Media Conglomerates and “Well Informed Electorate”

Ritam  Arora

This draft is an attempt to draw the attention of the Law Scholars for a reasoned discourse on the obligations and responsibilities of the “PRESS” in this age of Media Conglomerates and its co-relation with a “Well Informed Electorate”. Under present scenario I am trying to establish the legal rights of Indian citizens to compel Mass Media to provide the Indian people with the information it needs to perpetuate the people’s government created by constitution. In my view , the country is in danger of becoming a Regimented-Autocratic State, where the unrestrained power of private corporations led by un-elected persons is stronger than the combined power of the individual citizen in the country.

Under the constitution, India is a Democratic Republic and the Preamble of its constitution contains both Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Thought. The country is governed by a government elected by qualified electorate through parliamentary system.

The right of “Freedom of Expression” is synonymous to “Freedom of Speech”, though in practice “Freedom of Speech” is not absolute in any country and is subject to certain limitations.

The right of Freedom of Speech is recognized as a Human Right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in International Human Rights Law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ( ICCPR ) .

The constitution of India – Part III – Article 19 (i) guarantees “Freedom of Speech and Expression”. No doubt, the concept of democratic republic is that of Self-government by the people. For such a system to work an “Informed Electorate” is necessary. In order to be appropriately knowledgeable, there must be no constraints on the free flow of information and ideas. According to Meike John, democracy will not be true to its essential ideal if few persons are able to manipulate the electorate by withholding in-formations or imparting information and ideas of their own interest. It is important to note that the desire to manipulate opinion for personal reasons negates the democratic ideals.

Through this draft I want to spell out two important concepts of democracy i.e. “People’s Right to Know” and a “Well informed Electorate”. In a democratic country with an elected government, the ultimate decision –makers are the electorate. I repeat – The Electorate.

Through their sovereign power,which is delegated through the vote, they determine who the representatives of the people will be, and these representatives determine the current direction of the government. By determining the government’s current direction, these representatives determine the future of our government and future of our country.

The decision-making power of the Electorate is a fundamental aspect of the representative government. Take away the decision-making power of the electorate and you destroy the basis of a democratic government.

How it is possible to erode and degrade the decision-making power of the electorate?

Through regimentation of the minds of people by monopoly, mass media may be one of the possibilities. Look at the following:-

Today we live in a world, which is changing so rapidly that receiving the best information possible is indispensable. If we are not getting the “Entire” picture, if we are not getting unbiased information, then we are unable to make “Informed” decisions. I quote Bagdikian – “…Ignorance of Economic and Political change is destructive of democracy and fatal to intelligent decision making”.

More than at any time in our history, we depend on the Mass Media to inform us about what is occurring, about the “news”. It is the mass media, which decide what “Is” the news. The mass media become the authority at any given moment for what is true and what is false, what is reality and what is fantasy, what is important and what is trivial.

In fact the democratic consent of the governed is meaningless unless the consent is “informed consent”.

However, unfortunately, modern technology and rising Indian economics have quietly created a new kind of authority over information – the monopoly media groups. Few people who head these groups virtually constitute a new private Ministry of Information and Culture. While it is not possible for the media to tell the population what to think, they are now in a position to tell the public what to think about.

The First Press Commission of India had held ‘Journalism’ as a ‘Public Utility Service’, which by now has evolved as Market Oriented Corporate Business. Newspapers have become big business. Chains of Newspapers, National Newspapers, Electronic Media and News services are the dominant features of a press that has become non-competitive and enormously powerful and influential in its capacity to manipulate popular opinion and change the course of events.

The elimination of competing newspapers in most of our states and large cities and concentration of control of media in the hands of corporate houses is an important component of present trend. Thus, few persons have control of ‘outlets’ to inform the public.

Just two decades back the number of small and medium newspapers registered with DAVP in our country was above 7,000, which in 2008 have come down below 3,000.

I came across a recently launched newspaper at Hyderabad providing 48 glazed paper prints for Rs. 2 only. I was told that the publisher, who happens to be a family member of senior local politician, has marked a sum of Rs. 6,000 / Crores for the newspaper. Such publisher sell their product (news-paper) for about 3/4th less than they pay for them. What is the motive behind? Certainly- not the public utility service.

You pay money for your newspaper to get news, views, entertainment and hard news. However, publishers are not much interested in what type of paper you want, instead they submit to the demands of their advertisers and political mentors

Here I would like to draw your attention towards the constitutional guarantee of Freedom of Trade or Business, but while granting this freedom certain qualifications and conditions have been marked under the constitution of India – Part III – Article 19 (vi).

The above scenario is perplexing and might damage the very SOUL of our constitution – The Democratic Republic of India.

The Parliament has an obligation to ensure that a wide variety of views and hard news reach the public. Simultaneously steps should be taken that under the shadow of Indian constitution Part III , Article 19 (VI) “Freedom to Practice any Profession or to carry on any Occupation, Trade or Business ”is not wittingly used to erode the decision-making power of the electorate converting him from “Well-Informed Electorate” to “Regimented Electorate”.

The Government of India may constitute a high power competent committee for comprehensive study of the present trend in the ongoing situation and may also seek representatives of the government in such a committee (if it deems so) , so that the impending threat of regimentation of the thoughts of the electorate could be ruled out.

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