The role of the media, the Fourth Estate, as an influencer of public opinion has always been recognised by governments. Media freedom is generally accepted as a corner stone of modern democratic society. However there is also an acute awareness that the media should be responsible in what and how it reports and also clearly distinguish disseminating information from analysis and opinions. In the days of Citizen Journalism when the world has shrunk to wavelengths and information-sharing through the social media has already proved its mettle in bringing about major changes, it is essential to take a critical look at the role and the responsibilities of the media. However, there is also considerable awareness that the media should be responsible in what and how it reports, and how it ought to distinguish between giving information and editorialising. Mediaperson turned researcher Ratnesh Dwivedi’s book seeks to take a critical look at these aspects. It is a collection of 13 research papers presented by the author in various international forums. The tone and presentation is primarily academic with emphasis on content rather than form. As the author explains, the idea is to provide a single platform highlighting the various aspects of communication, and the many challenges therein.
The author cuts a wide swathe, starting with an exposition on the classical language of Sanskrit and explains why this “most unambiguous language” could well have been the foundation of verbal communication globally. He then goes on to explore the issue of public accountability of media in the era of “market driven journalism”. The author argues that ‘self regulation’ is possibly the mechanism most capable of striking the right balance between freedom and restraint.
Dwivedi touches upon the sensational revelations of Wikileaks and the Radia Tapes and the effect they have had on shaping public opinion. The ethics and morality of phone tapping and ‘listening in’ by governmental agencies are detailed out. Delving deeper into the morality of Wikileaks, the author highlights the dilemma over the right to publish and the need for the State to maintain its secrets. The struggle between freedom of expression and censorship is also dealt with, but the author stops short of coming up with solutions.
Subsequent articles in the book also explore the effect media has in shaping social and political opinion — especially on elections. The role of media in times of public crisis — be it disaster management or terror attacks is clearly brought out. In the case of the former the role of media is clear and simple — more information is better as it can only help people who are affected, and help manage disasters more effectively. In the case of terror attacks however, there is a need for moderating the reporting, says the author, drawing a parallel between the way the foreign media covered the Mumbai terror attacks with restraint and the way the Indian television channels failed to exercise similar caution. The issue of international terrorism and its spread raises fundamental questions about the right to information of the public, policing by the State and patriotism and loyalty. These inherently conflicting issues are well covered in the research papers.
An academic and research oriented book, it remains true to its stated purpose of presenting the full range of media related issues on a single platform. One only wishes the publishers had engaged a good copy editor to rid it of its numerous mistakes.