In the ‘old’ days, it was left to the judgement of the reporters and editors whether to cover the ranting of some village idiot on incendiary issues. If yes, in what way and to what extent. This prevented hate-filled ignoramuses from poisoning the social environment with their limited understanding of life and politics. Those seeking a career in politics had to learn early how to temper their speeches to get beyond the editorial ‘gateway’, if they wished for a wider audience. A person had to make sense to the sensible before being allowed the megaphone of newspaper coverage. Quite obviously, newspapers had their own take on things and differed along ideological and other lines, but the emphasis was always on adhering to a professional code.
This check on what would otherwise be called the right to free speech no longer exists. Social media has provided every bigot a platform, providing a connect with others of the same ilk. The more extreme the message, the more viewership such people command. The mainstream media, be it the newspapers or the TV channels, try and compete by being as sensational as possible, barely conforming to the code of confirming the facts and authenticating the sources. The emphasis is on being the first with the big breaking story. Editorial control barely exists. This not only impacts on the quality of journalism but also exposes society to unnecessary trauma, which in the long run impacts on the general psychology of the people.
The flip side, of course, is that the general mass of people are learning quickly to cope with the challenge of making sense of not so much the news but the raw information being thrown their way. Even as social media organisations are attempting feebly to control the flow of material to ensure there is no propagation of hate for any reason, it is equally important for society to establish ways and means to confirm the purported facts. A healthy culture of debate has to be developed with intellectuals taking up the contentious issues on civilised platforms so that the propaganda of hate can be countered through an informed populace.
It is true that in any society, particularly democracies, people should be prepared to face unpleasant facts and have their beliefs tested. At the same time, also, the powers that be in every domain should ensure that extraneous means are not used to influence a debate other than through logic. This is important because it has been seen that public opinion is being influenced in many unfair and illegitimate ways. It is a rapidly transforming world and people must stay ahead of not just technology, but also the forces hidden behind its many manifestations.