Total Pageviews

Follow by Email

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Media has dropped the mask of neutrality

By Swapan Dasgupta

There are a lot of people—or so I gather from a casual perusal of the social media—that believe General V.K. Singh was quite unfairly pilloried for his unfortunate ‘dog’ analogy. They are right, but only half right. 

The past two years—dating back to the time Narendra Modi was announced as its prime ministerial candidate by the BJP back in September 2013—has seen a determined section of the media launch a crusade against the so-called ‘Hindu Right’. Initially, the campaign was centred—as the Supreme Court judgment in the Sanjeev Bhatt case has pointed out—on an attempt to target Modi on the 2002 riots, using the services of disgruntled officers, Congress functionaries and politicised NGOs. As the campaign progressed, the media switched tack and began a perception war to show that while Modi would help the BJP better its 2009 performance, he would never win. The leading lights of this campaign were media stalwarts—in fact the very people who are most active today in fuelling the culture wars. 

I need hardly elaborate on the media’s conduct since May 2014. No stone has been left unturned to attack the government and tarnish Modi’s image. Initially it was done surreptitiously, under the cover of professionalism. However, now that the opposition has reached a critical mass—with the induction of writers, intellectuals, socialites, NGOs and, above all, the discovery of a new leader in the form of Nitish Kumar—even the pretence of neutrality has been discarded. The secularist bush telegraph having proclaimed a Mahagathbandan victory in Bihar—with Lalu Prasad Yadav under wraps—the cloak of professionalism has been discarded. It is now open season on the BJP—a process that will continue unabated till the general election of 2019. What Finance Minister Arun Jaitley described as “politics by other means” now involves making governance impossible for Modi, shifting focus from development and economic growth to old-style identity politics, and triggering a backlash of unfulfilled expectations. 

As a strategy it is clever—possibly as clever as the CIA-inspired political backlash against the left-wing government of Salvador Allende in Chile in the early-1970s. Anyone studying the phenomenon in its totality will realise what the game plan of the emerging anti-Modi coalition is, and the paramount importance of the media in the entire operation. Certainly, as a former military man who has been trained in anticipating the enemy, General Singh should have known about it. 

And yet, beginning from Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma and Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar to General Singh, BJP functionaries have basically competed with each other to provide ammunition to the party’s opponents, particularly the media. The reasons for their apparent boo-boos are multiple. First, speaking to the media involves skill sets that many politicians, accustomed to speaking with fellow politicians and ‘normal’ people, just don’t possess. Secondly, many politicians—like many in the media—live in echo chambers and are seemingly impervious to how their matter-of-fact utterances are likely to be interpreted, misinterpreted or even distorted in translation. Thirdly, there is still insufficient awareness, on the government side at least, that the media’s courtship of them isn’t necessarily a reflection of their importance in the political ecosystem. In recent times, the media chases ministers and MPs not because they feel obliged to understand what important functionaries feel or believe. Rushing after political functionaries with a camera or tape recorder has become akin to throwing a banana skin in their path and hoping they will slip. Politicians may feel that they are telling the people, through the media, about their good works. But they are in no position to determine the nature of the final product. 

Recently, to take a random example, the Haryana Chief Minister gave a few interviews on the occasion of his first year in office. He must have spoken about his development works and other challenges facing the state. But what grabbed the media space were the questions on beef, where a contested translation made headlines. The victims of distortion—where they occur—might well engage in subsequent damage limitation, as Khattar did. But it is important to remember that the media does not believe in apologies or admissions of error. The tiny corrections in small print—or, in extreme cases, taking the offending article off the web editions or YouTube—doesn’t contain the damage because the controversy, by then, has reached every corner of the political world. 

There are politicians who feel that the sins of the mainstream media, while worrying, are overwhelmed by the direct communication that social media enables. This is partly true. There is no doubt that the monopoly of the mainstream media over information and analysis has diminished, and is diminishing as Indians are more and more exposed to better net connectivity. However, there are two shortcomings of the social media. Firstly, the so-called opinion leaders and opinion makers still take their cue from the mainstream media. The influence of the mainstream media also follows a demographic curve: it is more marked among older people than the young. Secondly, for all its other attributes, social media suffers from its inability to establish a hierarchy of information. It fails to distinguish what is very important and what is less so. This matters in an age where there is a veritable information overload of what is happening internationally, nationally and locally. The hierarchy of news is still determined by the mainstream media: a reason why it still exercises considerable influence. 

Some of the campaigning hyper-activity that is visible in the media today is almost entirely determined by the Bihar election. After November 8, the intensity of the campaign will depend on the outcome: a BJP defeat may propel the media to go for the kill and make the government dysfunctional. On its part, the government will have to evolve more effective communication strategies to focus popular attention on issues that really matter for India. 

Sunday Pioneer, October 25, 2015

9 comments:

proud indian said...

I discard a weak modi govts I&B minister who camouflaged between Modi and Media and supported media givingbthem fillip to attack modi.its either sinister game plan or blackmail.

SatyaK said...

The failure of the Indian right-wing has been its inability to add an aesthetic element to it. It is true that what is western is much more pleasing to the senses: whether it is the order and beauty of western cities, the way the masses dress, the cleanliness of their societies, the absence of chaos and noise, etc. To seriously counter western attractiveness the Hindu right must emulate some of the good things of the west. To an extent ISKCON has been doing that, but somehow it has escaped the masses and the leaders, even in the BJP. A disheveled, pan chewing BJP spokesperson doesn't have the same draw as his well dressed and articulate "secular" counterpart, even though the former may make more compelling and sensible points. The BJP must seriously give thought to image building in all aspects of Indian society: it must cultivate an articulate and refined constituency in English language media (someone like Shashi Tharoor), must take Swatch Bharat initiative down to the streets, must improve and beautify Indian language schools, must urge the Hindu clergy (if there is such a body) to make our temples more orderly and aesthetically pleasing. All these are essential to make the right a strong counterweight to the secular and left. Until then this battle will continue draining the country's time, its resolve to develop and emerge as a strong nation.

