- Media acts as a watchdog of public interest in a democracy. It plays an important role in a democracy and serves as an agency of the people to inform them of the events of national and international significance.
- It is the means by which people receive a free flow of information and ideas, which is essential to intelligent self-governance, that is, democracy.
- Freedom of the media is part of the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution under Article 19 (1) (a).
- One of the basic tasks of the media is to provide truthful and objective information to the people for their social, political and international awareness to reach an informed opinion. This makes media an important stakeholder in a democracy to shoulder the responsibility of presenting unbiased honest news without any vested interest.
- Media is considered as “Fourth Pillar” in democratic countries along with Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary. Its importance in influencing readers can be gauged by the role it played during the freedom struggle, politically educating millions of Indians who joined the leaders in their fight against the British imperialism. The role of media in Indian democracy has undergone massive changes, from the days of press censorship during Emergency in 1975 to being influential in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Strict regulations for political advertising
- Democracy requires free and fair elections. Voters should be given all the details they need to make an informed decision.
- The spike in circulation of unverifiable informationor fake newshas been a major cause for concern during the current elections.
- Media is used to influence vote-choice through election ad campaigns and other propagandas.
- Misinformation is proliferated and highly emotive subjects handled in ways that could easily be construed as manipulative. This harms the spirit of fair elections.
- The distribution of this manipulative content through TV and social media is proving destructive for the democracy.
- Political parties are morally responsible to follow a code of conduct during elections.In the absence of independent controls, the only thing we are left to cling to in the hope that political campaigning follows some set of rules are the morals of politicians which is absurd.
- Politicians simply shrug off the issue and continue without any regulation . Self-regulation model of media has failed and brought fissures to the surface and it needs to be regulated.
- Freedom of speech does not grant the right to deceive. Freedom of speech provides that political advertising should not be strictly regulated. But freedom of speech is meant to ensure protection of diversity of opinion and the individual’s right to express in a reasonable manner.Lies, deception and treachery are not covered under freedom of speech to influence voting behaviour. Manipulated content is incongruous with freedom of speech.
- There is a blurred line between editorial content and advertising. Advertisements must be distinguishable from editorial content. However, by mimicking the style of a news program or documentary, party political broadcasts intentionally lose that distinction.
- Online advertising allows, especially on social networks, personalised targeting based on multiple attributes that wasn’t possible at the same level before. These platforms make it possible to go from manufacturing consent to manipulating consent. A person is continuously fed with information to vote for a particular party.
- Invisibility of online political advertising. In advertising on a social media platform, not everyone gets to know the sponsor of the advertisements. These advertisements are frequently treated as content.
Some initiatives and positive aspects:
- There are several initiatives pushing for change. The Election Commission of India recently launched an app to encourage voter mobilisation. Fact-checking websites such as Alt News and IndiaSpend’s FactChecker.in attempt to debunk misinformation.
- Similarly, other platforms such as Jaano India and Mumbai Votes aim to equip citizens with relevant information on government policies and candidates’ performance.However, the effectiveness of these programmes, and the impact of various media on voter behaviour in India, have not been rigorously analysed.
- An analysis of randomised evaluations conducted across the world allows some insights into the role of the media in improving the quality of political participation. It shows that it is indeed possible to deliver information through the media in a way that positively impacts citizen engagement in the democratic process, and that the magnitude and duration of impact varies by content type and delivery mechanism.
- Increasing access to political information through the mass media may enable citizens to monitor incumbents’ behaviour, and use this information in voting decisions.Exposure to debates improve voters’ political knowledge and the alignment between voters’ reported policy positions and those of the candidates they voted for.
What should be done?
- Digital media literacy awareness/education initiatives are needed.
- Fact checking initiatives, i.e. Facebook and the Journal.ie partnership to identify fake news
- Data Protection law requires data processors to have consent from data subjects for processing their data.
- The ECI must ensure parity of treatment between political advertising on social media and traditional media.
- Election commission should strictly enforce model code of conduct and should increase vigilance on cyber activities of political parties.
To summarise the efforts taken by the EC to tackle digital media, it would not be wrong to say that the self-regulations are not enough for the social media platforms to keep an eye over the content, the EC is having a hard time to enforce its powers not having specific laws to deal with the upcoming issues like propaganda spreading, fake news, paid news, et cetera for which the use of digital media and social media is being made.