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A Panel Discussion on "Is Media becoming a tool to subvert Democracy? held

S Jaipal Reddy Memorial Foundation organised, a Panel Discussion on "Is Media becoming a tool to subvert Democracy?. It was held in the city on Thursday at Guruswamy Center in West Marredpally. It was organised by the foundation on the eve of the 3rd Death Anniversary of the late S. Jaipal Reddy, a great Parliamentarian and a former union minister. His death anniversary is observed as Remembrance Day by his family, friends, followers and politicians.

Giving his opening remarks Prof. K. Purushotham Reddy, an eminent environmentalist, academician and development activist said LPG--Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation have reduced media to be a just spectator and they are no longer watchdogs of society. Corporatization of media resulted in less attention to smaller, differing, and dissenting voices. In the past, the media used to question people in power but we don't see that any longer. Corporates invest in media, buy shares and control the media. Now the mainstream media has come in the grips of corporate houses, which is a very dangerous situation.

Participating in the debate, Mr R. Dileep Reddy, Former Commissioner of RTI, Editor of Velugu, Telugu daily and veteran journalist said’ one cannot just see one side of the media. See the other side of the media. The media has strengthened democracy. Media has played a key role in the independence of our nation. It played a key role in carrying out the freedom fighters' agenda, propaganda, and propagation of nationalist ideology to mobilise, and arouse nationalist public opinion. Post independence things changed. Newspapers have become products and brands. And their survival was at stake. The media has gone under the control of fewer people. A vast country like ours, in which we pride very much in our diversity is shrinking. Only fewer voices are being heard.

Quoting Erom Sharmila, the Iron Lady of Manipur, who once said in a press conference she addressed to announce her foray into politics, then a journalist said to her that politics was dirty and would she still interested to enter into it. She replied, if politics is so dirty, so is our society. Degradation of the values is seen everywhere. Mr Reddy highlighted the positive side of the media and its contribution to strengthening democracy. Advocates and the media played a key role during the freedom struggle. Let us not lose hope. The media has done much for society. Mahatma Gandhi who was not a big fan of the railways, once said Railways and Media both played a key role in arousing nationalistic feelings and throwing Britishers out of power.

Numbers matter the most to politicians. Numbers also play havoc with Democracy. In democracy 49 is nothing and is just equal to zero, whereas 51 is everything and is equal to 100. And the difference between the two(2) is equal to 100. The proprietary-oriented content management which we are witnessing now was not seen 35 years ago when I entered the media industry. The media has seen many ups and downs. He asked people not to lose hope, as many times the media only helped restore democracy.

Prof Pavan Mamidi, Director of Centre for Social and Behavior Change, Ashoka University, Delhi said media evolved over some time from freedom struggle to the digital era. You need to have free speech to speak your mind. But free speech is also misused. He spoke at length about free speech, which is the core freedom in a democracy that is taken for granted. With the rise of social media platforms, free speech is hotly debated. The public opinion is mixed. According to Karl Popper, who is best known for his contributions to the philosophy of science and epistemology, free speech needs to be regulated. Then he spoke about social media. The good old media was considered as ‘one to many’. With the advent of the Internet, it has become a tool to communicate ‘one with multiple people’.

Now with the new age technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning, allows the mighty in power to segment people into smaller groups and direct certain messages to them. The classical example of this was Cambridge Analytica which is said to have won the White House for Donald Trump by using technology and social media. Because of this example, the role of free speech has become a mockery. There is a cost which involves regulating free speech. In the internet era, the communication is ‘one too many’. In that setup we don't know the source. Free speech is a double-edged weapon, he concluded.

Prof. Kota Neelima, Director, Centre for Perception Studies, New Delhi said it is not the question of whether Journalism is good or not. It is the journalists. The media passes the blame on public for the current state of affairs. And the public blames the media. And the blame game continues. As a result, the 'News' has become an ‘entertainer’. And it has been an entertainer for a very long time. The headline and the structure are all designed to attract people and sell the product. What changed from the past to now is 'the self-regulation system of journalism’, which used to be in place in the past. But, the same is now missing. Today Journalists have no rules to follow. Both the governments and media are working in cooperation, coordination, and collusion. The media has surrendered. Regulation in the hands of the government is very dangerous. Self-regulation is the best, she said.

Today there is no space on TV channels for Democratic values. She gave a few solutions. The only way out is to empower the audience. The audience must cultivate the habit of doubt supported by research. So you find out how far is the truth in what the media is saying. Have a fact checker in place. Be alert to reclaim your democracy, she said.

Prof. Sanjay Asthana, Professor of Journalism, Mid Tennessee State University, USA said we need independent Journalism. We need responsible and functional media. It is sad that governments are using sedition laws and putting them in jail. Quotation Chief Justice of India Shri NV Ramana's recent views about media trial, Prof Sanjay said the kangaroo courts being run s weakening democracy,

Media is promoting anti-democratic values, said the final speaker, Prof. Donthi Narasimha Reddy, a Public Policy Expert. The media is getting manipulated. It is not highlighting issues confronting society, the poor. Politicians are using diverting tactics by raising issues such as 'Cloud Bursting' to divert people from rains, and floods, the subject of serious concern. And the media is getting carried away by the same and neglecting the real issues, incessant rains and floods bothering the people. No doubt the media is the 'watchdogs' of society. But are they doing that job? he asked the hundred-plus audience. We want the media to get strengthened, he concluded.

More than 100 people attended the panel discussion. The two and half hours of panel discussion concluded with questions and answers from the audience.

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