In a time when media itself is under the scanner for drifting away from the concerns of the people and becoming more and more partisan, a webinar was organized by an NGO in Delhi and supported ironically by a media group about the role of media in defending the economy. The topic was “Democracy, media & citizens”. There were some interesting observations made in the two-hour Webinar that was witnessed by seven thousand six hundred and twenty people across the world.
“Media is the fourth pillar of democracy. It is a bridge between the government and the people. A responsible media presents the concerns of the people so that the government can take cognizance of that, but if it becomes a mouthpiece of the government, people’s concerns are lost and so is democracy”, said Gyaneshwar Dayal, a journalist and documentary filmmaker in his keynote address in the Webinar held on Sunday. Gyaneshwar Dayal has made many documentaries on social and political issues concerning the country; most notable being Terminated Childhood on Bhopal Gas Victims, Unwanted on the Rohingyas in India, and the plight of enclave dwellers in West Bengal.
Biplab Mukherjee, a Social Activist working for rights of downtrodden in the border areas of Indo Bangladesh said, “the media space for the social issues is ever-shrinking it is now going to all the issues that are dear to market forces and serve the interests of the ruling elites, in our case the local politicians”.
The Webinar on “Democracy, Media and Citizens” was organized by the group of journalists, Academicians, Professionals, and activists, who call themselves “Democracy Defenders”. The Webinar was supported by the SDG Chaupal, WADA NGO, and had Media partners in Dainik Bhaskar, Prathem News, Minority India, India Abroad Today. The webinar that lasted around two hours had 12 speakers who spoke their minds about the role of Media in defending the Democracy.
Ajmal khan, Editor India Abroad Today said that minorities are being targeted by the mainstream media and unconfirmed reports are often presented as news. Day in and day out debates are organized which only spread hatred among people. This is not only dangerous but can cause a lot of harm to the communal harmony of the people. Let us not forget the role Radio Rwanda played before the genocide in Rwanda”.
The webinar was attended by over seven people across the world. Giving the perspective to the debate Sanjeev Acharya said “Media across the world is under tremendous pressure to tow the government line, it is more pronounced in the developing world but the dangers are same everywhere”, he said.
Binny Yadav who runs a news portal asiannewsmakers.com spoke about the issues faced by news portals and how mainstream media is sidelining the common man. “democracies survive on votes, but a functioning democracy needs more than votes – strong institutions, informed citizens and a free and responsible media. It is also important to strengthen the institutions of democracy so a free society can thrive.” She said.
Giving a glimpse of defending democracy, Daudayal Gupta, defender democracy, Uttar Pradesh who was jailed in the Emergency said, “It is never easy to stand for democracy, Democracy is very fragile and its challenges are equally diverse and varied. Media should identify the challenges to the democracy and should be the voice of the people who defend it” he said.
This is the time when human rights coverage is almost absent from the frontline media, the voice of the marginalized people on the fringe is on the sidelines. In the absence of media coverage of people’s movement governments are easily able to ignore them, said Kushal Jeena, a journalist who worked with Reuters.
After the speakers, the questions from the audience were also taken and most people wanted to know what could be done to restore the credibility of the media and make it more accountable. In an answer to the audience question the CMD of Pratham News, Ashutosh Bajpai said that the newspaper/news portal owners are under tremendous pressure as the revenue sources are drying up. Standing for your convictions is difficult but not impossible. You have to take it in your stride if you have the conviction to stand for the truth.
The organizers were elated at the response of the webinar and announced that such a webinar would be organized in October again at the time of Gandhi Jayanti on October 2. Prabha Gupta, General Secretary of WADA NGO in her vote of thanks emphasized the need for the media to be diversified and reports should from all over the country, not from just metros and state capitals. “People, in general, do not have any idea about the issues of the people living in small towns, villages because their news hardly ever gets space in national media, until that happens we have a clear distinction between India and Bharat,” she said her concluding remarks.