Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. – Article 19 of UDHR
In the press freedom ranking 2020, the world’s largest democracy came at a rank of 142, a rank that has been in constant free-fall over the past few years. Media which is supposed to be the 4th pillar of democracy has ended up as a tool to spread propaganda.
The cost of running a mainstream news channel is very high. In India, the subscription charges cannot alone cover the cost of running a channel because of this the news channels are dependent mostly on advertisements for their revenue. The biggest customer of the news channels is the government as the news channels are paid millions by political parties to run Ads for their election campaigns. Moreover, most of the owners of news corporations have political ties themselves so in order to not offend their customers ( the government) and to compete with other channels for money, news channels tend to show “news” which manipulates the opinion of the public in favor of the sitting government. This isn’t a new issue in India, even before the current government under congress the mainstream media was used as a tool by the ruling government.
The news channels not only compete for Ads but also for TRP (Television Rating Point). With this unregulated competition, there are some obvious malpractices but none more dangerous than spreading fake news. To get the best TRP the news channels have started to spread fake and misleading news because fake and misleading news is more entertaining than actual news. The simple reason behind this is that the more views/impressions you get the more money you make. There is an easy solution to the aforementioned problem which is having a government-approved unbiased regulatory and competition authority for the broadcasting industries in India. Bodies like these already exist in countries like the UK (OFCOM). In India TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) has been trying for years to establish such a body but no government wants it as it will reduce their grip on the media.
Unlike the aforementioned problems, there are some issues that have risen or substantially increased under the current government.
There have been numerous cases under the current government where journalists have been put in jail under charges of sedition and UAPA. The most shocking case of this brutal force was seen in the case of Siddique Kappan a journalist from Kerala who was arrested and slapped with UAPA in October 2020 while covering the Hathras rape case in Uttar Pradesh. This incident was not only a direct attack on the freedom of the press but also on freedom of speech and expression.
To keep the public informed and safe from toxic fake news it is suggested that the public uses alternate subscription-based media as it is dependent on donations not on advertisements for revenue. But, with the constant government crackdown on independent journalists and online news portals, these alternate sources of media face an imminent threat. To protect freedom of the press and freedom of speech and expression the public needs to rise or else India will become another lost democracy.