Thursday, 1 April 2010


Shantesh Kumar Singh, Shilpi Chaturvedi

Research Scholar, SIS/JNU, New Delhi

Those who view man as a predominantly cognitive being as truly Homo sapiens- the masscommunication media are seen as the great liberators. Prior to print and electronic means of communications, it has been averred; the common man was shackled by his own ignorance and by the unavailability of the kinds of information that could serve to liberate him. Without pertinent information man could neither recognize his own plight nor, if he were aware of it, do something about it. It is only the informed person who can take advantage of whatever opportunities are available, Media, by bringing what is distant near and making what is strange understandable can contribute substantially to the amount and kinds of information available to the people, which can help them widen horizons and thus help to build empathy. How man unltimately behaves is always a consequence of how both individual stimuli and his total environment impinge upon him in any given circumstances.
The mass media are, without question, persuasive instruments in the social aspect of men’s struggle for self-liberation. They select and bring to waiting multitudes a constant flow of detail related to those fruitful dialogues of differences and concordances upon which free society thrive. It inevitably follows that ‘What’ information is transmitted, and the nature of transmission will dectate the direction and intensity of change in all other institutions within society. Each of the public media, in varying degrees, in different ways, and distinct presentational methods, brings us to congratulation, which ourselves  as social beings. By doing so they shape our collective as social beings. By doing so they shape our collective hopes, aspirations and futures.
Politics being an important part of human life. It is hardly more than a platitude to say that media can play a crucial role in the political process. Media fulfil vital function in any democratic political system. Above all else the media, in their various guises, provide channels of information and means by which that information can be interpreted and placed in context. If the people are to govern them in any meaningful sense, they must be reasonably well-informed. They need help in identifying problems, in agenda setting and in weighing policy alternatives they require guidance and assistance in the evaluation of programmes and in assessing the credentials of candidates for office. The media, moreover performs an essential role in a democratic policy in ensuring that public official are held to account for their actions. Citizens, in other words, look to the media to assist the in the process of public deliberations.
Traditionally, the media has been conceived as an observer- ideally a neutral observer- of the political scene. But events of last few decades have demonstrated the inadequacy of this view. The media today is one of the primary actor on the political scene, capable of making or breaking political careers and issues. Media is powerful enough to condition people’s beliefs, attitudes, opinions, values and world view. If we do not believe the press was a potent force in the world, we would not think curbing its freedom worth the price [the same time, ironically, if we did not believe the press was potent, we would not think protecting its freedom worth price]. It has been widely assumed that the structure and level of development of mass media can have an important influence on political systems. It has been argued that “changes in mass communications help being about corresponding changes in political organization”. Hence, we have the belief that the development of the printing press and later the newspaper were driving forces in the growth of liberal democratic states. Rulers, who may use coercion only exceptionally, must rely on persuasion for cultivating the public support they need. Citizens, who know that their rulers are fallible, must depend on mass media for independent comment about the affairs of state.
Democracy has been used to denote the form of government in which ruling power of the state is legally vested, not in any particular class or classes, but in the members of the community as a whole. Central to the argument of democracy and its gradual acceptance are the basic ideas of equality and liberty. Equality is most often to mean that all are the same in some important respect. Given this understanding of equality as treating people in the same way, each person views deserve equal respect and all must have the chance to participate in the process. Dunn describes the enduring idea of democracy as, each person being able to speak for themselves and taking part in collective decisions. But the change in scale from city-state to nation is very important in shaping modern practice of democracy. The use of elected representatives instead of heaving all people meeting together is largely a reaction to the reality of large populations. The decisions are taken on behalf of everyone by a sub-group of the whole but the results are seen as democratic because the people have some influence over these decisions. This influence is generated by the availability and flow of information within the system. Indeed, this large-scale human Endeavour involving a sizable number of people requires substantial of communication for success. For the vast majority of general public, with their attention focused primarily on personal concerns, there is a great physical and psychological distance from political affairs. This distance between political actors and the public is bridged by the communication of mass media. As Walter Lippman memorably put it, people respond to political matters on the basis of “the pictures in heads of what the world is like- pictures largely selected and arranged by the media”. The variety of expressions supplied by the media enables the individuals to nourish their own point of view by finding support for them in the stream of communication. It makes it possible for those with similar attitudes to learn & get in touch with each other and thus facilatating the growth of public – opinion. This opinion serves as the compass to the representatives in decision making. Chanels of communication from the citizenry to the government make it possible for those outside the government structure to influence official actions and policies.
