The media is the cause of much controversy and debate, not only in terms of the work it does but also the power it wields. Some people hail it as the fourth pillar of democracy, essential to preserve its sanctity. But others believe that it has crossed the thin line between power and its abuse, transcending into sacrilege.
It is always interesting to observe the intricacies of society’s relationship with power. What is power? What qualifies as abuse of power? What do we make of the nuances of abuse of power– abuses so abstract that we can’t label them so?
Furthermore, it also makes us question the cost of freedom. Is freedom really worth the abuse of power? If there is a line that separates freedom and abuse of power, where does it lie? Are we willing to curb freedoms to combat exploitation? Or are allowing exploitation to flourish in the name of freedom?
In this post, I would like to outline the arguments by both sides– for and against what is probably the most powerful institution in this world. I will not attempt to answer the questions that I have posed above, but merely to present the facts in as unbiased a manner as possible so that you, the reader, can arrive at a conclusion by your own devices.
Please note that media, in this post, will primarily refer to journalistic mass media and not social media or the internet.
First, let us consider the arguments that illustrate that the media has too much power:
There is no doubt that the media holds tremendous sway over public opinion and the words of a journalist can make or break a person, regardless of whether they are true or not. One of the biggest chinks in the armour of media is its lack of accountability to the people.
There is nothing that prevents the media from being as irresponsible as a five year old who has been made president for a day.
It is free to publish and endorse whatever it wishes to and is not answerable to the people. There are laws concerning defamation and ethics for journalism, but they can do little repair once the damage is done. Put simply, the media isn’t checked and balanced like the democratic government is even though it is, in most cases, many times more powerful.
Furthermore, another powerful defense that swings the balance in favour of those against the media is its commercialisation.
Recently, a journalistic operation named Cobrapost 136 unearthed disturbing yet definitive proof of the business that media has become. Though it is a well known fact that money and muscle power can sway the media perspective, watching the tapes that film the negotiations between the investigative journalist and the heads of prominent media as they freely discuss their prices for promoting a particular ideology is a wake-up call we all need.
Thousands of people from all over the world rely on mass media for information. But this information is not free, nor is it true. Reputations and facts can be bought just as easily as groceries.
Another troubling fact about reporting that relates to fake news is the sensationalizing of the various happenings in world. Really, how are mainstream news media different from the reality shows we look down upon for their ‘manufactured’ nature?
If you thought that was all, you’re wrong. The paparazzi culture stands testimony to the worst face of media. I think celebrities are human beings as much as we are, and that they don’t ‘sign up’ for disrespect and disregard of their personal space when they became famous.
The fact that people are so absorbed in lives that aren’t even their own, to the extent where booming business can be made by sneaking around behind celebrities baffles me, but that’s a rant for another post. The ugly face of the paparazzi is another powerful testament to the unstoppable power of the media and the ideals it propagates.
Now, I shall move on to discuss the reasons why the media, despite being the flawed institution it is, is integral to the existence of a democracy.
A popular argument that emerges in favour of the media and the opinions it propagates is that the media in itself was constituted in order to provide perspective. Since the media is not a single entity in itself and is made up of diverse individuals who hail from different belief systems, their conflicting perspectives breathe life and soul into the spirit of democracy.
Furthermore, as the fourth pillar of democracy, the media functions as a platform that encourages the right to free speech and information. Despite the flagrant misuse of power by journalists and news companies, there is no definitive way in which we can bring about regulation without nullifying the very purpose of the media. We need free speech and a body that is vested with rights to freely broadcast information in order to educate the people about the actions and policies of the government. Censorship or any such method of regulation can easily be taken too far and result in the establishment of an autocracy.
A major point in favour of mass media that cannot be ignored is the unparalleled power it has to create awareness. Whether it’s about a scandal or a social issue, the media creates a buzz that gets people thinking and talking. it has always been an important component of social revolution, especially in the past century or so, for it mobilizes and rallies for a cause like no other instituion ever can. And that is where the power of the media lies– in its veritable and unequivocal power to educate and influence the masses.
However, it can be argued that the media has as much power as we people give it. We can choose to let it get the better of us and tell us what to think, or use it as a medium through which we obtain information and not let the opinions it shares cloud our judgement. We can choose to take the word of conventional media as the word of God, or we learn how to sift between the real and fake news. We can choose to let the media fool us, or we can revolutionize it. Ultimately, it is about making a choice. A choice between exploitation and freedom, between revolution and degenration– for after all, power dynamics are determined by choices. Choices of both the entity in power and those who it is ruling.
And that’s the thought I would like to leave you with today.