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More than media playing a role in strengthening democracy, it is the time for media to be strengthened first

Kolkata: A round table discussion was organised to highlight how media can strengthen the electoral democracy. But eminent participants felt that at present, there is a need to first strengthen media, as a huge section of the media was damaging the Indian democracy with sensational news, TRP focused and pro-government stories.

On Saturday, West Bengal Election Watch (WBEW) in collaboration with Association For Democratic Reforms – New Delhi (ADR) organized a round table discussion on ‘Role Of Media In Strengthening Electoral Democracy’.

The session was engaging as the participants discussed about their experiences regarding recent elections and challenges faced by the media. All participants reaffirmed the critical role played by media in facilitating free and fair election and in holding government accountable for strengthening inclusive democracy.

“Independent and strong voices are important to strengthen media, but we do not need media house like Republic, it is not doing journalism. Every time we open our cable, almost a minute we have to watch Republic forcibly, why should we watch it? asked Pankaj Dutta former IPS officer.

Participants also raised concerns about shrinking space for free and non-agenda based journalism and illustrated how commercial interests guided media houses in most cases, resulting into restriction of freedom for ethical journalism. Corporate and political tie up further influenced media houses and reduced their freedom of amplifying people’s genuine concerns to larger society. Often big media houses were driven by TRP hence they preferred such news that would create ‘sensation’.

Regarding deterioration of press freedom in India, all participants felt that alternative platforms should be used to express opinions and news. In this regard they highlighted the good role of various news portals which were using social media platforms. Civil society should support these portals, through donations or sharing their news, for sustenance of such portals. All participants agreed that health of democracy could be measured by health of media in a country and India as well as West Bengal are experiencing a tough time in this regard.

“We need to first strengthen the media itself, in order to strengthen our democracy, summed up Former Chief Justice Malay Sengupta just at the end of the discussion.

The discussion was attended by well-known media personalities, civil society representatives, former Chief Justices, academicians, researchers as well as WBEW Executive Committee members. And chaired by Honourable former Chief Justice Kolkata and Mumbai High Court and President of WBEW Chittotosh Mukherjee. Coordinator of WBEW, Dr. Ujjaini Halim, welcomed all the participants and highlighted the need for this consultation briefly. Snehasish Sur, senior journalist, Doordarshan Kolkata and President Kolkata Press Club, facilitated the discussion.

Dr. Ujjaini Halim also clarified some positions of ADR and WBEW. She mentioned while the organisations have no declared position on EVM controversy, but they have opposed Electoral Bond, Amendment of Right to Information and One-Nation-One Election agenda. And that ADR and WBEW have always taken a strong position against paid and fake news. She expressed hope that media consultations would further strengthen role of media in electoral democracy in a constructive way.

Others who participated, were executive committee members of WBEW Malay Sengupta (Former Chief Justice, Sikkim High Court), Prof Satyabrata Chowdhury (Former President Indian Association) Prof Manabendra Mondal (Former Secretary Forum of Voluntary Organisation West Bengal). Media personalities and researches Rajat Roy, Sudipto Sen, Kalyan Banerjee, Prof Biswanath Chakraborty were among keynote speakers. Representatives of other Media Houses like Dainik Biswamitra, Rajasthan Patrika, Dainik Statesman, Enewsroom, Hindustan Samachar and Ganasakti were also present in this discussion. Civil society organisations like Indian Institute for Mother and Child, Durbar Mahila Samannay Committe, SHIS, Forum of Voluntary Organisation West Bengal, FIAN West Bengal, Vivek Pathe, Nari o Sisu Kalyan Kendra, Khidirpur Swaraj attended the round table.

And along with Indian participants, two girls–  Silvia Taranto and Ulrike Plank from Italy and Germany also remain present to witness the discussion.

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