Alongwith other democratic and civil rights, informed and unregimented formation of our values requires openness of communication and argumants, and the role of media could be crucial in this process. Indeed, value formation is an interactive process, and the media has a role in making these interactions possible. As new standards emerge (for example, the norm of smaller families and less frequent child bearing), it is public discussions well as proximate emulation that spread the new norms across a region and ultimately between regions.
Even the very concept of what is to count as a “basic nees” tends to be dependent on public discussion on what is important, and no less importantly, on what is feasible. Human beings suffer from miseries and deprivations of various kinds- some more amenable to alleviation than others. The totality of the human predicament would be an impossible basis for a practical discussion of our “basic needs”. Indeed, there are many things that we might have good reason to value if they were feasible. But we don not- indeed connot- see them as needs, precisely because we believe them to be infeasible. Our conception of needs relates not only to the comprehension of the nature and extent of deprivations, but also to our appreciation of what can or cannot be done about them. These evaluations and understandings can be strongly influenced by the freedom and vigour of public discussion. A free media can be a great ally of the process of development through, among other connections, its constructive role in value formation.
Media of communication makes possible a free flow of information from the society to the polity and, in the polity, from political structure to political structure. One may liken the communication function to the circulation of blood. This serves as a medium through which other functions are performed in a political system. The role of media here becomes crucial as the input into the system in the form of demands & aspirations and also the output from the system in the form of policies is communicated between government and people by media channels. David Easton treats all political systems open and adaptive embedded in an environment of other system and open to influences constantly received from thus shaping the condition under which its members must act. This interaction between the system and its environment highly depends upon the extent to which media is efficient.
The political system receives challenges as well as support from the society. and is expected to deal with the challenge in such a way as to maintain itself with the help of support it receives or can manipulate. Media works with the in receiving demands and support from the environment. But the out puts are not in proportion to the inputs which initiate the process of feed-back. It is a dynamic process through which information about the performance of the system is to communicate back to the system in such a way as to affect the subsequent behaviour of the system. Since a system is primarily interested in persistence, this information is essential to the authorities who take decisions for the system. Media plays an important role in this process of communication as it serves as a link between the system and the society, capable of articulating people’s aspirations and demands and thus communicating it to the system.
[Likewise], A Democratic society has an enormous source of strength in its commitment to the civil liberty. Where man cannot freely convey their thoughts to one another, no freedom is secure. Where the freedom of expression exists, the beginning of a free society and a means for every extension of liberty are already present. Free expression is therefore unique among liberties: it promotes and protects all the rest.
There are two fundamental conditions that must be met if individuals are to retain their respect for democratic principles. The first is that they shall not be required to sacrifice what they cannot sacrifice and keep their self-respect. The second is that they shall believe that there are avenues legitimate actions available to them through which they can register their complaints and struggle to improve their condition. The liberty of thought and expression in democracy provides those avenues. A defence of freedom of speech frequently focusses  on two types of values or aims that it claims are best protected and promoted in an atmosphere of unconstrained speech. First is the individual’s self-fulfillment and second is the attainment of truth.
