Media as an industry, post liberalization has grown enormously over the last couple of decades and so has its influence on the other "Pillars" of democracy over the years. It has had its success in making the judiciary , the legislature and the executive a lot more accountable and even forced them into action in quite a few instances , the apparent influence on the Jessica Lal case or the Nitish Katara case in recent years has been largely attributed to Media activism, for which the media has received due credit.
Any kind of mindless, uninhibited, exponential and unregulated growth has historically always led to disaster , the current state of our global economy is testament to this universal truth, even our "Free" Media is proving to be no exception, the fall in standards of reporting especially of the 24X7 electronic media, driven by the obvious constraints of profitability has led to an increased need of sensationalism, a need to create news where there isn't any and the ever increasing tendency of leading journalists to report news more as their own personal/their masters views which they hope all will subscribe to.
The developments post 26/11 and the rhetoric created by our Media was somewhat reminiscent of the Bond flick "Tomorrow Never Dies", our Media was "almost" successful in engineering a War, and had it happened, it would have been just the boost our Media houses would have needed to beat the recession ! Its simple logic if a 3 day gunfight can create the kind of hysteria we witnessed , 3 month war is just what the doctor ordered ?.. and then our brave journalists would take reality TV to its zenith standing in the line of fire and laying their claim to martyrdom bringing the war (created by them) as it happens when it happens straight to you ... "Whatever it Takes" ,and who knows maybe another couple of these "Brave" men and women decorated with padmashrees.
Isn't this a Dream come true for a Media house listed on our stock exchanges which have to show numbers at the end of every 3 months ?
And even talking about the recent cases like Arushi Talwar or the unabashedly biased political reporting we are subject to, with every media entity serving their bosses and personal agendas, is a bit too trivial in view of the above.
Now when the Pillar of our democracy which is supposed to check and question the other pillars, itself starts behaving in the way it is today, maybe its time for a fifth estate which undoubtedly in the next generation will be the internet and more specifically online blogging / social networks. This will potentially be the most democratic "pillar" where each one us has their say, and when all say the same in one voice it will be more and more difficult to ignore such opinions.
Even though it is still in what i can say a nascent stage of development, already there are signs of it establishing itself ever so slowly, the classic case of Barkha Dutt/NDTV vs C Kunte (apparently a lone helpless blogger who chose to say what he felt) and was subsequently bullied and forced to retract, what followed over the next month on the Blogosphere is testimony to the growing strength of this 5th Pillar of our democracy.
For those who haven't heard of this case which has been largely ignored by our mainstream media ( apparently in a bid to protect themselves and their clan from the inevitable), a simple google search on "Barkha Dutt" will show you loads of stuff on this case. I am linking to a couple of the articles here for your convenience.
The Hoot - The actual post by C Kunte and subsequent apology
Rakesh Jhunjunwala - My favouritehe re take on this :)
Now i wont get into the merits of the case as its already been dissected to the core all over
the blogosphere, I just have 2 points to put here -
1) When the head of state of the most powerful country of the world can be the single most abused person on the blogosphere who *** **** is Barkha Dutt !
2) This has been a PR disaster , and the irony is they are the same people who are adept at creating larger than life heroes from no where and maligning people with whom they or their masters have a "difference in opinion"
With politicians already taking cognizance of the potential influence on the 5th estate with some serious online campaigning been done by the BJP (http://friendsofbjp.org) , including providing participative platforms for creating agendas for governance (http://lkadvani.in) the ball is already rolling.
The Influence as of now hasn't yet been threatening to the 4th estate , but i am confident with time and growth of the "5th estate" we are in for interesting times.