Media & Social Peace

The challenges posed by social media and the great stride made in communication technology are important questions before us. Many are wondering whether the proliferation of media technology (Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, SMS, MMS etc) is a clear and present danger to peace and harmony. Against this backdrop, it will be important for the traditional media to meet these new concerns and continue to play an important role in the dissemination of news and information. All of us are aware about the recent surge of violence and communal tensions across the world. People belonging to certain culture, religion or identity are taking offense to what is being projected in the mass media, something they consider as demeaning. And the fact that technology is enabling a media surge that is without control and direction, leading almost anarchy and potential for misunderstanding and violence to take place. And perhaps that is why; the print media still remains relevant even though great strides have been made in multi-media technology. The freedom of speech and expression should not become a license to create uproar and discord among different sections of people. And for that reason the media must know its proper role and be responsible in the way it disseminate news or information. The media cannot escape accountability. It must be answerable for its own act of commission or omission. How can the traditional media meet these new demands and challenges?

A few years back Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked the media to “avoid the desire to be sensational and exercise restraint so that nothing that divides society and country is written, broadcast or telecast”. Those in the media should take this as a word of caution. After all as the PM has rightly noted, the media has a very important role to play in promoting greater communal harmony and inter-group and inter-community dialogue. Singh's advice to the media against sensationalism came while referring to the violence in Assam some years ago and its reverberations in other parts of the country which saw exodus of north-easterners back to their home states. The upsurge of violence and protest across the Muslim world against the United States is another instance about free expression, media technology and the kind of message we communicate in world that is increasingly becoming intolerant. Closer home the Naga Hoho some years ago had also expressed similar concern over the role of the media and the “communal prejudices which may create hatred among the fellow Nagas”. The Naga Hoho went on to make an appeal to every peace loving citizen not to commit cyber-crime using face book, MMS and SMS as it “badly damages the feeling of oneness and creates more divisions among different communities”. The Western Sumi Youth Front (WSYF) had also called for caution while expressing viewpoints in the media especially social networking sites.

Against all these valid concerns as noted above we come to the question of who regulates or run these different forms of media, especially the recent types or social media. Atleast in the traditional media like a newspaper, there is the Publisher or Editor who is responsible for the publication. Especially in a society like ours where there is undercurrent of tension and divide, newspapers have to regulate the flow of news and information and the Editor works as a gatekeeper so that nothing is published which is detrimental to social peace and harmony. As was evident during the volatile situation in the aftermath of the August 31 and September 1, 2012 incidents, all the local newspapers executed their task with great sense of responsibility and helped contain the otherwise explosive nature of events. Whichever society or country it may be, it is becoming increasingly necessary that if the media has to promote social peace and harmony, which it should do, some form of self-censorship has to be put into place. There is nothing like a free media in the same way that a right also entails a duty.
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