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It is very important to understand the concept of democracy before we get to discuss the topic at hand.
Democracy is a form of government in which the people have the ultimate power. They get to decide who they rules over them and they are free to change them as they please. Abraham Lincoln has described the system of democracy as a government “of the people, by the people and for the people”. It is the most apt and simple definition of democracy there is.
Democracy is based on the ideals of freedom, liberty and equality. It is also based on the principle of self-determination of the people.
An effective tool at the disposal of democracy is an election. In fact, to many, elections are the soul of democracy. Elections are how people get to choose their leaders who rule over them for a certain period of time. People should have the right to choose their leaders without being coerced or forced. That is true democracy. True democracy upholds the will of the people and upholds the dignity of the individual and regards it as sacred.
One very essential part of democracy is the existence of a free and independent press. By free and independent press, we mean that the press should not be state-controlled and should be able to express themselves clearly without fear. Opinions should not be dictated on the press and there should be no pressure on the media.
We have seen the results of failed or failing media in the world. Let us take the example of Iran. During the elections when people demanded that there be a re-election as they believed that the election was rigged and there were many malpractices involved in the elections, the government instead of heeding to the people’s demands, went about creating a media blackout and shutting its information off from the rest of the world. The internet in Iran was strictly monitored by the government and any opinion against the government was met with bad consequences. Even bloggers were caught and imprisoned by the government so that they cannot express their disgust with the kind of government that is in place in Iran. The media in Iran is a sham. There can never be a democracy in place in Iran. The current government does insist that their government is democratic on the sole basis that they do contest elections. But when the people of a country is stripped of a right to have and express their own opinions, then the status of democracy of the country stands to be questioned.
As stated earlier, the role of a free and independent media is essential in a democracy and elections too.
However, over the recent times, the media has been a medium of irresponsible journalism especially when it comes to elections of a country. Bias, though very subtle, still exists in the media and they find themselves taking a side when their job is nothing but to report the facts as it is.
Nowadays, we do find the media busy in distorting facts, making a side look good while downplaying the other, criticizing a side and making it look bad. They are involved in side-lining, marginalizing and defaming one side while glorifying the other.
The media is how opinion is created and changed. The way an incident is covered can completely change your opinion on subjects and topics of debate. And that is why the media happens to be one of the most useful tools at the disposal of democracy. Its ability to change opinion at such a speed is amazing.
If you have ever witnessed an election in India, you will understand what I am talking about.
We tend to believe that all the media does is to cover the story and cover the facts about the story and nothing else. But that is far from the truth. The media has a lot of role to play in the elections. They are fully aware of the fact that how they cover a story changes the people’s opinion about things. Their coverage could make or break an image of a political party or a politician. If they wish they could cover up discrepancies or convert a little matter into a big scandal. Anything is actually possible with the media.
The media is fully aware of this fact and as we all know, the media is a profit oriented industry like any other industry there is. There is too much competition in the industry and they are trying to compete really hard with each other. They are waiting to be used as a political tool so that they may get more revenue and more profits. They want political benefits as well. They would want more rights, more coverage and more privileges from the government should it win the election.
When political parties pocket the media, the media then becomes their tool to climb up the political ladder. When they are used, the media will be busy distorting facts, presenting fake and untrue statistics, arranging talk shows with people who are known to be party sympathizers, create news reports with bias, criticize opposing political parties by distorting their image, highlighting their various faults, reporting against them with a bias in mind, creating a scandal which may not exactly be true and all such activities.
When such reporting is being done, it obviously has a big impact on the people and it does influence their vote. So when you look at it, the party which is able to influence the media more wins the election. That is not true democracy and this violates the spirit of democracy.
Even though the media may get swayed and may end up influencing votes, there are measures that may help the media resist such practices.
Some of them include,
1. Protection of the media as an inalienable and fundamental right of the press
Journalists from all across the world are being killed and this holds true even for the best of democracies. Many of these murders are political and journalists need to be protected. Governments must provide the necessary security for journalists. First of all, governments should enact legislation on the local level to protect journalists. The protection of journalists should be a government responsibility. That would give journalists the fearlessness to operate and cover more stories which may involve more risk. If the government is unable to provide personnel to protect journalists, it may do other things like providing journalists with firearms and training them to use firearms and also train them in self-defense. That should adequately address the problem of influence of politics in journalism. Journalism without fear will contribute to responsibility and we may as well as have some responsible journalism around.
2. Punishment of press if found out to have political bias
Now since the media is a large industry with a lot of players in the field, this measure actually can act as a self-check. There are existing media associations and groups which act as a bonding agent between different media groups. These media associations can regulate themselves internally. If one media group finds out that another media group has political allegiances and affiliations, then it should be made public and the claims must be investigated by these associations. If found true, then the media group accused of having political ties must be barred from operating. And if found false, then the media group that has brought forward the accusations must be punished appropriately.
Furthermore, governments should issue certain guidelines for media companies to operate and reward the companies with various privileges when they follow the guidelines. This will encourage the press to work more responsibly and more impartially.
An impartial presentation of facts is fair and it will encourage free and fair elections. It will affirm and instill a sense of trust in the people’s hearts for democracy and in the end, democracy will prevail.