In an attempt to explore the numerous roles of media in the 21 Century, we have brought together perspectives of people from different walks of life. During the numerous discussions, even though many opinions were contextcentric, three prominent concerns surfaced: The control exercised by owners/management of media houses over the content they create and disseminate; which in turn, is impingent upon the operating dynamics between media houses and the various centres of political and economic powers; and, the immense power of media in shaping public opinion (how and what communities think and believe). From a global perspective, the 21 Century is characterised by two parallel and yet contradictory movements: the increasing divisiveness spewed by and among ideologues pitted against the drift towards achieving cohesion through accommodating, accepting and preserving difference and uniqueness. In this larger context of politico-cultural undercurrents, the role of media, with its vast reach, is in mitigating the former and strengthening the latter by presenting the multiple layers of facts, truths and perspectives.

If the freedom of press is to be preserved as vociferously as ever, with strict adherence to an ethical and moral code of personal and institutional conduct, the following questions may have to be raised and resolved: Is media a representation of vox populi (voice of the people) that constitute the democracy that is India? Is it upholding the fundamental values of a democratic nation? Is media playing stooge to the establishment? Is it a puppet in the hands of multinationals and corporate houses? What methods does it devise to preserve its integrity? How are circulation statistics and TRP ratings impacting the newsworthiness of content? Is it perpetuating patterns of thought that are detrimental to social welfare and development? Is media feeding and fuelling the baser instincts of mankind and thriving on satisfying its vicarious pleasures?

If from print to electronic media the change was drastic, with the advent of digital and social media early this century, the transformation was tectonic. In a short span of two decades social media changed the concept of mass media irrevocably. Technological advances in telephony has further spawned innumerable platforms and channels of communication, changing the very notion of ‘news’ and ‘news delivery’. Social media is a confluence of paradoxes: dynamic yet erratic, a tool for social change as well as disruptive trolling, a democratising force while also a potent polarising force, at times ingenious and at most others, vacuous. This inherently malleable and amorphous as well as anonymous nature of social media mocks at and is the greatest deterrent to its own credibility. While traditional media is still battling censorship, reigning in social media content and content delivery through policy regulation is perhaps the greatest challenge. Policy makers can no longer turn a blind eye as social media has burgeoned into fertile ground for perpetuating and metastising social disharmony, religious discord, political coercion and cultural hegemony. Accountable, credible and sustainable content creation and dissemination therefore should be reinstated into the content that media is creating and disseminating.

Role of media in the 21 Century

Dr. Sridhar Pabbisetty Founding Director, Kautilya School of Public Policy

Role of media in the 21 Century cannot be articulated without dwelling on the state of democracy in the 21 Century Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others that have been tried.” While many approaches have been formulated, tried and tested to make democracy function better, countries round the world continue to find it difficult to align the elected government deliver to the expectation of its citizens. Democracy gets reduced to elected candidates coming back to engage with their constituents only when the next elections are round the corner. Often, representative democracy ends up increasing the distance between the elected and electorate .

Former Deputy Prime Minister of India L K Advani while criticizing the role of certain media houses had said, “You were asked only to bend, but you crawled.” Unfortunately, many governments always try and suppress journalists from exercising their freedom of expression that may not be in consonance with the government in power. During the Emergency of 1975, many journalists were jailed alongside dreaded smugglers.

The 2021 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov for their efforts to ‘safeguard freedom of expression’, which quality of the political fabric, is now widely acknowledged as a precondition for democracy and lasting peace. Their fight for freedom of expression has been undersay in very different countries – Philippines and Russia. While both of them have fought long and hard against the abuse of power in their respective countries, they have used fundamentally different Media approaches to achieve the same. Dmitry is the Editor in Chief of the Novaya Gazeta, the most independent newspaper in Russia today.

Maria is the CEO of Rappler a digital media company focussed on investigative journalism. While elaborating on the decision to award them the Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel Committee adds, “Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda.”

