How contemporary Media reflects ethical issues?

Indian press today is over 220 years old. Indian Radio is about 100 years old and Doordarshan is about 50 years old. In Jan 1780, James Augustine Hicky started the first newspaper, a weekly, variously called as the Bengal Gazette or the Calcutta General Advisor or Hicky Gazette. He is still regarded as the father of Indian Journalism.

Before Independence, Media was a mission. Its mission was to free India from the clutches of foreign rulers, the British. There were many restrictions on Media in the form of regulations. The infamous gagging act was brought to suppress the vernacular press, for example, is one such regulation. After Independence to there have been many commissions but those were to streamline the working conditions of journalists; categorization of news papers into small, medium and large; commercial orientation for revenue earning by radio; constitution of press council; establishment of national level news agencies and the like.

Radio in India, as an organization is only 2 years behind British Broadcasting Corporation. Now it is terrestrial radio or sky radio reaching 100% geographical area of Indian subcontinent.

Television developed for a mere local cast of Adult education program in 1959 to Krishi Darshan for agricultural extension education in 1967. From the landmark SITE (satellite instructional television experiment) in 1975 to transmission extended to all parts of the country during Asiad games that too in color. Now it is DTH and IP TV covering all parts of the country. Private channels are innumerable with more than the required freedom.

If we look at the various functions of the Media, they are Information, Interpretation, Education, Entertainment and Evaluation. Media informs the people on what is happening around. It interprets the issues for the benefit of the people. It educates the people on various schemes, plans and programmes of the Govt. It entertains the people through various arts and cultural forms. It also evaluates the functioning of the systems in the society.

Gandhiji said "A free press should be neither an ally nor adversary... but a constructive critic". Media is the bridge between the ruler and the ruled for transport of information inputs. The Media, particularly the Press, the Radio, the Television and the Cinema together or independently have the potency to either reform or deform the Society.

But what is happening today? Media that was a mission before independence grew as a profession after independence and of late it is being criticized for becoming a business without ethics and without any social responsibility. It is because the owners of print and private electronic channels are the owners of either a business establishment or an Industrial house or a financial institution. News, naturally in the hands of these businessmen became a commodity. News, which shall be a bare fact is now angled or slanted to make it marketable news. Media wanted stories in place of plain news based on facts. Editorial has become either dictatorial or propriatorials.

It is therefore, often being quoted as "bad news is good news and good news is no news" We read newspapers, listen to radio and watch TV to find a murder, a molestation of a minor girl, an atrocity, a celebrity's divorce, an unholy alliance, a bomb blast, a vehicle plunging into depths, an insurgent attack, an encounter, a political coup, a plan crash where people died or hurt or made to suffer rather than the news on development. Very recently an electronic channel captured an event where a chain snatcher was beaten up by the mob, a policeman tied him to his motorcycle and dragged. It happened in Bihar State. Those visuals were telecast repeatedly creating a kind of vexation in the minds of onlookers. In another incident where a celebrity shook hands with the policemen led to their suspension. It happened in Maharashtra State.

Looking at Media from this point of view, we have to ask ourselves whether Media is in its right direction or going in a wrong way leading the society along with it. The answer would be "Society is the cause". Any Institution or Organization or mission or profession is the reflection of the very society and its individuals. Individual is a measure of the Society.

If the society wants bad, media shall be ready to supply it. If the society demands for good, the media shall make such arrangements. It all depends on the society and its individuals and their taste being the consumers of news. Some experts visualize that very soon a particular medium or its programs will be accepted if they are good and will be rejected if it is bad. But before it could happen sufficient damage will be caused to the Society.

Now the question is who shall change? Should media change or reform it-self to discharge its social responsibility? Change it for the welfare and happiness of the public at large? Or the Society shall change for the better. For this, a set of values and a code of ethics are necessary for both Society and the Media.

Press council of India that is supposed to enforce values and ethics in print medium is said to be teeth less. It has to be rejuvenated. There is no regulation on electronic media. The owners of the Media will have to be oriented towards adoption of values and ethics. The Society being a composition of many individual ethnic groups belonging to various cultures, religions, various levels of economic status, in order to put this on right path all the concerned viz political leaders, social leaders, opinion leaders, religious teachers shall strive for restoring values and ethics in Society.

Media reflects Society. Contemporary media is reflecting the society in its entirety. Therefore, the Government, the Political Parties and the Media Owners etc shall make efforts for restoration of values and ethics in the Society.

Author: Y. Babji, Vice President (Adm & Prog), Global Forum for Public Relations, Hyderabad

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