Pressing the Press

On the occasion Of World Press Freedom Day, 2020

Madhusmita Bordoloi

Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda of the Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945, noted in his diary right after Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany “Now it will be easy to carry on the fight, for we can call on all the resources of the State. Radio and press are at our disposal. We shall stage a masterpiece of propaganda”. True to what he believed, many historians speculate that radio propaganda had immense contribution in helping the Nazis to enroll new party members and encouraged denunciations of Jews, as a result of their ability to influence the public mind. The subsequent result of their control on mass media was one of the largest catastrophes of the humankind, the Second World War.

History repeats itself. It always shows us some patterns that the public should take into consideration. Indian press today is highly driven by political propagandas. An observant person would clearly notice how news today lacks objectivity, and is marked by partiality. The media has been hijacked by political forces and every organization is driven by some political ideology or the other. Take for instance the study of Ramit Verma on 202 Prime Time debates of four major Hindi news channel. This tally showed that there had been 79 debates attacking Pakistan, 66 attacking the opposition, 36 Praising the BJP/RSS, 14 on Ram Mandir, 3 on Bihar floods, 2 on Chandrayaan Moon Mission, 1 on rape case against Swami Chinmayanand, 1 on PMC bank scam. On the other hand, there was absolutely zero debates on economy, healthcare, public infrastructure, farmers’ distress, poverty and malnutrition, women’s safety, environmental protection, mob lynching, government policies and so on. The mass media plays an irrevocably strong role in the formation of opinion in the mass. Thus, this kind of insensitivity of the Indian Media towards important issues that need to be addressed infront of the public is pathetic.

World Press Freedom Day is observed every year on 3rd May to raise awareness regarding the importance of respecting and upholding freedom of expression. This year its observance has been themed ‘Journalism Without Fear or Favour’. This theme essentially holds importance for today’s those Indian media organizations who desires to be exemplified as media houses marked by all ethics of Journalism. There have been several disclosures in the recent times by different personalities that shows press today is feeling the pressure and fear of withholding their expression. Take for instance the sting operation by Cobrapost, which in a notable exposure showed that 25 of India’s leading media outlets were willing to participate in propaganda of a particular Indian political party. In the last few years similar kinds of statements of how slowly and strategically the Indian media is succumbing to political propagandas have been given by many senior journalist of India who say that they refuse to give up on such pressure.

Almost every media organization today lacks the knowledge and application of the basic classroom taught principles of Journalism. Credibility is a luxury not easily found in the Indian press. Today, the top media persons of our country are seen screaming on their panelists, not allowing expression of their thoughts. Every news today is sensationalized and often facts are not cross- checked. Irresponsibility in journalism has contributed to the spread of fake news in our country. Moral policing is at its peak with media persons who question people on their choice of eating, sleeping or wearing clothes. Yellow journalism is escalating with media organizations that present exaggerated and perverted versions of events that store little importance. They contribute to the spread of communal tension in places with the showcase of hate speeches. The right to privacy is often breached with the showcase of personal videos and photos without the consent of the concerned. With the right to freedom of expression also comes responsibility. Being termed as the ‘Fourth Pillar’ of Indian democracy, media today needs to rethink and revise their duties towards the nation before the shaking pillar completely collapses.

With the rise of social media and internet, the thoughts of people are anyway becoming highly polarized. People are so deeply ingrained with their belief on the political parties of their choice, that any question arising on their activity is never welcomed. Many specialists argue that the rise of digital media has facilitated selective exposure. Algorithms and filter bubbles weaken content diversity in our phone’s newfeed. The selective exposure to similar kind of information leads to reinforcement of pre existing views and strong hatred towards any contradictory information. A good way to save oneself from political propaganda and take charge of one’s own opinion will be to know both sides of a story. One should voluntarily expose themselves to media outlets of varied opinions to come to their own conclusions. As the popular saying goes, ‘Take charge of your life! The tides do not command the ship. The sailor does.’ In a similar manner, one should not let the tide of various political propagandas command and cheat the sailor in one’s mind.

Madhusmita Bordoloi, Tezpur University, Mass Communication and Journalism

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May 5, 2020

Madhusmita Bordoloi

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