The Paradoxical Relationship between Media and Human Rights


The media is regarded as a mirror of the society which holds immense power in shaping our perception of reality. Besides being entrusted with the multifunctional aspect of providing information, education, entertainment, and surveillance of the environment, the media is also very instrumental in forming public opinion about important issues and events. The media sets agenda and helps people to decide what to think about. The mass media acts as a watchdog of democracy and exercises check on the functioning of government machinery. Nowadays, the media holds so much power and influence that the coverage of issues and events also gains priority in the eyes of public.

When it comes to draw a relationship between human rights and media, there is a very diplomatic approach as suggested by the early thinkers. The main point of intersection between the worlds of the media and human rights is, the considerable degree of overlap of subject matter between the two areas. Much of reporting concern matter, directly or indirectly have a human rights content. The other is the fact that freedom of the media is itself a human right. The media are regarded conventionally as one of the mechanisms by which citizens hold their governments to account.

No doubt in India, media especially the print, has played an important role in educating and informing citizens of their rights as well as the violations of such rights. One cannot forget that the origin of newspapers in India itself lay in challenging the denial of rights. In South India, The Hindu, we are given to understand, constantly attracted the wrath of the British government because it drew attention of the readers to the gross violation of people’s dignity and rights. In the post – independence India too the newspapers have constantly attracted the anger and harassment by the governments for trying to take the truth to the people. Significant section of the national press has dared to oppose events that have changed the course of history in India – Emergency, Babri Masjid demolition, murder of Graham Steins and his children, the Godhra carnage, Nandigram violence, police brutality cases, displacement of people for industrial purposes, etc.

Although it sounds paradoxical, it is true that contemporary media driven by numbers is increasingly becoming a cause for violations of human rights. Media is not only a witness but also a promoter of violence. What appears in newspaper gets mass attention and is considered more important than other events that do not get published, the pattern of coverage given to women and their problems has remained an issue of scholarly debate in media research. Media researchers and scholars allege that the news media has been discriminating against women and conferring them with limiting and stereotypical representation, both structurally and culturally, thus reinforcing the hegemony of patriarchy. Although there is inadequate research on women in the news, the existing research findings show that issues and problems related to women do not receive due coverage in news media. The importance women are given in newspapers is only reserved under harassment, rape and sexual assault, acid attacks, molestation, gang rapes, murder by parents, etc. Apart from women, the then India Today reporter Shyam Tekwani involved in covering Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) operations in Sri Lanka took photographs of the Indian soldiers captured and killed by the LTTE only to realise they used to mutilate the bodies because he would click the photographs. During the 1992 riots, mobs burnt more houses and other building in order to create spectacle for the photographers. The Taliban in Afghanistan has also gone on to burn the dead bodies and mutilate them in order to get better publicity through the so called foreign journalists. A lot of child welfare NGOs in India have spoken about how European and American documentary film makers have subjected street children to inhuman conditions to get better visual impact. The way media harassed and treated Sabeel’s pregnant wife in Bangalore calls for serious reconsideration of media as fourth estate.  Recently, media harassing actress Rhea Chakraborty for Sushant Singh Rajput’s case is unbelievable. Even if she drugged the actor, murdered him, media doesn’t have the right to harass her and the family even after she is proven guilty. The media is definitely violating her right to privacy.

Not only the viewers, media is also violating the rights of journalists who seek truth and want to present the same. India has dropped two places on a global press freedom index to be ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in the annual Reporters without borders. There have been constant press freedoms violations, ambushes by political activists, and reprisals instigated by criminal groups or corrupt local officials.

The Delhi Union of Journalists condemns the selective targeting by Delhi Police of journalists who have reported or commented on the riots in North Delhi and the recent mob attack on three reporters of the Caravan while covering the aftermath of the riots. The reporters were physically attacked by a communal mob led by a local politician and were eventually rescued by the Police. A young woman reporter faced sexual harassment by the mob and ultimately sheltered in the police station. However, three days after the attacks the Police have not registered an FIR. No action has been taken against the journalists that were beaten. The DUJ warns that all such attacks threaten the entire journalist community and are attacks on the freedom of the press and democracy. And when it comes to the journalists of Jammu and Kashmir, they are facing immense mental burden. Their laptops are thoroughly checked, phones seized, harassed if told the truth, not given internet connection to connect to the different parts of the country. Their Right to Speech and Expression with respect to Privacy is violated to the peak.

The love-hate relationship of media and human rights is not balanced. As long as it is to inform people about the crimes and brutalities, media is doing wonders. But when it comes to commit crimes and violate human rights, media itself is a part of it. It will be a catastrophe until the knot is untied.

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