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The case of newspaper violating election code of conduct highlights the trend of partisan and controlled media
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The Election Commission has taken a serious view of the violation of election code of conduct by a leading Hindi newspaper for publishing an exit poll after the first phase of Uttar Pradesh elections on its website and has also called for booking its editorial heads. Media houses are barred from publishing or broadcasting exit polls so that the results do not influence voters and the violation is punishable by a jail term and a fine under Section 126 A and B of the Representation of the People Act. The newspaper in question, Dainik Jagran, has maintained that the exit poll showing BJP as far ahead was published inadvertently. Such 'innocence' claimed by the newspaper known for its unabashed pro-Modi stance is unconvincing. The newspaper group has clearly aligned with Modi's agenda ever since the BJP came to power at the Centre. Whether or not the legal battle against the newspaper reaches its logical conclusion, the incident highlights a serious issue with respect to media, which is now increasingly becoming biased, influenced and losing sense of professional ethics in a major way. The political biases of media houses and organizations are not entirely new. Editors are known to favour one or the other party but such alignments may not necessarily stem from influence of power and money but are also reflections of the views and opinions of the editors. While media houses should be free to reflect their views and opinions, it is important that they do not lose sense of professionalism and professional ethics by colouring and distorting facts. The political and commercial influences on media organizations have also existed since decades but not in the unabashed manner as in recent times when media in a world of cut throat competition and steeped in glamour has becoming completely dependent on money and political power for survival. The sudden commercial news channels boom in the country, backed by big business houses and the increased cost of production in print media have made the survival of independent media extremely difficult.

The media far from treating its role as working as the fourth pillar of democracy and becoming the voice of the marginalized and powerless people of the country, while fairly criticizing policies and politics of the powerful political and business elite, has become completely motivated and co-opted. According to a report, more than a third of news channels in India are owned by politicians or political affiliates, who use their channels as "political vehicles" to influence the course of local elections. Owning a news entity has become a practical necessity for political parties in India and thus media, by and large, has become excessively partisan, even when it is clear where the funding and support is coming from. It is ironic that the world's largest democracy, which is witnessing a major media boom with over 80,000 print publications and close to 400 news channels, is one of the poorest when it comes to independent coverage. World Press Freedom Index 2016 report released by Reporters Without Borders recently a disturbing trend of decline in respect for media freedom at the global level as well as India now ranks below even countries like Afghanistan and Bhutan at 133. The WPI index is measured on grounds of threat perceptions and intimidations and does not take into account the silent co-option of the media often necessitated by financial constraints and partly by greed and culture of corruption, which is more the case in India, where finances and political power now completely dictate the rise and fall of the media. In a bid to survive, the media willingly becomes a tool in the hands of the governments of the day, if not big business lobbies, who dictate the news content and the comment spaces of the press. This state of affairs is aggravated by the failure, deliberate or otherwise, of the media watchdog agencies, like the Press Council of India, in rectifying such glaring distortions. Unfortunately, the PCI and other key national institutions like the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) appear to be handicapped, for unknown reasons, when it comes to dealing with issues of freedom of the media, especially in conflict regions like Kashmir. Such a trend is unhealthy and against democratic ethics, threatening the functioning of a democracy. The government must understand the imperatives of independent media in a democratic country and must play an encouraging role in strengthening institutions like PCI and Editor's Guild so that corrective steps can be taken.

News Updated at : Tuesday, February 14, 2017
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