Is the media socially responsible? It has to be; otherwise it is not discharging the functions expected of it. Media and social responsibility go hand in hand. Media hype affects the society but unfortunately it is mostly used for vested interests. Media is a catalyst for social change and all media persons should discharge their duties accordingly. . “Media”, as Rajdeep Sardesai said, in one of his promos for IBN “should reflect the society and not construct it”. As for the Press, the public is aware about the concept of “yellow journalism” and how sensational news items are published in such tabloids and journals. Is “yellow media” is in the offing or has it taken off already! As for the advertisement portion of the television channels, sex has taken over morals. Perhaps within one meter cloth, an attractive model covers all parts of her body. “Women have a right to dress,” one of my female colleagues remarked. I had to tell her, “You have the right to dress; not the right to undress or not to dress!”
Media and Press are run like commercial organizations these days and the profit motive dominates everything. They are aware that advertisement, Radio or electronic media, impacts the people, especially the younger generation and children strongly. Hundreds of channels running 24/7 send the messages relentlessly to the people and each message is repeated several times. The reader/viewers have hardly any time for free and independent thinking and reflection. Critical thinking capacity is submerged in the avalanche of information and advice tendered by the script writers/hosts on television. They have become a new generation of Preachers, sans spirituality. The tragedy is, the younger generation is willing to accept them and molds their lifestyles accordingly.
At the level of theory and for the sake of public consumption, everyone agrees that a free and informative press is the vital part of the democratic processes. But what is the grassroots reality? Most of the important newspapers and periodicals are funded and controlled by business magnates and political parties. The editorial staff has to put on the colored glasses and no free literature can flow through their minds. Press once created (at the time of freedom struggle in India) firebrand revolutionaries. Today the senior editors are sitting with the paper and pen/or clicking the computer mouse, and toe the lines as per directions from their controlling authorities. Those who articulated their independent views have paid with their jobs.
Way back in 1787, Burke was the first to voice the idea of “The Fourth estate” to embody a political entity that was outside the three estates of “The Lords Spiritual,” “the Lords Temporal,” and “the Commons.”
The Press faces certain genuine problems. The important one is the question of survival, in the fiercely competitive environment. They find it difficult to retain independence and have to lean on some support. All support is for cost in the society deeply impacted by materialist civilization. Honesty and duty take the back seat. The long-established business model of the press is punctured. Advertising has been the main source of revenue. It is even today, but such advertisement comes at a cost as for the freedom of the Press. Government departments and commercial Banks advertise a lot. What if you go on criticizing them? The papers will lose their advertisement revenue. Shopping malls and departmental stores have their own systems of advertising through colorful pamphlets and hoardings and they bargain for heavy reduction in the rates of advertisement, if at all they go for that option.
Electronic media is the very tough competitor. Advertisement in a news paper may reach a few lakhs of people; TV channels reach the millions and you can see the models in live action. So, the newspapers are obliged to cut the staff, appoint freelancers for paltry compensation. Many of them have shut their offices abroad, major news services no more command the same demand, as they did a few years ago. UPI, AP, and Reuters were the household name once, but not anymore. Latest news is available on the internet. The state of economy of the TV channels is also not better. Once there were channels that you can count with fingers. Now their number is astronomical. Each channel is concerned with the revenue and issues of principle are sidelined. Obviously, the question of survival assumes topmost priority.
The ethical scale related with journalism as a profession is coming down. It is like the proverbial poverty line. If you cannot reduce poverty, reduce the measure of the poverty line! At least you have removed poverty statistically! The public has lost faith in the press, but the press cannot be blamed entirely for that!