The newly appointed Modi government is making all the right noises and by the first look, there is some heartening news coming by. Media can take heart in the fact that the new government is taking keen interest in resolving issues plaguing them as well.
When Prakash Javadekar took charge as Information and Broadcasting Minister, he was categorical that media will not be regulated. “The media has experimented with self-regulation in the past and knows its responsibility. The government does not wish to impose any kind of regulation on it,” Javadekar was quoted as saying. What boosted hopes further is the new minister’s observation that the government expected everyone’s cooperation in running the country, including the media. “It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that the nation does well,” he said.
Further to Modi’s advice to his ministers to adopt social media to communicate with the public, Javadekar’s letter to the ministries urging them to use the “social media communication hub” for effective messaging is a futuristic step. The I&B minister has also offered to facilitate Twitter and Facebook accounts for all the ministries.
Javadekar also specified that a ‘New Media Wing’ is in place. “A ‘social media communication hub’, a one-stop place for all communication needs of the government on social media platforms based on the ‘hub-and-spoke’ model has been set up,” Javadekar was quoted by the media as saying.
For all the sceptics, this will not come in the way of the Delhi High Court directing the (earlier) government to finalise its email usage policy for government servants. As per the order, it is imperative for the government to provide all its officials with official email IDs through the National Informatics Centre (NIC) by setting up government owned servers to handle the demand. In its submission, the previous government had admitted that only 4.5 lakh of nearly 50 lakh government servants had been given such email IDs.
It is evident that the new government is off to a good start but there’s much more to do to root out the – admittedly – negative within.
For India, the print media does not reflect its downfall elsewhere in the world. Despite the reach of Doordarshan and All India Radio, most of India still relies on newspapers for news and information. Then there’s also the newspapers’ contribution in influencing the masses’ choice. There’s almost an unwritten rule that connects reportage with our trust in them – the readers believe what they read will help them form opinions independently. Well, almost.
According to a post by Ranjan Yamnam, “…problem arises when the media deliberately or unwittingly feeds us news that is factually incorrect, which might lead us, the unsuspecting readers, to jump to false conclusions. Imagine the implications if what we read as authentic reports turn out to be stories that are planted by private lobby to push its agenda. Worse, we will have been taken for a ride, if the media is found guilty of playing up (or underplaying) certain stories to sway the public opinion to suit its own hidden brief.”
For the greater good of the media fraternity, there needs to be a mechanism that addresses and arrests newspapers “straying away from the truth”. For the moment, the only mechanism that exists are letters to the editors which are at best at the mercy of the desk and are open to be tweaked as per a media outlet’s editorial policy. There are few newspapers and publications who exhibit transparency in retaining the essence of such letters.
In some Western countries, they have Ombudsmen looking after such complaints. What makes these appointments effective is that usually they are experienced and veteran journalists working outside the managerial and editorial structure of the newspaper. One may say this is an extension of self-regulation. An ombudsman reviews complaints from readers, thereafter updates the responsible editors and reporters to address them.
Back in 2003, when New York Times’ Jayson Blair was found guilty of plagiarizing and fabrication in about three dozen of his reports, NYT not only ensured that, despite being a star reporter, Blair resigned, but that Executive Editor Howell Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd were also made to go. One of the most powerful and respected newspapers known in the world, NYT, in order to stop such wrongdoings in the future, brought in editor of Life magazine, Daniel Okrent, as its ombudsman. Although today, most newspapers are forthcoming and accept their errors of judgement, it is not as common as it should be. Newspapers like Business Standard accept errors as they are, not hidden in the back pages of the paper as is the practice and in more ways than one, bold enough for other newspapers to learn from.
Now that the Modi government has made it clear that the media’s functioning won’t be dictated by the government, the onus lies with the Fourth Estate to ensure its role is not negated or diluted.
As a 2011 paper on ‘Social responsibility of media and Indian democracy’ by UGC research fellow Soumya Dutta highlights, “Community participation is a goal that the media should strive for in a country like India.”