By Vatsal Khandelwal
Edited by Liz Maria Kuriakose, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
The Indian Media is perhaps one of the best examples of a modern day Frankenstein. Its growth trajectory is commendable as it has transformed itself from a news-providing social facilitator to an enormous opinion-creating factory. Not only does it provide us with the necessary information but it also decides what is necessary for the commoners to know and what isn’t. It is a profit maximizing industry which, under pressures (incentives, rather) from the corporate/political elites tweaks information and gives birth to a new kind of asymmetry in a democracy- asymmetry created by political biases, prejudices, stereotypes and well-crafted opinions. It’s a fully fledged agency that manufactures consent and craftily quells protest in synchronization with the tacit, cunning, malevolent and so very modern ideals of neo-liberalism.
Not intending to give this ideologically unbiased write-up a leftist tinge, but if Karl Marx (or for those who are not too appeased by him, Noam Chomsky- who actually described media as an agency which manufactures consent) took a look at the recent media-related events and their political repercussions in India, he would have died a million deaths on realizing how human civilization has commoditized a sacred social element called INFORMATION. On the ‘face of it’, we have become modern (we’ve got malls, we’ve got tall buildings, we’ve got foreign investments, we’ve got Arnab Goswami). But in the process, we have got so used to producing commodities and pointless debates, that now a huge section of ‘we, the people’, produces and sells news. And when it comes to opinions, we have discount. Buy none, get one free.Just keep your blinkers off and look at the television screens. We are literally ‘creating’ history.
It’s not been long since the election results have been out and given the trajectory of the current government, it is obvious for one to expect ‘freedom’ from the redundant policies, political constancy and corruption that had gripped our country since a decade. We can also hope for a bright economic future and probably, believe in the political aphorism that was cleverly spread pre elections– ‘Acche din aane waale hain’. These elections could be termed as a massive victory for democracy as they led to the formation of a majority, stable government in the centre after the long senseless drama hosted by the coalition politics in the Indian history. However, the election results were also instigated by a set of biased opinions and skewed information baskets. They are brilliant results for the proponents of growth (both economic and political) but pathetically negative outcomes for all those who stand for ideals such as- impartial information, freedom to express (and not selectively express and demean), free flow of opinions (no restriction of any) and a free media. (no corporate-politico biases/allegiance).
Given the election results and the events that were created (while some did happen) to achieve those results, there are a few simplistic questions that we need to ask as a democracy- Why was the entire Reliance-oil pricing issue shushed up and scarcely mentioned in the news channels? Why was the entire controversy regarding a popular political leader showing his party symbol in a mid-election interview not followed for long (despite a case being filed by the Election Commission)? Why were several scams that had to be looked into never even spoken about by the voluble journalists? (who strain their throats endlessly arguing with each other) Why were various facets of 2002 and 1984, Rath Yatras and monetary scandals never discussed just as openly as one commoner’s character and aspirations were demeaned? If the AAP has just four seats in the parliament today, the media is to be blamed. It did not just manufacture consent. For AAP, Kejriwal and a lot of people who stood by them, it cunningly, craftily, covertly and brutally manufactured and sold dissent. The intent here is not to visibilize our political opinions but to find out whether our opinions are actually ours or whether they have been re-structured and shaped by another entity. Hair stylists do our hair, media does our opinions.
The election episode is not the only one when the media has been terribly biased. A business tycoon’s son gets involved in a car accident and news channels do not even mention it. A good value it has inculcated is loyalty and in modern India, where loyalty is also under the hammer of the free market, who would want to delve into ethical issues and moral dilemmas? Next time when we watch news we should probably appreciate the fact that it is extremely creative and morally destructive in a very subtle way. It will not speak much about the hundred tribals killed in police encounters in Jharkhand but will endlessly rant about how a popular Bollywood actress got a plastic surgery.
It will not speak about the thousands of people affected by the construction of a dam in a remote rural area but will appreciate the fact that the World Bank gave funds to carry on the project (funds for ‘damning’ the earth, maybe?). It will not question the dynastic (and almost colonial) political party about what it has done in its 24×365 (approx) days of ruling India. But it will surely question what an infant, aspiring political party has achieved in its 49 days of running Delhi. This is Indian Media, welcome to an atrium of façades, disgrace, immorality and a lot of money. If you want to learn how to be subtly immoral and disgracefully commercialized, don’t go elsewhere!
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