Since time immemorial those in power have been trying to suppress opinions and voices that rose against them – right from the era of Xerxes crushing Sparta, to the Colonial Empire crushing Red Indians, to the present day, when the political party in power wants to crush media that depict opinions and verdicts to the citizens of the nation that do not work in their favour.
However, thanks to social media, reactions are swift, bold and unforgiving –leading to hasty apologies, and retracting and redefining of words that have been uttered at a spur of the moment.
On would recall the recent statement made by Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, wherein he expressed his desire to “crush” the electronic media, accusing them of favouring party politics. Shinde, who was addressing a Youth Congress rally in his hometown Solapur, Maharashtra, was reacting to the recent opinion polls conducted by private agencies on the forthcoming Lok Sabha Elections.
Although the Minister was castigated – owing to which a backtracking of sorts came from him – the moot point is that with the advent of social media, it has become necessary for political and corporate leaders to become more ready, transparent and answerable to the masses. This was the primary reason why, when Minister alleged that media was responsible for dividing the country and that the youth finds this conduct unforgivable, it was met with large-scale protests led by the Action Committee against Attacks on Journalists. Shinde later claimed that his comments were directed at “social media”, whereas he had clearly referred to the “electronic media”.
The whole episode is absurd and a mockery of the Constitutional rights pertaining to freedom of speech and consequently, freedom of the Press. Has media been reduced to puppetry by political parties in India? The electronic media in the US holds a pre-election Presidential debate. The electronic media in India conducts pre-election polls and gets drawn into a conflict. The dynamics of both the countries differ, but one may observe that it is such a dichotomy that sets a developing nation apart from a developed one.
On the other hand, the state of media is evolving rapidly and rules of power play are getting subverted with changing times. Media is no longer defensive about its action and is becoming more reactionary with time as independent minds and voices find a mouthpiece in today’s era of internet and the mobile. The spectrum of acceptable opinion is not limited or restricted anymore, but is widening with the increasing number of communication mediums.
Controlled media is finally paving the way for free media, where boundaries are blurring and the entire media community is coming together to stand up against atrocities and allegations. All forms of media are intertwined with each other. TV channels carry tweets during their primetime news bulletins, TV interviews are tweeted and talked about, print articles are shared on Facebook and Facebook posts make front page headlines.
Media’s solidarity and consolidation is a positive symbol of progress and the Shinde incident reinstates the faith that people have on such a powerful institutional body. When media comes out of its reservations and collectively engages in sincere reportage, the progress of the nation is inevitable. As Jim Morrison had once famously said, “What controls the media, controls the mind”, this statement stands more valid than ever today.
Power of the electronic media stems from its process of transparency and freedom, where there is no place for discrimination and every action is critiqued and everyone is questioned and analysed. The shows that run today in the news channels are means of discussions and debates, where citizens of the country are given a platform to have a direct interface with politicians, businessmen, entertainers, etc. Nobody is spared. There is no place for any discrepancy, and such straightforward, non-opaque methods have made TV arguably the most important news medium today.
The other interesting observation that can be made is the spin-off statement made by our Home Minister. While he rushed to correct himself, stating that his words were not meant for the press or TV, he ended up blaming social media, very much like his peer Kapil Sibal, who had gone to the extent of demanding pre-screening of posts that go out on social media some time back.
While social media is not yet as regulated or transparent as its electronic media counterparts, yet “crushing” it can never be a viable option. The need of the hour is to combat such mishaps and have a strong social media strategy in place so that such incidents can be curbed. The Government and the people have to realise that social media is still at a nascent stage and, if used with proper disposition, can change the way news is delivered and consumed across the world. Emerging as the most dynamic and powerful medium of communication, social media might have its own challenges, especially those pertaining to law and order propaganda, but one cannot ignore it, nor choose to “crush” it anymore. The very hint of suggesting that possibility reflects ignorance and is laughable.