Any civilized society is a working system of ideas. It lives and changes by the consumption of ideas. Therefore it must make sure that as many possible of the ideas which its members have are available for its examination. It must guarantee freedom of expression, to the end that all adventitious hindrances to the flow of ideas shall be removed. The freedom of speech is necessary for people to come together, discuss problems and issues, formulate opinions & polices and criticize those in authority and power. Democracy grows and develops through free discussions, through exchange of ideas and spread of information, through open public discussion, so that what finally emerges is not made to order by the ruler but is formed ad grows. Mill argues that “the best way for us to arrive at truth is for the community to be jammed with as many ideas as possible, and for all these ideas to challenge and confront each other.”
Only if all possible views get articulated can we be reasonably sure that we haven’t eliminated any ‘true’ one. But all this idea to grasp and confront in hugely populous contries is sham without an efficient media. Media by bringing what is distant near and making what is strange understandable can contribute substantially tothe amount and kinds of information available to the people which can help them widen horizons and thus help to build empathy; they can focus attention on problems and aspirations of the people amounting to create an information ‘climate’.’ The media provides not only information but also the conceptual framework within which information and opinions are ordered. As Bernard Cohen puts it, the press “may be successful much of time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think ‘about”. The flow of ideas, the capacity to make, the ability to criticize, all are the assumptions on which political democracy rests, depends largely on communication. The faith in popular government rested upon the old dictum “let the people have the truth and freedom to discuss it, and all will go well’. In general information and full access to it is a cardinal principle of democratic system.
Indeed, as Carl J. Friedrich pointed out that “actually the emergence of constitutional government and in particular the crystallization of the system of popular representation as we know them, are inextricably interwoven with the growth of modern press. Without it constitutional government is unimaginable’. In a system in which the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people ostensible prevails and when the right of  every citizen to cooperate in the government is acknowledged, every citizen must be presumed to posses the ‘power of discriminating between the different opinions of the contemporaries, and of appreciating the different facts from which inference may be drawn. The sovereignty of people and role of media may therefore be looked upon as correlative institutions.
The centerpiece of a representative government is the process of selection of representatives by the public through election. Here the role of media is perhaps most striking. Elections enable the people to give basic direction to the government through their electoral choices. But how do the voters make decisions on which they select a candidate to elect? The representative government could be mischievous with a passive citizenry that merely chooses leaders and then forgets entirely about politics. Such a citizenry would not know what it wanted its public officials to do or what they were actually doing. An ignorant public would have no way to hold its officials to account. In order that the public can actively control what the government does, the public collectively must be well informed. Some kind of effective public deliberation is required that involves the citizenry as whole. The public assesses past operations of the government and chooses its future directions.
The important point is that most people cannot make monitoring government and various candidates in election, a full time job. So, there is a dramatically increased public’s dependence on the mass media for infor mation and impression on candidates, issues and institutional performance. Even when the decisions are based partly on conversation with family and acquaintance, the media are most often the indirect source of information for most people. It proves to be outstandingly successful in the preconditioning process, media has demonstrated that it is far more effective in shaping environments, creating needs and expectations, demonstrating the rewards to be experienced from suggested behaviors and structuring predispositions in general than they are in “making scales” per Se. But in democracy people’s role is not confined just to vote, it is the active participation by common man that makes democracy fruitful. It is meaningless if political participation is confined to the few and the rest merely follow their leaders like a pack of sheeps. Communication helps people to know their own significant role in governance & government. Their own sense of power is thereby brought known to them. People discover ways to think about themselves and to participate in governance that would have perhaps been unthinkable a generation back. Further, “rise of political consultants”, has provided expert “hired guns” to enable the candidates to make most effective use of the media in general, and the powerful medium of television in specific.
The prime product of the efforts of the officials in government is public policy and media have an important impact on policy process. Importantly, substantial news coverage places an issue actively in the public arena and creates larger pressure on officials to do something sooner rather than later, least they be perceived as incompetent and uncaring or both. On another side of media impact, an administration that has sought to sweep a problem under the rug or that has dragged in fact on an issue can finally be forced to deal with. Also, if it is negative coverage of administrative action, then it tends to push decision-making up the bureaucracy to higher levels of officials, especially to the minister.
