[Answered]Critically examine the role of media as a watchdog in a democracy.

Demand of the question

Introduction. Contextual introduction.

Body. Discuss the role of media as a watchdog in a democracy and various challenges for the same.

Conclusion. Way forward.

Media constitutes the 4th pillar of democracy. It plays an important role in keeping democracy alive and thriving. The role of the media is vital as a watchdog for uncovering errors and wrongdoings in the democracy. The Press Freedom Index, released by Reporters without Borders in 2019, ranked India 140 out of 180 countries. This reflects less freedom to media in the country impacting its role as watchdog.

Role of media as a watchdog in a democracy:

  1. Reporting:Media reporting on public affairs and investigations into wrongdoing in the administration of public affairs is a must for a healthy democracy. This includes exposing frauds or corruption cases that personally benefit politicians.
  2. Audit:Media plays an important role in auditing government policies and spending. An unbiased media is important for transparent reporting.
  3. Awareness: Media is important to educate people on issues that are of utmost importance for society. E.g. Increasing number of rape cases are threat to society and reflect state failure to stop it. Media help in generating awareness about these social issues.
  4. Accountability:Media ensures accountability of the government by exposing the bad state of democracy. By playing its watchdog role, the media help bring about reforms and in the long term, assist in creating a culture of transparency and government accountability.
  5. Platform for debate: An election cannot be deemed democratic unless the public is fully able to participate. As such, the media are vital in ensuring that there is a transparent platform for debate and participation of the representatives in various national debates and discussion which allow citizens to choose accordingly.
  6. Bridge: The media is a bridge between the citizens and the government. It help ciitizen’s voice to reach government and help in highlighting various issues in the society.
  7. Informal opposition: Media also acts as an informal opposition, especially in case of an opposition less in numbers in the legislature. It criticise and debate on various government policies and schemes.

Various challenges:

  1. Censorship: The political leaders encourage censorship of media. Various efforts are made to control and contain media through stringent norms and regulations.
  2. Sedition law: Section 124a of IPC under which sedition is punishable by life imprisonment endanger the freedom of journalists. This lead to fear among journalists to work freely,
  3. Corruption: Paid news, advertorials and fake news are threat to free and unbiased media. All this leads to favouritism and hinders unbiased reporting.
  4. Political influence: Corporate and political power has overwhelmed large sections of the media, both print and visual, which lead to vested interests and destroy freedom.

Way forward:

  1. Legislation: Although India has the Press Council of India and specific regulations, the country needs more detailed law regarding the media to protect not only the freedom of expression and speech but also journalists’ safety.
  2. Strengthening justice system: Strengthening the courts, the police, and the justice system, and the rule of law is important to provide adequate protection for journalists.
  3. Better regulation: Efforts must be made to enable regulations that would lower the barriers to media ownership and reduce concentration of media ownership.
  4. Independent agencies: There is a need to establish independent press councils, media watch groups, Ombudsmen, and other media self‐regulatory bodies autonomous from the government.
  5. Incentivise: Government must Institute awards and other forms of recognition for excellence in watchdog reporting.

India is the biggest democracy in the world and the press and media play an important role in keeping the democracy thriving. Media should be neutral in airing views, as it is a vital link between government and Indian citizens. Media is thus necessary for smooth functioning of democracy.

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