Media, Democracy and Development

– By Apoorva Mishra

“If it were left on me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

– Thomas Jefferson[1]

Informing the citizens about the developments in the society and helping them to make informed choices, media make democracy to function in its true spirit. It also keeps the elected representatives accountable to those who elected them by highlighting whether they have fulfilled their wishes for which they were elected and whether they have stuck to their oaths of office. Media to operate in an ideal democratic framework needs to be free from governmental and private control. It needs to have complete editorial independence to pursue public interests. There is also the necessity to create platforms for diverse mediums and credible voices for democracy to thrive. Media plays one of the crucial roles behind the formation of public sphere.[2]

The role of media in India, the largest democracy of the world is different from merely disseminating information and entertainment. Educating the masses for their social upliftment needs to be in its ambit as well. In a country where there is large scale poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment media has a responsibility towards developmental journalism. It has a role to play behind formation of public opinion which can force the political parties to address the core issues haunting the country’s progress. However, public opinion can be manipulated by vested interests to serve their own goals. Media can conceal facts and project doctored ideas to influence the electorate and thereby the voting outcome. Values like objectivity and truthfulness in presentation of news and ideas can be totally done away with.[3]

Areas where media can have a positive effect on societies:

Governance Impact: Corruption has a negative impact on society, particularly in furthering poverty and income inequality.[4] A free press exposes private and public sector corruption. It monitors government officials and increases voters’ knowledge, allowing voters to hold corrupt politicians accountable during elections, causing politicians to reduce corruption.

Economic Impact: Economic actors need accurate and timely information to allocate resources efficiently. Investors and other groups increasing value and demand a governance-monitoring role from the media.[5] A free and independent press can provide information and monitoring to the economic policy development process leading to more effective economic policies. It can also reduce political risk and increase good governance, conditions that are important for robust economic development.

Social Impact: In order for development to be just and sustainable, citizens must productively participate in the decisions that shape their lives. Participation requires an informed citizenry. A free and independent media supply timely and relevant information to citizens allowing them to change their own behaviour and to demand higher social standards for society.[6]

Access to information is essential for a democratic society because it ensures that citizens make responsible, informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation and information also serves a checking function. It is well known that media overlaps other functional areas of democracy and governance.[7] The support for media may yield results in governance activities, particularly those related to decentralization, anti-corruption, and citizen participation in the policy process. The rule of law may be further institutionalized by support for an independent media that keeps a check on the judiciary, reports on the courts, and promotes a legal enabling environment suitable for press freedom. Free and fair elections conducted through transparent processes require a media sector which gives candidates equal access, and reports the relevant issues in a timely, objective manner.

If media is to have any meaningful role in democracy and governance it must be free and independent from the control of government. The ultimate goal of media is to serve the public interest. The public interest is defined as representing a plurality of voices both through a greater number of outlets and through the diversity of views and voices reflected within one outlet.

The role of media in a democratic system has been widely debated. India has the largest democracy in the world and media has a powerful presence in the country. In recent times Indian media has been subject to a lot of criticism for the manner in which they have disregarded their obligation to social responsibility. Though media has at times successfully played the role of a watchdog of the government functionaries and has also aided in participatory communication, a lot still needs to be done.


[1] Thomas Jefferson, a spokesman for democracy, was an American Founding Father, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776), and the third President of the United States (1801–1809).

[2] Coronel, S. (2003). The Role of the Media in Deepening Democracy. Retrieved from

[3] Parceiro, S. (1999).The Role Of Media in Democracy: A Strategic Approach. Retrieved from…/pdfs/pnace630.p

[4] Gupta, Sanjeev, Hamid R. Davoodi and Rosa Alonso-Terme . 2002. ‘Does corruption affect income inequality and poverty? Economics of Governance 3(1): 23–45.

[5] Kaufmann, Daniel, Aart Kraay, and Massimo Mastruzzi. “Governance matters IV: governance indicators for 1996-2004.” World Bank policy research working paper 3630 (2005).


[6] Schramm, Wilbur Lang. Mass media and national development: The role of information in the developing countries. No. 25. Stanford University Press, 1964.

[7] Habermas, J. (2006). Information and democracy. In F. Webster (Ed.), Theories of the Information Society

(pp. 161-163)


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