Role of the Fourth Estate in Shaping Public Opinion: A Comparative Analysis of Print Media Representations on Militancy in Punjab, 1980-1984
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Media plays a significant role in creating, moulding, rupturing and reflecting public opinion in democratic society. It is known as political in nature, and diverse players easily use it for advancing their interests. It has the potency to form an opinion as well to de-form it. It could be a vehicle of divisive politics as much as it can integrate and unite. It provides an exclusive stage to individual and groups to discuss issues of mutual interests, which in turn forms an opinion is important to society and in particular to political community. Media cannot only initiate a peace process and sustain it but also it can also instigate violence society. So media, as an independent entity provides a discursive space to opinion formation through allowing discourses among people and shapes the emotions of public may be through introducing partial information. English and Vernacular newspapers published from Punjab state such as Rojana Ajit - a Punjabi daily, Punjab Kesri – a Hindi daily and The Tribune - an English daily along with English newspapers published from New Delhi, capital of India, which having national footprints like The Times of India and The Hindustan Times have been selected for the study aimed at understanding and analysing a representation of the print media of the militancy problem in the state. The study has attempted to understand and analyse a labelling process of the print media of the v happened incidents and how much the print media was sensitive during reporting the problem and presenting diverse opinions related to the problem. The study has found the diverse role of newspapers in the representations of the incidents perpetuated by the militancy during 1980-1984. The objective of the news, the editorials and the articles published by these newspapers were not just to deliver the information but also to form an influence over the related community with favourable contents along with reaping more profits through more number of copies of the newspapers circulation. In addition, the study has done field survey of Majha, Malwa and Doaba regions of Punjab aimed at collecting information and opinions related to the problem from people whose were part of it directly or indirectly. The field study has found that various communities such as Sikhs, Hindus, Muslim, and Christian were divided ideologically. The division among communities was largely formed by the print media’s presentation of information in the forms of news, opinion, etc. related to the militancy problem in Punjab. The study has found that print media was caught in conflicting discourses in representation of militancy incidents occurred during the period. The print media has labelled the occurred violence and people involved in it according their matching ideology. The news based on the affiliated ideology of the media group has resulted into the form of the fractured public sphere. Furthermore, the comparative analysis of selective incidents represented by different newspapers endorses the diverse role of print media in context of militancy problem in Punjab. For instance, the incidents of the murder of two prominent journalists and a religious chief had representationally lost its significance due to the deviation among the print media. As, a newspaper editor has clearly criticised the role of the print media from Punjab state for distorting the facts in the news representation specifically for the business purposes. Thus, the study argues that the set positions of the various newspapers deeply affected public opinion and promoted divided media-scape as well where realities were something different but maintained accordingly.