Hence it is important for us to remember the role of media that is referred to as the 4 Pillar. While the first three pillars The Executive, The Legislative and The Judiciary often divorce themselves from the social, political and economic realities and fundamental rights of the masses, the 4 Pillar can do wonders to bridge these gaps. We often take the 4 Pillar for granted, but should not forget the major headwinds that are threatening the very nature of media around the world. The traditional print and TV media houses are fighting an uphill survival battle in the ever disrupting changes effected by technology innovations. News channels and print variants are no longer occupying the prime position in the reader’s mind space. Monetizing attempts by traditional houses have been a mixed bag. Even seasoned news organizations like Washington Post have faced challenges recently in compensating thier staff adequately. Over 400 employees demanded “fair wages; fair benefits for retirement, family leave and health care; and a fair amount of job security.” These negotiations lasted over a year.

Governments across the world have used various mechanisms ranging from threats to intimidation to influencing the editorial decisions of news organizations. As was evidenced in the journey of Nobel Peace Prize winners of 2021, many of these were life threatening.

In the recent years, the amount of money available in the government departments for advertising has grown by leaps and bounds. In case of India, “Amount committed for advertisements by the Government through print and electronic media during the period 2018-19 to 2020- 21 was 1,698.98 crore.” Often many news organizations are blurring the lines between advertisements and editorial teams, and thus the mounting pressure on the editorial staff to fight off the advertisement teams.

Media houses have an uphill task of continuing to be the torch bearers for the voice of reason and represent the changing Media in the 21 Century needs to revaluate its orientation towards not just covering the facts, but also establishing a narrative. Most mainstream media have come to be associated with the reification of statist narratives. The role of media therefore appears to be perpetuating narratives of power, and erasing marginal histories. Has social media left traditional media redundant? No. Traditional media still enjoys a great legitimacy as is evidenced by the popularity and mushrooming of Hindi television media, and its patronage by the powers that be.

Huzaifa Pandit Author and Asst. Professor, J&K 28 |

Media in the 21 Century needs to revaluate its orientation towards not just covering the facts, but also establishing a narrative. Most mainstream media have come to be associated with the reification of statist narratives. The role of media therefore appears to be perpetuating narratives of power, and erasing marginal histories. Has social media left traditional media redundant? No. Traditional media still enjoys a great legitimacy as is evidenced by the popularity and mushrooming of Hindi television media, and its patronage by the powers that be.

As it is, internet penetration, and thus social media availability is severely limited in third world countries like India and so a significant population is still reliant on traditional media for information and forming its opinions. Besides social media users have a short attention span that doesn’t suit the detailed tenor of traditional news analysis, which is preferred by a significant population.