The tragedy of India, to paraphrase V S Naipaul, has been the decimation of the native elite (class) due to Islamic and later European invasions. Unfortunately the absence of native elite has given room for the secular, closet Jihadi and Macaulayists to occupy that space.

ajayhr said...

Brilliant article as usual. A pleasure to read you sir. My knowledge of the English language improves every time I read your articles.

Dr Kannan said...

I believe there is an answer to counter this masked mainstream media. As you rightly pointed out that social media has taken a centre stage, but still take cue from main media, why not get the level of social media to main media. There are certain problems to be solved if we want to achieve this. Still a very large population of India does not have a digital communication. Still very large population of India is uneducated. Technical side... need to get 2g texts possible through 3g and 4g. it should reach even the cheaper phones. smart phones are available only to middle class and upper middle and above. Computers are dearer to low income group. is there a way to marry radio with social media? Brainstorming has to be done. This Media bias is nothing but a brainwash tactics on population of India to seed the wrongful ideas and continue their crusade against the persons whom they dislike. Rupert Murdoch is expert in this. why not people of sane minds brainstorm . Please

Ajit R. Jadhav said...

So it was a state election that compelled the general (a central minister) to choose that word, was it, Shwopon-daa?

And, precisely who are these twitter-handles (or facebook-handles (or any other ``social media''-handles)) who ``believe'' in the unfairness of the general being ``unfairly'' ``pilloried''? If a ``padmabhooshaNa'' takes these handles seriously enough to read through them, surely he could also let the rest of us know who the persons are?

Sorry, Shwopon-daa, you are crossing the line. It is one thing to admire a politician (e.g. Modi) or a party (e.g. the BJP). It is quite another thing to put one's intellect to use in defending the indefensible. The latter is, say, impractical, to find the mildest possible word. (I wouldn't hesitate using stronger words, but also think that that time isn't so soon.)

BTW, don't worry. Regardless of what happens in Bihar, you know very well that Modi is going to complete his term at the center quite comfortably. In fact, you also know, additionally, that if he begins on executing just 10% of the liberalization and economic reforms he had promised, even a landslide against him in any state (or even up to 3--4 states) isn't going to matter---that it is just going to vaporize as soon as he begins delivering on them.

... It's time to regain back your valued sense of perspective, Shwopon-daa. For some time by now, it seems, you have been losing it off and on. (Your past colleague, Tavleen Singh, has been doing better on this count, much better, in fact. (No, I don't mind rubbing it damn well in.))

Best,

--Ajit
[E&OE]

Unknown said...

“Media has dropped the mask of neutrality
Posted: 25 Oct 2015 04:30 AM PDT
By Swapan Dasgupta”

“I need hardly elaborate on the media’s conduct since May 2014. No stone has been left unturned to attack the government and tarnish Modi’s image. Initially it was done surreptitiously, under the cover of professionalism. However, now that the opposition has reached a critical mass—with the induction of writers, intellectuals, socialites, NGOs and, above all, the discovery of a new leader in the form of Nitish Kumar—even the pretence of neutrality has been discarded. “
“The secularist bush telegraph having proclaimed a Mahagathbandan victory in Bihar—with Lalu Prasad Yadav under wraps—the cloak of professionalism has been discarded. It is now open season on the BJP—a process that will continue unabated till the general election of 2019. What Finance Minister Arun Jaitley described as “politics by other means” now involves making governance impossible for Modi, shifting focus from development and economic growth to old-style identity politics, and triggering a backlash of unfulfilled expectations. “
“This matters in an age where there is a veritable information overload of what is happening internationally, nationally and locally. The hierarchy of news is still determined by the mainstream media: a reason why it still exercises considerable influence. “

“Some of the campaigning hyper-activity that is visible in the media today is almost entirely determined by the Bihar election. After November 8, the intensity of the campaign will depend on the outcome: a BJP defeat may propel the media to go for the kill and make the government dysfunctional. On its part, the government will have to evolve more effective communication strategies to focus popular attention on issues that really matter for India.”


"Very well written. Given the true intentions of the media and such blatant indulgence should never be allowed to exist in INDIA."

anil girotra said...

Your article brilliant of course.Just look at the beef controversy at Keralabhawan.The Kerala CM terming the visit by police pcr van with lowly officials on a complaint received from someone about' beef', as an attack on federalism.Prima face a visit by police on a complaint can't be faulted.In fact in this case police commissioner claimed that the police did not want situation to go out of control may be in light of incident of blackening of an MLA in a similar case a week ago.Not only the media did not question the premise of Kerala or Delhi CMs but engaged in debates on prime time where clearly anchors had made up their mind before the debate started.Today Buffalo meat is back on menu in place of an item which was probably vaguely described as Beef two days ago.I am actually wondering that buffalo meet is loved by increasing population in our country thanks to the voice of our ' secular' intellectuals.Now today I saw another controversy being played out about allotment of a house earlier occupied by Mahesh Sharma.The objection appears to be the allotee and not the allotment.Mahesh Sharma according to them does not deserve to live in house once occupied by Dr Abdul kslam.Media is also aggressively following this meaningless controversy.

C Vasanth said...

Were you ever neutral Swapan?

Anonymous said...

BJP and RSS exhibit a don't care attitude when it comes to media management, especially TV news media. If they lose the Bihar election, they will likely blame the unfair media coverage forgetting they themselves had benefitted from this unbalanced and "sound-byte" based coverage of the corruption scandals of the previous government.