In democracy it is also important to expose the abuse of power by corrupt members of the legislature or public officials and make them responsible to the people whom they serve. Ultimately good in a free society can be attained only by knowing the truth which can be attained by free dissemination of information and idea. In a most outstanding decision the Indians supreme court has pronounced (m/s Bennett Coleman V/s union of India, 1973) that public criticism is essential for the working of democracy. Generally this criticism is done verbally. But the verbally spoken words can reach only a limited number of audiences. Newspaper and audio-visual media can reach millions of people simultaneously.
Now, the mass media role of providing adequate information to enable people to realize the intent of democratic process is even more important today. In the economies increasingly dominated by national and transnational corporations, and the multitude of job transfers and national job searches that go with it, a far higher percentage of public does not have the experience of long-term, stable social networks which help share information on political matters and assist in its interpretation. As Vance Packard has written, we have increasingly become “a nation of stangers’. This encourages more dependence on the mass media for information. Media can also function efficiently in a process of becoming modern in technology and economy without goving through the horrors of early and middle industrial revolution, which afflict the older developed world. It can make significant contribution in encouraging the necessary literacy and numeracy for the latter day “industrial revolution”.
Media also have an important part to play with national integration and the promotion of social justice in the culturally diverse and democratic countries like India. Media coverage can promote national integration not only by focusing on the activities of rulers in the capital but also by making group and regional leaderships visible in ways which give them a genuine attachment to the larger “state”. It can further the social justice by drawing attention to the interests and ambitions of various groups of society, for example, women and youth.
The era of globalization has increased information flow among the countries; information cost has been reduced leading to increase in contacts between the democracies enabling the established ones to export their values. Rising information flows imply, arguably, cultural convergence across the countries. With the development of internet, the World Wide Web enhances the public sphere or disperses public discourse.
The new technologies are empowering citizens to participate in new democratic forums not only between governments and governed but also among citizens themselves. “The internet is creating new ‘virtual’, as opposed to physical and social formations thereby providing a basis for a new politics and greater political particiaption by the citizens’. New citizenship linkages and virtual communities are emerging in which participation, whether aroung political affiliation, social issues or local community interests creates their own deloberative democratic forums. People have become participants, not just consumers.
But with all such capabilities the question is – How should be the control of media with their great powers to produce ad disseminate information, opinion and propaganda. Free press has been largely responsible for the development and growth of democracy all down the ages. Once this medium is suppressed, once a healthy, unfettered growth of press is prevented in any form whatsoever, the people remain ignorant. The spread of new ideas and growth of knowledge is limited, and the development of free institutions becomes extremely difficult if not impossible. Without a free press it becomes impossible to control or make the rulers conscious of the problems faced by the people, their difficulties and their needs. Jeremy Benthan argued strongly for press freedom in his letters ‘On the Liberty of the press and public Discussion (1 820-21)’, in which he argued that state censorship of public opinion was a license for authoritarian rule, because governments are ruled by self-interest and ‘such is the nature of man when clothes with power that ... whatever mischief has not yet been actually done by him today, he is sure to be mediating today, and unless restrained by the tile fear of what the Public may think and do, it may actually be done by him tomorrow.
However, at the same time, the democratic control of these institutions is vital as their influence is bound to increase with the growth of society. Agencies reaching the mass could be left alone as long as their power is dispersed. But their increasing radius of influence and central management from key position for attention on their public responsibility and requent failure to live up to it. To this extent the growth and use of their power cannot remain outside public control. The function of the press is to provide information and to help clarify opinion by free discussion. The first is not fulfilled unless reliable news presentation is guaranteed and the second is unwarranted if big business owns the paper and monopolize opinion or by indirect advertising influence, allocates undue space for propagation of selected interests. The balance of society cannot be maintained if privileged groups can use the most powerful aparatus for dissemination of their ideas while the lesser privileged are deprived of similar means of expression. Moreover, today with globalization; media has become a business concern, an undertaking conducted for profit making like other. Media companies are now huge conglomerations with the trend towards corporate marriages set to continue.