Our conception of the ‘world’ has changed into that of a ‘global village’. Hence, developments in one particular country have socio politico impact in another country due to the untrustworthy relationships shared by different countries for purposes of commerce, defence and globalisation. To search for news that is not compromised based on the ideology of a media owner in this context is an uphill task .To promote healthy, positive news as against news for money is the primary role of media.
C K Gundanna : Celebrated Theatre Artist
There was a time when we waited for the radio or the television news slot for the most authentic news. But today, it is worrying because Media has a credibility issue. There is an overdose of information. It is easy to be selective and choose only the points of view which support your own views. I am quite cautious and try to check information across as many sources as I can. Today, media needs to cover this trust deficit with truth that’s neutral and verified.
Manmohan Anchan : Advertising Professional
The raison d’être of mainstream media which is - providing news, highlighting issues that matter and shaping public opinion may not get radically altered. However since the way news is consumed, is changing every day, the challenge for mainstream media will be to deliver, verified authentic news on issues that matter, without fear, in the fastest possible time. By adapting to new forms of dissemination media continues to play the role of ‘opinion maker.
Prof. Suman Joshi : Public Policy Enthusiast
Media including films have the tendency to glorify and sensationalise crime. Particularly electronic media. Society imitates what is shown in media and it is also true that media is a reflection of society. As part of news, some crime incidents are even dramatised and broadcasted. There is an increasing trend of imitation of cyber-crime and financial crimes depicted in cinema and television in real life. Both these media have tremendous impact on the audience. Particularly vulnerable are the have nots who take to crime influenced by what they watch. Let’s not forget that the prevalent system is responsible for this wide chasm between the haves and the have nots. TRP should not take precedence over responsibility and discretion. Besides, media plays a vital role in maintaining public peace.
Sreeram Velamuri : Circle Inspector, Andhra Pradesh Police Department
Fundamentally, the role of media remains the same. At the inauguration of the Hindustan Press in 1924 Gandhi in his speech said, “Every word and sentence published in the paper should be weighed. There should not only be no untrue statements, but no suggestio falsi or suppressio veri.” Gandhi supported and initiated the Birlas to start the Hindustan Times; yet, neither the Birlas nor Gandhi ever interfered with the newspaper’s editorial freedom, even as it was one of the most powerful papers under the leadership of Mulgaonkar. Journalists making ‘friends’ with powerful people like politicians and industrialists is sacrilegious. Instinctive honesty is being compromised. Lord Krishna in the Geeta says, that dharam (duty) which is entangled in bondage is not duty but slavery. And dharam (duty) which is bereft of karuna (compassion) is also not duty. Our duty as journalists is to present news that is unadulterated, fearlessly and with compassion.
Raghu Rai Chowdry : Photographer, Photojournalist, Padmashree Awardee
More often than not, they do the latter as that seems to ‘sell’! A tragic event like suicide is dramatised and glossed with juicy/gory details and speculative theories. Not a word is said about the tragedy of the situation and no attempt is made to understand the distress and emotional turmoil of the family. The media want a few sound bites and each is jostling with the others to thrust mikes in the face of the mourning family members, with no space to even grieve. Screaming headlines - “Mentally ill assaults the the neighbour!” No effort is made to study the circumstances. Mental Health experts’ opinion is rarely highlighted. How many mental health professionals do we see on any panel discussion? Popular cinema continues to make fun of the mentally ill and depict them as clowns! Media plays a huge role in forming public opinion. The stigma against mental health cannot be allayed if media continues to remain insensitive.
Dr. Kalyana Sundaram : Psychiatrist
We cannot discuss the role of media, without discussing its responsibility. We are already in the third decade of the 21 Century, and the world stands divided on so many fronts, political, social, cultural, etc. and hence the role and responsibility is only enhanced. In this increasing narrative of global divisiveness, it would not be incorrect to say that media with its wide reach and deep impact, acts as a cohesive force. In the context of India itself, which is multicultural and global, media would do good to inculcate and foster the idea of fraternity among the citizens irrespective of caste , creed, mother tongue, religion, ethnicity, etc.
Dr. Ajay Kumar Singh :Former Head of the State Police, Karnataka
News, particularly in electronic media earlier was reporter-driven and reporter centric. However, the biggest fall came when news became producer-centric and advertiser- driven. The producer is now calling the shorts as far as news and entertainment is considered, based on what will propel TRPs, which today in India is the primary benchmark for advertising revenue. TRP and producer-led media is option for either of the two strategies CCCC (crime, corruption, cricket and ) and ABCD (astrology, bollywood, cricket, devotion) TRP calculation is itself faulty since it’s based on sampling method of data collection, which in no sense is representative of larger populations, and hence the scope for big time rigging. Print and electronic media have lost out to social media on timeliness. Consequently, print and electronic media have switched from news reporting to feature-based stories and news analysis, panel discussions, debates expert opinions and so on, in spite of their online presence. Besides, media industry earlier was a linear entity run as per a predetermined schedule. However, today content curation is customer centric, where the customer chooses what, when, how and where he wants to get his dose of entertainment and news, with the intervention of technologies like AI etc. which further customise the content to suit the customer profile
Alaham Anil Kumar :Country Director - India Infomo Global
Technology has changed the fundamentals of the media ecosystem and landscape. Social media is thriving on immediacy and urgency which not only interferes with judgement but also with humaneness. The concepts of ‘viral’ didn’t exist, ‘breaking news’ has lost its value and ‘newsworthy’ doesn’t matter anymore. Visuals of violence have reached the palm of our hands. An accident from a CC TV footage, or deeply personal moments, for example, the last minutes of a dying man, have leapt into the public space making us more and more apathetic and less than human. Narcissism has reached a different level with the unquenching desire for personal publicity and attention. The concept of a ‘Scoop’ which was the privilege of media houses today is in the hands of citizens. News analysis is another big hoax. It is usually driven by a pre-determined agenda and voices that go against this agenda are mercilessly muted. What used to be rumour has become fake news.
Prabhakar H R Journalist
Media has a huge impact on people in today’s world. People have access to different channels of media through a click of a button. With this accessibility also comes positive and negative journalism. I have always believed in positive and responsible journalism. Whatever that goes online should be cross checked and verified. Else it amounts to misleading the public and chaos in the society!
Radhika Narayan : Actress