Will social media break the next scam, trumping TV and print?

The MP from Lok Sabha Ms. Meenakshi Natarajan was to introduce the print and electronic Media Standards and regulations bill 2012.The bill provides among others things for a regulatory authority with sweeping powers including a ban or suspending coverage of an event or incident that may pose a threat to national security from foreign or internal sources. It even provides for a fine of up to Rs. 50 lakh, suspension of a media organisation’s licence for up to 11 months and cancellation in some cases.

Natarajan, a first-time MP representing Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh is an All India Congress Committee Secretary and a member of Rahul Gandhi’s core team of youth leaders. It was not introduced since she was absent on the day it was taken up.

“The bill was based on her (Natarajan’s) views.  These are not the views of Rahul Gandhi Neither are these his views or nor has she got his consent to this bill,” Congress general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi said.

[http://www.rediff.com/news/report/congress-distances-itself-from-meenakshi-natarajans-media-bill/20120501.htm]

Earlier the Press Council of India Chairperson Justice Markandey Katju called for regulating social media, saying it would prevent unpleasant material from making it into the public domain.

“Social media like Face book and Google need to be regulated as a lot of dirty and filthy material is available on these sites and these affect the minds of the younger generation,” Katju said during an interaction with women journalists at the Indian Women Press Corps. Katju also supported some kind of regulation for media especially electronic media.

“Everybody should have self-regulation. I was scared when I was the High Court judge that if I took a bribe I would be impeached by Parliament. Lawyers’ license can be cancelled by the Bar Council of India and similarly doctors’ licence can be cancelled by the Medical Council of India for any medical negligence. So everybody is accountable except the media, especially the electronic media. They say we will have self-regulation. Then everybody should have self-regulation, why should there be laws? The very fact that you have laws is that society realises that self-regulation is not all that sufficient. There should be some fear among media,” he said.

According to Katju, Indian media has been playing a very irresponsible role.

“I am not against the media and fight for their rights as nobody else would have. I am not calling for controlling media but regulating them. May be a separate committee should be constituted and the media fraternity should be a part of framing its guidelines,” he said.

[http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2012-04-18/news/31361544_1_social-media-electronic-media-regulation]

In the eighties it was the print media which was in the forefront for exposing corruption and other misdeeds of Government and political leaders. But by the beginning of this century TV has overtaken print media in terms of “Breaking News” whether it is of Adarsh scam or that of CWG and 2G.  TV as medium has become The Main Stream Media. [MSM]. Actually print media world over is struggling to function as a pure news media since TV has pre-empted it the previous night. Hence slowly printed news papers are focussing on analysis and back ground to stories. TV is more focussing on combining views and news bundled into one.

But a significant change has come about with the advent of social media  [SM] like twitter/face book etc They have captured the imagination of, particularly youngsters since it is fully democratic without the control of owners of media or Editors. Print MSM is controlled by owners who appoint Editors who vet the news and views to be published. So is the case with TV media.

But in the social media everybody has equal chance and all are kings and the speed is unbelievable. It is not constrained by sense of partisanship or agenda driven since for every one view point there are hundred counter view points.

There is a general perception that the print and electronic media is run by left liberals in our country who do not provide opportunities to the other view point. This could be due the fact that most of the journalists have been brought up in the Nehruvian tradition of left liberalism and Columbia school of journalism or the local Jamia Milia generally encourages that point of view. Many an editor has come out of these schools of journalism. So to that extent the rightist elements both the religious type and other pure right have found the social media to be an effective tool to counter the perceived left liberal  print and TV medium

Since they are not bothered about being “insiders” or “consensus builders” and they being unpaid part timers, they focus sharply on the rightist point of view. They also are in the fore front to expose wrong doing by the ruling establishment.

Two recent examples highlight their success and provide clues to the shape of things to come.

For instance when the Abhishek Manu Singhvi-AMS- tapes hit the social media they circulated it far and wide and in the jargon of Twitter he was trending for many days. This made the case not only popular but also difficult to be ignored. The issue was his alleged sexual dalliance with a middle aged lawyer in his chambers during day time and the insinuation is that he promised to make her a judge. His driver who was unhappy with him for the treatment meted to him was supposed to have made the tape. It was removed from some locations in U tube but enterprising persons managed to put it in several different locations, some which can be censored and some which cannot be easily amenable for technological reasons. The Delhi high Court has given an injunction based on his petition. Neither the court nor Government had full wherewithal to prevent the tapes being distributed globally.

TV channels by and large were silent-and by doing that-they actually worsened the situation for him. It was perceived that the MSM protects the high and mighty particularly if they belong to the “narrow elite” of Delhi compared to say small town leaders.  Both TV and print media were suddenly talking about privacy and consenting adults. But Social media quoted Nithyananda case and argued that you cannot have different yard sticks to different individuals. It was reasoned that Nityananda was a private individual while AMS is not. Actually AMS is –he has resigned since then- Chairman of the standing committee of Parliament and spokes person for the ruling party. When the MSM published his denials and part of the story, it increased curiosity of average reader/viewer. The advantage of SM is, it has million writers who are also editors unlike MSM where there are bunch of editors trying to decide what is good for their reader/viewers.

Another important case is the supposed “land grab” done by the present President in constructing a palatial palace in Pune; for her to be occupied post-retirement. She being the supreme commander of armed forces was perceived to misuse her position since the said land was meant to be used by Army Personnel. The issue was first exposed by Vinita Deshmukh a staff of Money Life [a financial journal from Mumbai] and soon twitter carried it far and wide. It appears that the President tried to influence the army persons at Pune through some Governor Etc but even that was highlighted by the SM. In this entire episode MSM; one can say was circumspect as in the case of AMS tapes and it only carried denials from the office of the President. Again it was perceived by SM that MSM was not taking up substantive issues like appropriateness and legality involved in the case. Then we heard the news that the President has given up her idea of a new home in Pune and in a sense it was a victory for SM.

So it seems that from print era to TV era we are moving into SM era. SM may not be powerful in influencing voters as of now but it is becoming powerful to take on the high and mighty. Actually it is interesting to observe that the participants in SM always ask about sources and verification before jumping to conclusions With the RTI Act available in India SM may begin to get their own feeds using RTI. In other words they need not get news only from Print or Electronic media. They are not controlled by business houses or by political parties. In other words we are entering an interesting era of millions of editors in the cyber sphere, unpaid and not driven by any agenda other than social good. These SM participants are slowly turning out to be unpaid guardians of our Republic

Of course there are talks about regulating it or controlling it like that of Justice Katju. It is interesting to note that he was on Twitter for a short period and it seems he has folded his account. Those who talk of controlling SM know not what they are talking about both from technological point of view and from intellectual evolution point of view. It is actually real power in the hands of middle class captured from the narrow ownership driven /agenda driven elite.

The motto seems to be “have key board-go places”. This is the real citizen journalism unpaid/ without agenda and motives. The next major scam to be exposed by Social Media[SM] is awaited with bated breath!

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