often tend to focus on trivial inter and intra political party matters and not on how to improve democracy.

There is an urgent need to review media’s value system. For example, 1.42 lakh people died from accidents in 2011. This was casually reported in bottom corner on page 8 of DNA dated 24 July 2012. Most other newspapers and TV news seem to have even totally ignored this!! Compared to this, when 14 persons lost life from a terrorist attack (i.e., as few as one in 10,000 of the number of accident deaths), this has been splashed in bold headlines in front page of all news papers and repeatedly splashed on TV as “Big News”. It is shocking that media attached more value to one death from terror attack than to about 10,000 deaths from accidents!! Moreover, loss of life due to terrorist attacks has been followed by a much larger hue and cry than for even grossly bigger losses in lives due to calamities such as floods, earthquake, hurricanes, collapsing of structures, stampede etc.

Such mismatch in value of life is grossly illogical and deserves to be condemned outright. Attaching such enormous differences to value of life and splashing these on headlines has only created unnecessary panic among people and did not help to prevent such occurrences.

On the other hand, this has unwittingly helped terrorists in their main aim of creating panic. Media has not realized that terrorists themselves know that they are incapable of doing any large scale harm. They had planned only to create panic and media has helped them exceedingly well to achieve their aim!! Innovative approaches are essential to tackle this delicate situation and spoil the aim of terrorists to create panic. One way is to completely suppress  news of terrorist attacks in public interest and confidentially take it up with government and impress on the need to ensure proper preventive steps. Such a blackout of news will make terrorists frustrated, exasperated and miserable. Fighting terrorism needs innovative strategy and not might.

This example also cautions media to make sure that their eagerness to splash news does not help enemies of peace or create problems for the society and country. Right to freedom of expression should not be misused even unwittingly to create problems for society. A total review of value system and right to freedom of expression is called for, particularly for splashing news.

Another problem is lopsided priorities. Important aspects of governance and peoples’ welfare do not receive adequate attention.  Major parts of printing space / TV time are wasted for inter and intra political party disputes and making statements and speculations about these to add fuel to the fire.

Space for proper news is often displaced by photos of VIPs and their activities like celebrations of birthdays, weddings and other events; news about their pregnancies, divorces, travels, retirement etc.; and their speeches of doubtful importance or relevance to governance or welfare of people. Gossips about VIPs and politicians are a major weakness. Obsession with celebrities is bad in itself but much worse when it leads to denial of space for problems faced by aam admi and the activities of their unsung leaders who have contributed to happiness and peace in society.

Semi naked colour pictures of women (not befitting our tradition) have become an essential part of printed media.  Is this done for promoting sales of printed media or to provide mini porn which children also can see? These numerous semi naked female photos give a wrong impression that most women like to be voluptuously dressed!!   This also shows disrespect to Indian women because they like to dress with dignity.

Other subjects that fill pages are murders, rapes, molestations of women, extortions, kidnappings, robberies, and other crimes which give a dismal picture every morning. Since giving these news has not motivated concerned authorities to act effectively, the net result has only been creation of helplessness, disgust and cynicism among people.

Media has a short memory even for important matters.  It has not realized that government has adopted a strategy of “buying time” on their correct understanding that media never persists with its “protests” long enough and allows them to die quietly because of loss in news value. Media should develop a system of regular follow up of all serious matters till government action produces desired results. It should think out of the box and adopt innovative methods to have news value for its follow up activities also.

Concentration on news items which give importance to high society gossip as mentioned in a previous paragraph or focus on crimes, disasters, failures etc. reveal a negative mindset which is not conducive to growth of democracy.

On the other hand, number of positive activities which show healthy developments such as individuals or small groups (who are not VIPs) contributing to welfare of people and / or peace in different parts of the country hardly finds a place because of media’s inertia and lack of interest and vision. Very little importance is given to the positive consequences of such news to the society. Moreover, media does not realize that for fighting social injustice (which is one of its major responsibilities), publicizing positive developments which can set healthy examples also are crucial.

Media has been side tracked by monetary considerations. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen and Jean Drezse have alleged “Rather than engage with diagnosis of significant injustices and inefficiencies media celebrates only the rich and powerful, perhaps because it is an advertisement driven business.” (DNA dated 04-08-13, page 9). Often, in many newspapers front page which should get priority for main news has given way to advertisements, even full page, which fetches enormous amounts of money. This is in addition to space for advertisements far outstretching space for news. Recent trend is to push main news to the 3rd sheet (i.e., 5th page)!! A day may come soon when news papers will be displaced by “advertisement papers” in which we have to spend lot of time to hunt here and there for hidden news!!

Paid news is another shameful matter.

Media organizations have become greedy. They forget that their main aim ought to be serving as many people as possible by providing correct information and analyses of situations in the country to make maximum number of people aware of positive developments or lack of these. With increase in cost, newspapers are becoming increasingly out of reach for aam admi.

Thinking out of the box is a rare phenomenon. 

All these show lack of vision on the part of media and failures in fulfilling their social responsibilities as a watch dog, information agency and guide for growth of democracy.

These failures of media depict the twenty-fourth and very serious obstacle which resulted in a distorted and ineffective democracy.

To overcome these drawbacks, the media should give immediate attention to President Pranab Mukherjee’s speech at the Platinum Jubilee Celebrations of the Indian Newspaper Society. Expressing concern over “aberrations” like “paid news” which have crept into the media, he said “Sensationalism should never become a substitute for objective assessment and truthful reporting. Gossip and speculation should not replace hard facts. Every effort should be made to ensure that political or commercial interests are not passed off as legitimate and independent opinion.” He also emphasized that the media can undertake its role of cleansing public life only if its on conduct is above board. He made out a case for not just weeding out “aberrations” but also put in place self-correcting mechanisms to check such tendencies.

Following his advice, all round introspection on all the aspects mentioned above is essential. It should be undertaken by the department of journalism in colleges, media establishments and their national organizations like Press Council, Editors’ Guild, Indian Newspaper Society etc. and working journalists. After these, a code of ethics to guide their activities should be evolved. Thinking out of the box needs to be given high priority and widely encouraged by publishing such articles. Lacunae in constructive and positive journalism have to be overcome.

Constitution of a national regulatory authority is also needed.

Meanwhile media ought to immediately start a debate on why we should spent thousands of crores of public money to maintain such an unworthy Parliament, as detailed earlier. It should also create awareness among people about the various obstacles in proper functioning of our democracy so that we can avoid pitfalls while developing a modified system of democracy.


You can help to save our sinking democracy by making as many people as possible aware of these obstacles and possible solutions, through personal group discussions, newspaper articles, e-mail and social media like face book and twitter so that we can have healthy debates and arrive at some innovative ideas to save our sinking democracy.
Comments (especially those which point out errors or deficiencies, if any, in this article and thereby help to improve it) and suggestions to overcome this very serious obstacle are welcome. Please send these to I shall make use of all befitting suggestions to prepare the last two articles of this series – Articled 23 will spell out the basic principles which will guide formulation of the revised system of democracy and Article 24 will outline the revised system of democracy for public debate to arrive at a consensus.

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