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Role of Media in creating Narratives and carving Public Opinion

Role of Media carving Public Opinion

Judiciary, Legislative, Executive, and Media are considered to be the four pillars of democracy. It was Thomas Carlyle who called media the ‘Fourth Estate of the Realm.’ Media, being the fourth pillar of democracy helps in delivering all the information to people with respect to the state and keeping a check on the functioning of the three organs of the government so as to keep the system intact. Since the role of media is to ensure that the people are aware of the social, economic, and political developments taking place around the country as well as the world and by this, it helps individuals to frames opinion and when these opinions are collectively seen, it forms public opinion, which is nothing but a combination of views and beliefs of individuals. 

Media includes news channels, newspapers, social media like Twitter, etc. which is run through the help of the internet, and currently, social networking sites have become the main source through which information spreads among the masses and is currently playing a key role in forming public opinion.

Print and electronic media are playing a dominant role in running the world as these are in narrative form and even though it is not all real, makes it believable. These include feature films and documentaries, which dictate us a story about ourselves and the world in which we live in. These narratives turn the information and events into a structure that becomes meaningful to us and also permanently resides in our memory and makes us believe in the world, they make. It influences our lives in such a way that it has become a part of our life. It plays a key role in vox populi.

Role of Media in carving Public Opinion

Public opinion plays a pivotal role in the functioning of government and the country, as various policies are framed according to the needs of the people so that the motive behind making the policies can be fulfilled and the policies can be more effective. Here, the media acts as a medium between the government and the public and it provides people with information about the policies framed by the government and vice-versa, which means the opinion of the public regarding the policies is forwarded to the government by the media so that actions can be taken by the government accordingly.

Media

But every coin has two facets, so media as public opinion can be negative as well as positive. For example, a controversy created by media can be good for society as well as bad as it depends on the effect of that controversy on the public which can be good as well as bad.

The Agenda-setting theory of media plays a vital role in making opinions. And, this theory has two aspects which are:

  • Media doesn’t show the reality as reality is molded according to them; and  
  • The media doesn’t show everything and because of which sometimes more important topics are left behind.

Today, since media has become the main source of information, there is no other source to check the authenticity of the information provided, and even if there is, no one is eager to check the same and as a result, media rules the public opinion as it can mold it in a way it desires. Anna Hazare’s movement in 2011 against corruption got such media coverage that it brought the movement in limelight, which helped in the formation of public opinion to fight against corruption.

The role that media plays can also be understood by the example of Chinese media. The Chinese government regulates and controls media, which means that what media will show is decided by the country’s government who mostly restrict the freedom of the press as they cannot show the bad side of the government which eliminates the complete and true information to be heard by the public and restricts the formation of public opinion. 

Contribution of Social Media in carving Public Opinion

Social media has now become the widely used source of media through which information is spread and which can be depicted from the report of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). TRAI said that the total number of internet subscribers will be increased from 718.74 million at the end of December 2019 to 743.19 million at the end of March 2020, registering a quarterly growth rate of 3.40%. This makes us conclude that in the future, this source will be even more widely used.

Social media is a platform where people express their views and opinions and have the power to influence the opinion of others. For example, the recent killing of George- Floyd by a cop in the United States of America had gained a large amount of attention in social media by which the issue of racism was again raised among people. As George Floyd was African-American, it led to huge protests in America and people started condemning this act, which helped in shaping the public opinion of the people against these activities.

Social media is mainly ruled by social media influencers, who can persuade people according to their recommendations. These people affect the public opinions on a large scale and sometimes an event that needs to be condemned by them is appraised by them because of which public opinion is adversely affected. For instance, in the Hyderabad police encounter case in which Hyderabad police killed the accused who was charged for rape and murder and this was largely appraised by social media influencers and by which public at larger also supported this incident but on a broader perspective, these practices need to be condemned as it was a failure of the judicial system and the age-old principle, innocent until proven guilty was not being respected as the accused were on police remand and were not proven guilty then.

Media Trial prejudicing the Public Opinion

Unethical Media

A media trial is a trial before the media where the media provides the judgment even before the court pronounces it. For example, if there is a case in which the death penalty can be awarded and supposedly, it is a rape case that is not yet decided by the court and is undergoing media trial. As these type of cases are very sensitive, it gets public attention rapidly and strong public opinion is formed. And since in cases like these, the public tends to think emotionally, they reach to the conclusion that death penalty should be awarded.

Since in this case, females are in a disadvantageous position, and that they also arouse various movements like women empowerment, etc., the case gets in a different direction and sometimes it leads to the vagueness of decision and affects the court’s decision adversely. So, media trial is not a very healthy practice that needs to be followed for the proper functioning of the judiciary.

The media trail has eliminated the difference between a convict and an accused as people are declared guilty even before they are proved guilty. Even if an accused gets acquitted from the court, the amount of trolling that they receive on social media is in itself enough to defame them and if the person gets an order of acquittal also from the court then also their life becomes miserable.

Instances of Media Trial

  • The Jessica Lal Murder Case (2010) where the media made the court reverse its judgment as in this case Jessica Lal was shot dead by Manu Sharma on 30th April 1999 because she refused to serve liquor to him at a party. The court left the accused free but media pressure has compelled the court to reverse its judgment and the court convicted the accused i.e. Manu Sharma and he was awarded life imprisonment. 
  • The Priyadarshini Mattoo Case (2006), in this case, a law student was raped and murdered and the accused Santosh Kumar was awarded life imprisonment and later on it was said that in this case, the court’s decision was influenced by media trial. 
  • Bois Locker Room, the infamous case in which a few 15-year-old boys were sharing photos of girls and were having a sexually explicit conversation in a group made on Instagram. Instagram is a social media platform. Here an FIR was filed against them and they were issued a notice.
  • Rhea Chakraborty vs. State of Bihar (Sushant Singh Rajput Case), in this case, media arouse the voice for Sushant Singh Rajput, who was an actor in Bollywood and had committed suicide on 14 June 2020, and Rhea Chakraborty, who was also his girlfriend and flatmate was accused of his suicide. The case was decided in the accused favor and she was held innocent by the court.

The need for Self-Regulation in Media

Self-regulation mechanism is a practice in which the media observes itself on various parameters so that its accountability can be maintained as well as its quality can improve. The self-regulating mechanism can include ethical codes by which various authorities can be made for proper regulation as well as a redressal mechanism should be formed so that all the hindrances in proper regulation can be removed. This practice will help the media to advance in its sector. So, this practice is beneficial for both, the public and the media. 

These practices should also ensure freedom of media and should make sure that it is free from any type of control which may restrict the proper functioning of the mechanism including the government’s control so that the motive behind it can be fulfilled.

Self-regulation policies should be made in such a way that it can be beneficial for everyone and should be made to ensure that public opinion is formed in the true manner, which means the media while stating the facts should ensure that differentiation between their own opinion and the fact they are stating is presently established. These policies should also be made in a manner that promotes independent journalism, as well as people’s right to information, is also not infringed.

So, the Self-regulation mechanism is a very essential and healthy practice for media for maintaining their authenticity and credibility. 

Conclusion

Now, the question arises – does media mold the world in its form or is it the public who looks at the media in that way? In the present time, it can be observed that media is playing a major role in forming public opinion and if we look into the data that how much it affects, the answer will always be in favor of media as today, media has become a part of our lives and it could also be called as our lifeline since it has become the key source for us to connect to the world.

So, yes media is molding the world and is a major factor in forming a public opinion but media is not the only factor behind it. So, it should be the primary duty of the public to verify what media shows us, as public opinion matters and it has and is still shaping the world.

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