Sat, Feb 25, 2017 | updated 07:08 PM IST

Information dissemination and the role of citizen

Updated: Dec 30, 2016 12:10 IST

By Shambhavi Ravishankar

New Delhi [India], Dec. 30 (ANI): Journalism faces several challenges to its existence, despite which, it has become an integral part of any functioning democracy today.

The Constitution of India recognises free speech as a fundamental right in Article 19(1)(a), which is one of the strongest sources of protection for journalists.

However, the latest skirmish between government organisations (the police), the press and human rights lawyers raises some serious questions. How much information is too much information to the public? Should secrecy be allowed in situations of extreme delicacy and conflict? What is the role of a journalist? What are the ethics guiding police action? What ethics guide journalism and activists?

These are the questions that recur often, in the debate on how democracies should function. Though one thing remains certain: information is power.

Control over information and its dissemination has always been a contentious issue. We live in a world where communication and information is instant.

Today, control and management of information vis-a-vis the relationship between public and the government, has become more challenging.

A democracy is a relationship based on trust, the breach of which is not only disrespect to the mechanism, but also a threat to the peace that democracy can bring.

People have forgotten times of dictatorship and monarchical control, where justice and equity were ad hoc, being controlled by the whim of a single individual and his supporters. The fight for spreading power to citizenry, and creating checks and balances to the rulers' exercise of power, has spanned centuries. Democracies world over, have thrived because of that recognition that governance is bigger than one individual, or one party or one family of rulers. Dissemination of information has played a huge part in this socio-political reformation.

Having come this far, it is important to recognise that the power struggle continues, with the added twist of more information being in the hands of ordinary citizens than ever before. This raises several issues.

Awareness may have increased, but not full knowledge of affairs. A journalistic piece of five hundred words, can only glean so much information. Citizens therefore have a part to play in this struggle. They must demand impartial reporting, as much as they must demand governmental protection for journalists and activists. The Press Council of India has listed out several Ethics and Principles for journalists to follow, that the government, journalists and activists, as well as citizens must be aware of.

Reporting cannot be sensational just to grab the attention of citizens. Neither can governmental action result in suppressing of reportage and advocacy. Moreover, without cooperation between the government and media houses, how will there by increased awareness of the good done by governmental authorities? The role of the citizen in India, is more imperative than ever. If as citizens, we do not demand varied content, news outlets will reflect only what we want to see/hear. This is a commercial trap that has disastrous results for a democracy. A true impartial check and balance to Governmental excesses will be lost.

Citizens therefore, can be a viable balancing force in the power struggle between the government and journalists/activists/lawyers. It is a loss for citizens, if they do not participate. Citizens will only know what is given to them, which is a mere re-enactment of the pre-democracy era. Citizens must therefore, demand responsible journalism and full protection for journalists and activists. (ANI)

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