During feudal ages a “man’s home was his castle”. He could do whatever he wished to anyone who might trespass on his property, as the belief was that property ownership accorded full and complete rights of possession. However, the industrial revolution brought about changes not only in the general behavioural patterns of people but the legal system also changed with change in societal behaviours. Today, with a person’s influence no longer remaining confined to his or her “home” but impacting the society as well in a marked way, legality of any action is viewed against the backdrop of its impact on the society in general. Thus a person is no longer entitled to do whatever one wants to do with the one trespassing on his or her property, but there is a well-defined legal system that governs how a trespasser is to be dealt with. No one as such is entitled to take law in his or her own hands, but it is the legal system which is the ultimate decider to determine whether any act is liable to be penalized or not.
Living in a globalized world where “man’s home” has widened to encompass entire globe, there are obviously certain technologies whose influence is so widespread that impact is felt in other peoples’ homes as well. Media of course is one such sphere of activity that wields enormous influence and those running and controlling different formats and sectors of mass media are certainly the most powerful people around. Going by the above mentioned analogy, members of the Fourth Estate are certainly not and cannot be allowed to wield power without accountability. They cannot be given “complete rights of possession” over the people comprising their sphere of influence. However, despite there being certain written laws pertaining to the media, much of the control and accountability springs from, and is controlled from the strict precincts of one’s personal morals and ethics. Therefore, where the legal system leaves a lot for askance, the media professionals can be questioned for their ‘wrongs’ on moral and ethical grounds.
It remains a well-established fact that toys, tools and technology shape people’s experiences and their symbols. Given the reach and influence of various mass media, television for instance, people today live and grow in an environment that is and perhaps will forever be controlled and conditioned by communication satellites revolving the earth, countless cables, hundreds of channels and a ‘box of lights and wires’ called a TV set. To quote Edward R. Murrow of ‘CBS News’, “This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it is merely lights and wires in a box.” So more than anyone else, it is the people who man our television networks, both in terms of hardware as well as the software, who have the power to regulate this technology. As for the common people, the viewers, they have never been and will never be independent and powerful enough to manage it for themselves. If at all they can do anything, it’s that they can press a button on their remote control devices to snap a particular programme or switch over to something else. But as for as bombarding them with the messages in light and sound is concerned, it is completely in the hands of the television professionals who have the control over the content and the way it is packaged for the people to see.
Television people must understand that they do not have complete ownership or possession rights of their audiences. They need to be careful that audiences too have their own intellect and sentimentalities, which must be respected. Even as law may not tame them for insulting audiences’ intellect, but on the plank of ethics and morality, they certainly are accountable to the people who comprise their audiences. And audiences are well within their right if they don’t want to see their television sets are merely the “lights and wires in a box”.