Media and the Society [Archives:2000/14/Law & Diplomacy]

April 3 2000

Ismail Al-Ghaberi
Yemen Times

The history of the Press shows that it was born to educate the people about the happenings which affected or were likely to affect them and to agitate on their behalf to resolve their grievances and to protect their interests. The Press also assumed a certain code of private and public conduct which those in authority were expected to follow any deviation from the assumed norms came in for a sever rebuke from the Press. That not only helped to keep the persons in power in check and to the right path, but did something more: By discussing the standards of private and public morals, it also held before the people at large a set of ethical guidelines, and influenced indirectly their pattern of private and public behavior. The Press became the mirror of society for all purposes, focusing on individuals and events making news.
The Press can bring to the knowledge of all concerned the achievements in agriculture, industry, education, health, medicine, science and technology and carry to every home the fruits of research in these and other fields in as simply and plain a language as possible, and help the people in self-advancement. The Press can also bring to the notice of the people the achievements of individuals and organizations, including non-government organizations in various fields.
The print media as a mass communicator can achieve what a nation builder can, by educating motivating, exhorting and rewarding people. The media can foster and promote the good, and expose and condemn the evil. Media can hold before the people an ideal, and castigate the deviant. they can promote tolerance, brotherhood and unity, and root out intolerance, divisiveness, enmity and hatred. They can prevent conflicts and violence, and build up peaceful relations, and respect for rule of law. Media can curb confrontation and help solve problems amiably.
The Press can also more nation to progress, and to user in prosperity and happiness for all. To this end, it can focus the attention of the people and of the authorities that be on the areas and the people which are in need of development and betterment. It can discuss and suggest the needed measures and also the best ways and means of implementing it. It can highlight the measures, schemes and projects planned by the authorities at different levels, and depict their gains and failures. It can point out their non-implementation and operation. The Press can also invite the attention of the policy-makers to the need for the schemes of social welfare for the weaker and vulnerable sections of society. The need to democratize the Press by inducting in it the representatives of the have nots and by making it articulative of their grievances, and aspirations, cannot be over-emphasized. To qualify to be a watchdog of the society, the Press must represent the society as a whole and monitor the interests of all the sections. The social audit of the Press cannot ignore this vital aspect of its structure and functioning.
The communication has no longer remained an incidental service. It has become a major primary service, and as such an essential institution of the modern society. In a truly democratic society, communication constitutes its foundation. Mass media have therefore rightly come to be regarded as the fourth organ of the State. The Press as a unique means of written mass communication was the sole constituent of the fourth organ till the advent of the radio and television. Though the sway is now held by the electronic media the press has not lost its hold over the people and continues to play its powerful role as an informer and educator, as the purveyor of news and the molder of views. today, it has become a more powerful institution than the other three organs of the State, for, it can comment on and criticize the functioning of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. It can make and mark individuals and institutions. It can mobilize public opinion and overthrow governments. It can destabilise and destroy nation as well as build it. Its reign and power are unlimited.
Vast sections of the people, both as individuals and members of certain groups, are the victims of exploitation, discrimination, and of the unjust and inequitable social and economic order. They have grievances which are unarticulated, and go unheeded even if articulated. They are in urgent need of relief. Can not the Press act as a tribune, a kind of day-to-day Parliament of the people, and present their grievances to the authorities and pursue them till they are redressed? Not that the grievances of those who can articulate are not published. But even those grievances are not picked up as a cause toe pursued.
Corruption, nepotism and many other malpractices in the functioning of all those vested with the public power as well as the non-implementation and faulty implementation of the various schemes and projects can be legitimately exposed through the columns of the Press. Investigative journalism has not to be only an occasional phenomenon, nor has it to concentrate only on big scams and scandals, nor is it to be undertaken by a big newspapers alone. Even the small newspapers have to act as the watchdog of the society. The big newspapers can and should give their assistance to the small ones in this behalf and secure their services for the purpose. The big newspapers can also extend their protective umbrella to the small ones by insuring security for them on such occasions by highlighting their precarious condition and pressures exerted on them.
The Press can equally effectively function as a catalyst of change by studying and proposing developmental measures, schemes and projects of welfare of the people by identifying the neglected areas and the needy sections of the society. This is apart from the exposure of non-implementation and faulty implementation of the measures already planned or under implementation or already completed. The Press can also empower the people to be self-reliant, and to undertake self-development by educating them in the latest, cheapest and expeditious technology, small-scale and cottage industries, self employment avenues, building of houses in the rural areas with locally available material and so on.
The Press has the potential to do all this and many other things. But has the Press the will to do it and will it do it? Let it not be forgotten that the Press is accountable to the people, as the fourth organ of the State, as a wielder of power over the people, as an exerciser of freedom of expression for and on behalf of the society and as a recipient of the patronage of the people. What it does and omits to do is of concern to the people. Misinformation, disinformation and suppression of ???? and views are not only derelictions of duty that it owes to the people, they are also anti-democratic and betray the trust the people place in it. These obvious malpractices stand compounded when there is a monopoly and oligopoly of the Press or when there is either a conspiracy of silence or of subversion of information. When issues involved relate to violation of human rights, the Press, by resorting to such practices commits the worst offense against humanity. On such occasions, one wonders whether the instrument which came to be forged over the years as a precious democratic right of the people, has not itself become a destroyer of that right.
As a catalyst of change, the Press has a considerable role to play because it is an input in development itself and in social change, which when takes place is accelerated by process of development. The society is in the process of moderation, of transition, from a traditional to a modern one, and this produces tremendous pressures and a great deal of strain on the people which we are witnessing today.
One of the problems about reporting development and change is that this is not an event. It is a process and therefore this is something that does not necessarily catch the eye and it is relegated because not being an event, it is not time-bound and therefore, it can be done tomorrow, and tomorrow becomes the day after, and so it goes on. But many of the events that later take place do so because of unnoticed and unanticipated social change, because things come to a boil and then there is an explosion and that event then makes news, but the preceding chain of events that builds up that sort of pressure goes unnoticed and this is something that the newspapers need to look at more carefully.
Editorial and journalists have to make development news and the news about social change newsworthy. Such stories have to compete with sports news, with political news, with scams, with sensation, with the high society news or whatever else. We should relate these development to people’s minds and see how these processes of change and development impact on people’s life, if these happen. And when these do happen, it is the whole web that opens up, but it is equally important if they do not happen. Very often there is a big story in relating to what happens than if something does not happen.
The Press is accountable to the people, as the fourth estate, as a wilder of power over the people, as an exerciser of freedom of expression for and on behalf of the society and as a recipient of the patronage of the people. The practice of misinformation, disinformation and suppression of news and views can go on unchecked at a very large scale as most of the people do not exercise their fundamental right to get or receive correct information from the Press.