How Does The Media Play A Role In Politics?

How Does The Media Play A Role In Politics?

                 Any democratic nation consists of these three branches of government – The legislature, executive and the judiciary. But there is also another branch called- ‘The Fourth Estate’. The press is considered to be the ‘Fourth estate of the realm’. One can trace the roots back to the French Revolution and the role the ‘Fourth Estate’ had on the political system. Traditionally the three estates were – The nobility, clergy and the commoners. The term – ‘Fourth Estate’ was attributed when Thomas Carlyle to Edmund Burke, in a parliamentary debate of Great Britain used it 1787, at the opening of the press reporting in the House of Commons. From then on, when newspapers began gaining influence and readership many started describing the ‘Press’ as the ‘Fourth estate of the realm’. Some have even termed the role of ‘New media’ as the ‘Fifth Estate, in recent times.

               In any democratic system, the ‘Fourth Estate’ vis-à-vis the role of the mass media cannot be ignored. It keeps a check on the other realms of government just as the other estates keep a check on the abuse of media influence. These checks and balances are there to ensure that all organs of the government, have a certain order while carrying out functions for the citizens of a country. With any misuse of power by certain functionaries, the legal process does hold scrutiny, when applied. This is the greatness of most modern democratic systems.

              The political process is largely influenced and facilitated in a big way through the role of mass media. The various mass media platforms have their own significance and relevance today. Not just politics, but the media does educate, entertain and inform readers on many areas of interest which are relevant in this information age. The ‘Right to information’ and ‘Right to Freedom of speech and expression’, are as important, among the other rights the citizens enjoy in a democracy. In most countries, even in India, there are restrictions on the mass media in their right to publish anything defamatory or seditious, and there are also reasonable restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression of citizens, in provision to the laws enshrined in the constitution. In this age, the mass media does have an important role to play in the political process, as the citizens rely on the media as extensions of their daily lives.

The Role of media in Indian Politics-

               The media does play a predominant role in an electoral process with a great influence on political campaign strategy, objectives and most importantly educating readers on political news and affairs. Many political leaders rely on journalists in conveying messages that suit a particular viewpoint of the party. The media also acts as a public opinion decision maker on major issues. There are always exceptions to the factor of neutrality in the messages being diffused on different media platforms. An independent mass media enables efficacy wherein media could possibly play an adversarial role in a democracy. The media is also a watchdog and brings to light the bitter truth which is never heard by most citizens.

                 The press has a strict code and even now people rely on the authenticity of news given by the print media. However, in this age, the web has disrupted old business models in the industry. The level of political influence on media houses is clearly conspicuous. This is visible every time elections take place. Not just in India, but even nations like Britain, The United States of America, Canada and Australia have their own media houses which do have a political leaning. So, the idea that the press is completely independent is not true. The political establishment and the mass media do have a symbiotic relationship, at times.

                Today, we have many political parties that have not leveraged the full potential of the mass media, especially social media. Those political leaders that have understood the way media works, have been able to have an edge on campaign strategy, especially during elections. The 2014 elections in India is a classic case of how the BJP understood the dynamics of the mass media, also effectively campaigned and won. The 2019 elections are also going to be a game changer, as to how the media’s role will influence public opinion.

                The aspect of media governance and ethics is another debate which has to be looked through an ad hoc basis for every case. But today, in most liberal democracies, the media establishment sets the tone for an effective political discourse in a country. The media apart from being a watchdog is also a gatekeeper in setting limitations for political dialogues. This has a great influence on voters as the agenda-setting impact is mostly determined by media houses. So, we can definitely conclude that the mass media does influence citizens and has a great role in facilitating the political process of a nation.

 The Future-

               The future of mass media, is going revolve around digital technologies. The digital landscape has disrupted old business models and many other media platforms are finding it difficult to survive. In India about seven decades ago, the print media and radio facilitated the political process of a nation. Then the medium of television came with a bang and is still very powerful today. But in the future, the new media technologies are going to play a big role in determining the success factor for news cycles.

              Mobile journalism is a new trend that is popular today around the world. News bytes are given in the preferred format for readers on their mobile phones. Short bursts of news repeatedly targeted at viewers is another way media planners and advertisers have set the agenda, which is gaining traction. In India, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Mobile Applications and podcasts have played a big role in facilitating public opinion. Political parties and citizens now communicate with each other more effectively. The gatekeeping aspect is getting diluted in journalism wherein the average citizen has become more aware of the news, and the political discourse has also changed.

            The future of India is in its young population. It is the tech-savvy millennials of today who will be driving the political discourse tomorrow. Young journalists, anchors, political leaders, activists are all going to shape India in becoming a great nation of the world. It is only a matter of time before things change for the better in our country!


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