What Is Media? Definition, Meaning, Importance, Fake News

Media refers to the communication outlets or tools that are used to store and deliver information or data. The components of the mass media include the communications industry, such as print media publishing, news media, photography, cinema, broadcasting (radio and television) and advertising. In India, media constitutes the fourth pillar of democracy.

Media supplies the political information that influences voter’s decision. They identify problems in our society and serve as a medium for deliberation. They als serve as watchdogs that we rely on for uncovering errors and wrongdoings by those who have power. Media is vital in generating a democratic culture that extends beyond the political system and becomes engrained in the public consciousness over time. Free and fair election that is crucial for success of democracy require a free media sector which can give candidates equal access and report the relevant issues in a timely, objective manner.

Importance of Media for Indian Democracy

The most important feature of a democracy is the freedom of speech and expression. Media is the tool that strengthens the concept of speech and expression in India’s democracy. It is a watchdog of democracy. Media is importan because of the following reasons

• It builds an informed citizenry. In order to participate freely in a polity, the citizen must be duly informed and must have the right to participate freely in a society. Media acts as a vital tool to disseminate such information to the citizen so that they are able to exercise their freedom.

• A free media improves the government functioning and helps it form public policies that are guided by public welfare. It informs the government of public demands and needs of sections of citizens.

• Media lets people voice their opinion on governance and reform and helps in building public consensus to bring about change.

• Media helps in exposing corruption in public and private agencies that are involved in public life. Investigative journalism motivates public authorities to act against corrupt people.

• Media influences the ideology of people as well as nations. It allows the peopl to choose from various ideologies and bring about necessary ideological changes required in public policies.

• Media influences the ideology of people as well as nations. It allows the per to choose from various ideologies and bring about necessary ideological changes required in public policies.

• Media strengthens the foundations of a democracy and democratic society. It acts as a catalyst for development and democratic values. It acts as an agent for bringing transparency and accountability in the public bodies.

• Media also plays an important role in giving voice to the marginalised. The poor and vulnerable people who are voiceless, are empowered when media allows them a platform to raise their concerns.

Challenges to Media in India

World Press Freedom Index puts India at 142nd rank in its 2020 report. This is alarming, seeing the significance of a free media for the smooth functioning of democracy. If media is corrupt and biased, democracy cannot function smoothly. Media in India forms the fourth pillar of democracy and is plagued with several issues. There is lack of freedom of media houses, control by large corporates, violence against journalists, paid and fake news etc. Media accountability has diminished and it does not provide holistic and comprehensive view of issues concerning public interest. Media has increasingly been seen favouring certain political ideologies and disrespecting others. The following are the challenges to a free media in India.

The press council of India defines paid news as “any news or analysis appearing in any media (print & electronic) for a price in cash or kind as consideration.” In past few decades there is sudden growth in the number of news channels. Further there is unholy nexus between media personalities, politicians and corporates which has created a scenario where news is seen by many as a form of political advertisement.

Contrary to the past where media outlet were run for social cause and not for profit, today they have become another business enterprise where profits have become the sole motive. Additionally, the decline in autonomy of editors/ journalists due to emergence of contract system and poor wage levels of journalist has played a key role in rise of the incidences of paid news. Innocent readers including voters, who rely on the truthfulness of a news article are constantly coming across such paid news in favour of a particular party or candidate. Such readers can hardly distinguish between actual news and

advertisement of a particular party or candidate, published as a news article.

Fake News

Fake news is any misinterpretation of information, created to deliberately misinform or deceive readers. It can influence people’s views, push political agenda or cause confusion and chaos among different communities. Contrary to paid news which is limited to registered media houses, fake news generally attributed to social media whose usage in India has increased manifold in past few years. Now India has largest number of social media users in the world across platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube etc,

Fake stories and rumors spread through social media have been connected to various incidents of mob attacks and lynching in the country. Under pressure from the government and regulators such as the Election Commission, social media platforms have introduced various restrictions on sharing of posts and blocked accounts of many users involved in spreading misinformation.

Sensationalisation of News

Sensationalism is a type of editorial bias in mass media in which events and topics in news, stories and pieces are over-hyped to increase viewership or readership trumbers. Sensationalism may include reporting about generally insignificant matters and events that don’t influence overall society, as well as biased presentations of newsworthy topics in a sensationalist, trivial or tabloid manner. Sensational news reporting in the wake of Ayodhya verdict created discord among various groups and disturbed the social harmony

Declining Press Freedom

Recently, India dropped to 142nd position in the World Press Freedom Index. Violence against journalists, attacks by Maoists and reprisals by criminal groups or corrupt politicians is one of the most striking characteristics of the current state of press freedom in India. A democracy cannot thrive if its media is shackled. Only a free media is capable of remaining un-biased, thus strengthening democracy.

Trial by Media’ ‘

Trial by Media’ is a phrase popular to describe the impact of television and newspaper coverage on the reputation of a person by creating a widespread perception of guilt regardless of any verdict in a court of law. During high-publicity court cases like actor Sushant Singh Rajput case, the media are often accused of provoking an atmosphere of public hysteria which makes a fair trial, nearly impossible. As a result regardless of the result of the trial, the accused is forced to live the rest of their life with intense public scrutiny. This partisan behaviour is not in line with the media ethics.

Way Forward

Media is necessary for democracy and development. It helps in making public participation meaningful. If media is honest and committed in its job, democracy is bound to function more efficiently and the loopholes present in any democratic system can certainly be eliminated. On the contrary, if media is biased, corrupt and favours only a particular party or few individuals, it can prove to be very dangerous for the smooth functioning of democracy.

Among the steps suggested to curb the menace of paid and fake news, breaking of media-corporate nexus through crowd funding for media institutions, encouragement to fact checking website for social media and monitoring of content being spread on social media through an autonomous organization will be instrumental in strengthening the quality of media. Certainly, there is still a lot of scope for improvement by which the media can fulfill the aspirations of the people for which it is primarily meant.