The Democratization and Media conference 2021 was organized by Raisina House in collaboration with the Foreign Correspondents Club of South Asia, India Spend and India Fact Quiz. The author attended the conference/seminar parts of the event. The two-day-long seminars dealt with the most pressing issues regarding media, state, and society.
In the inaugural session the underlying message was that nations cannot ensure strong democratic institutions unless stakeholders of the government are accountable to the people, this role has been fulfilled by the media (in this context those who report on public issues and public information) for centuries by truly functioning as the fourth pillar of a democratic system. The democratisation of media remains a key factor in realising the ethos of peace, justice, and strong institutions. Various evolving challenges in and to reportage and the media, in general, were discussed at the conference.
On the first day the seminars discussed all media influence in daily life and initiated a discourse on its future influence. Lt Gen. (Dr.) SK Gadeock, DG The Amity Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies said that the media “ creates an awareness revolution” which in his understanding is mandated. It is very important and significant. The media must not only report on the social-political and economic global activities manifesting the truth and harsh realities of life but inturn must build trust in its readers/viewers . He talked about various ways the media helps in a democracy like education, awareness, and election knowledge. It gives its citizen the why, the where, and the how of every event.
It was indicated throughout the conference the plethora of negative impacting news requires to be controlled for truthfulness of content. The importance of the media to take utmost care in airing and publishing sensational news was brought out as as it can backfire. The positives were that the watchdog policy of the media keeps the government active. To that extent the media revolution has helped people in making balanced decisions which is a new era in a democracy.
Ambassador Anil Trigunayat, Chairman at Confederation of Education Excellence said, “Image projection is one of the key tasks of diplomacy wherein media becomes a very major partner”. He indicated that news is not a fiction, and that media can be used to counter many negative perceptions. The media’s independence is necessary but self-censorship is also necessary for the media for democracy to strengthen. There must be an assiduous effort to see to it that the people for whom the government is and people for whom the media is — are not cheated in the process otherwise there is no difference between democracy or an autocracy.
Day two of the seminar spoke about ‘Media in Society’. The media’s ability to spread knowledge, alter incorrect or outdated information has led it to be a primary tool to form public opinion. Media and information literacy strengthen the critical faculties of citizens as well as their ability to communicate. Both of which enable them to use media and communication.
It was brought out that there is a very strong need for societies as a whole to realize that the media is not a soap opera. This distinction should be clear among media organizations as well as media consumers. Media organizations need to focus on different categories of fake news and focus on solutions for these categories of fake news. Clickbait is a kind of money-making exercise by setting up fake news sites for revenues, political comment or advocacy which dresses up like straight news. There are also very highly politicized sites to push a cause or agenda and then there are state actors who invest in highly organised toxic fake news.
The Keynote speakjer, Ms. Tulika Bhatnagar Senior Producer and Senior Broadcast Journalist, threw light upon how it is important for countries that if they want to grow economically and be politically stable, there needs to be a separation between trustworthy independent media and social content consumption. Part of the solution in her view is also for government societies and regulatory authorities to find ways to squeeze out poor quality content which can be done by legislating to suppress genuinely toxic content that is hate speech. For example, algorithms and new technology platforms can also be used to bring their power of aggregation and bring audiences together with content. Ms. Tulika Bhatnagar ended by saying that transparency and open-source media combined with tech algorithms is really the key to having the kinds of trends in media that helps people shape their lives and their beliefs in society.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organisation that she belongs to or of the USI of India