The growth of the entertainment economy is forcing the mergers of broadcasting, music, publishing and telecommunication companies into mega corporations in a struggle to maintain dominance in the market. In that horrible phrase that media executives and consultants often use, “the battle of eyeballs” is now upon us. Such a single pursuit of production for profit may lead to skip the questions of public concern & importance. it can be shaped to a significant extent by the concerns of advertising industry with its relentless drive to increase consumption. The effect then is “false consciousness” i.e. the state of awareness in which people no longer consider or know what is in their interest. So, the accountability of public representatives towards people makes it obligaory to put checks on the misdirected freedom of press in the interest of the society. But at the same time the representatives cannot be allowed to isuse the control in the name of national interest for their own benefit. Therefore media should be granted autonomy along with the accountability towards the people. A healthy relationship thus should be maintained with the power of media and need of people.
1.        Democratization and the media edited by Randall Vicky; Published by Frank Cass. London. Portland, 1998, p.6.
2.        Democracy in Practice”; by Catt. Helena; pub by Rutledge. New York. 1999.
3.        The Media & Politics”; Alger, Dean E.; pub by Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 1989;.p-6
4.        Article- “Press Freedom & Development”  Sen, Amartya; Mainstream. Feb 10. 2001.
5.        International Communication; by
6.        “It is not the bold but what it contains that nourishes the system. The blood is the neutral medium carrying claims, protest and demand through the veins to the heavy; and from the heart through the antries flow the outputs of rules, regulations and adjudications in response to the claims & demands”. Gabrial Almond in “the politics of the developing areas”. ed by- Almond, Gabrid A Princetion University Press, 1970.
7.        Political system is “that systems of interactions in any society through which binding or authoritative allocations are made & implemented”- David Easta a quated in “Modern Pd. Theory” by S.P.Verma, vikas publishing House.
8.        “A free & responsible press (A General report on Mass Communication Newspapers Radio, Motion Pictures, magazines & books)”; the Univ of Chicago Press.
9.        “The Power of Democratic Idea (Fourth Report of the Rockefeller brother’s fund special study project)”; Bombay Popular Prakashan.
10.     “The ethics of Liberal Democracy (Morality & Democracy in Theory and Practice)”; Edited by Churchill Robert Paul; Berg Publishers Ltd. Oxford, USA 1994. P-116.
11.     “Mass Media& national Development, (The role of information in developing countries)” by Scramm, Wilbur; Stanford Univ Press, California. 1964; p-129
12.     “Democracy and the Mass Media”; Edited by Lichtenberg. Judith; Cambridge University press 1990 (Introduction).
13.     “Modern Democracies” by- Bryce. James: Macmillan & Company: p-105
14.     The Media & Politics”; by- Alger. Dean E.: Prentice Hall, New Jersey. 1989; p-8.
15.     Democratization and Media”; Edited by- Randali Vicky; published by Frank Cuss. London. Portland, 1998, p-7.
16.     “The Media and Politics” by- Alger. Dean E; Prentice Hall New Jersey 1989: p-188.
17.     “Mass Media and Laws in India” by Manna.B., Naya Prokash Calcutt. 1998. p-12
18.     “The Media & Politics” by- Alger. Dean E; Prentice hall. New Jersey, 1989: p-9
19.     “Reader in Public Opinion and Mass Communication (IIIEdition)” Edited by- Janowitz, Morris & Paul M. Hsch The Free Press 1981.
20.     Article- “Democracy in Information age (The role of Fourth Estate in Cyber Space)”, By- Tumber, Howard; In “Cultural Politics in Information Age (A New Politics?)”; Edted by- Webster, Frank; p.-22

21.     Ibid: p-17