PRAMOD KUMAR | 9 SEPTEMBER, 2014
A common refrain of the anchors/editors, during the discussions in the studios of News Channels and even in print is that “DON`T SHOOT THE MESSENGER’. It is true that except for niche media houses which happen to be affiliated either to a political party or an ideology, the mainstream media had been diverse enough to empower its consumers to make their own decisions. But, sadly, the diversity has vanished: it is a monolith (at times practically a lynch mob) now. The media professionals, their protestations of being liberal and in tune with the modern sensibilities notwithstanding, are no longer mere messengers. They have abandoned journalism and have moved into Public Relations or Brand Building while abusing all the rights journalists enjoy in a democratic set-up. They also arrogate to themselves the role of Movers and Shakers and even Agenda Setters.
The disproportionate and hugely positive coverage of Narendra Modi`s campaign as against the miserly and negative coverage of the other candidates only confirms that claims of media`s impartiality are hollow. The compact worked out amongst the Corporate, its cohort RSS and media has been used to give Modi a badly needed image makeover. The media professionals are willing accomplices because of common class/caste interests. They supplemented Modi`s campaign, its technological glitz and turned it into an advertisement campaign which resonated like those of fairness creams, Pied Piper (Deo) sprays and sponsored TV slots of Babas offering salvation and wish-fulfillment.
The media professionals have used their expertise in exploiting all kinds of journalistic tactics to refurbish the Modi persona. The tailoring, suppressing, overplaying or underplaying of news/facts, using “sources”, adulatory spin, positive adjectives, pre-scripted interviews all have been used, without qualms, to depict Modi as “can, will and must do” Prime Minister. His “fierce determination” to succeed has been amplified 24/7. His persona has many characteristics and dimensions but some of them like being vindictive (Haren Pandya), intolerant (Suresh Joshi), communal (relief camps as child producing factories/hum paanch, hamare pacchis) and insecure (tendency to concentrate all power in his own hands and distrust of Institutions like Lok-Ayukta and RTI) have been ignored.
The Corporate`s bankrolling of campaign and media`s efforts have given Modi a strong mandate. But it is forgotten that there is another player too whose contribution is much bigger. The multitude of Swayamsewaks of the RSS worked day in and day out in UP and Bihar to canvass votes for Modi. The Corporate and its class/caste affiliates are focussed only on neo-liberal policies. They have largely remained disengaged with the political process so far and have been almost contemptuous and dismissive of the poor and downtrodden. They have benefitted the most and expect to continue benefitting substantially from Modi`s free market economy. Hence the free market fundamentalists have monopolized media to press for abolition of meagre social welfare measures and curtailing of “wasteful” subsidies. However, RSS cadre`s indoctrination does not let them bother about reforms and they just want India to be a Hindu Rashtra.
The SC collegium`s nominee for elevation to the Supreme Court, Gopal Subramaniam, has had to suffer humiliation and discomfiture because of the planted stories attributed to Official sources. A few NGOs, again perceived to be capable of creating road-blocks have had to face the same fate. NGOs are not beyond scrutiny but why can’t the Government be transparent and express its reservations openly instead of taking recourse to leaks from IB/CBI and “sourced” stories in the media.
A notable phenomenon is that the media has hardly ever put an inconvenient question to him either during the campaign or after his assuming office. The media, of course, plays out a charade of neutrality regularly but unconvincingly. For example, the media has ignored the Supreme Court`s verdict in the Akshardham Terror Attack case wherein the Court censured the Gujarat Police and the then Home Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi. Similarly the sting operation by the Cobra Post, revealing the nature of preparations made for the demolition of the Babri Masjid, was sidelined . No questions have been asked about VHP leader Ashok Singhal`s exhortation to Hindu couples to produce at least five children and about RSS cadre`s appeal to Hindus in UP and Bihar to vote 100% failing which the Hindus WILL be history. Singhal has been emboldened enough to ask Muslims to behave for the elections can now be won without their votes. The reality of Gujarat`s development/ governance too has not been properly investigated.
Modi has won kudos for the proposed Bullet Train to Agra, Udhampur-Katra rail link, INS Vikramditya, Isro`s PSLV-C23 and URI-11 Hydro Project but is it not ironical that these are based on “gifts” from the outgoing UPA Government? Yet, the media, the neo-liberal fundamentalists and Modi`s team keep harping on the “mess” left behind by UPA. Even Navika Kumars of the “Times Now” have come forward to provide alibis to Modi Sarkar for its difficulties in keeping their promises about inflation and growth and justify/advocate a dose of bitter medicine. She has claimed that a “source” in the Finance Ministry has informed her about the holes in our economy. The “source” is a convenient tool to be used, as required, to manipulate the coverage of Modi Sarkar. The TOI, almost daily, has a “sourced” story which either gives a favourable spin to Modi or creates doubts about the opponents` claims. The classic case has been the story about Switzerland`s readiness to reveal the names of Indians who hold “treasures” in its banks. The story was attributed to a Swiss Official who refused to reveal his name since he was not authorised to speak to the media. Now, Arun Jaitely has told Parliament that Switzerland by a letter of 4.7.14 informed that no such list existed.
Modi has been portrayed by the Media as a decisive leader who has the necessary attributes to deliver us from the economic woes and governance blight. If he had been demonized once for reasons not all that unbelievable, he is being lionized by the media in terms which do not really gel with his personality`s many facets. The process started in 2012, before the Gujarat Assembly elections, when the media started using, without any reservations and acknowledgement, the footage, clippings of his meetings/rallies and even editorial guidance provided by Modi`s campaign management team. Every action, every tweet, every demagogic assertion has been treated with deference and stress on the implied message of “good times are just round the corner” for the viewers/readers. The media lovingly dwelt 24/7 on his sartorial elegance, choice of pens and watches and his speeches which held the audience` attention by way of appeals to low emotions and mixing facts with fiction. It has been generous also in proffering positive judgmental spin to everything concerning Modi. The Modi-obsessed media would have willingly provided a “halo” too if it was made available.
Is it not ironical that Modi has turned its back on the media which, in no small measure, helped him win the elections? He has neither appointed a Media Adviser (wary of Sanjay Barus of the profession perhaps?) nor has he continued with the practice of taking along selected journalists on his visits abroad. There has been no interaction with media for quite some time and innocuous and formulaic Tweets are regularly used. This has facilitated the emergence of conservatives and reactionaries, on the centre stage, led by the Corporate and Hindutva Brigades. They want to conserve and perpetuate the stranglehold on power structure and “divine” and diabolical mechanism of caste hierarchy. The Corporate keep offering lofty platitudes and synthetic commiseration for the plight of the lower castes but do everything to resist any change in the privileges they are accustomed to. It regularly rants against subsidies and welfare measures through almost daily presence of the likes of Sunil Alaghs/Rajiv Kumars in studios and Arvind Panagriyas/Bibek Deb Roys in print. The RSS too is opposed to any change in the “divine” mechanism and has acquiesced in going along with the Corporate. Nevertheless, it must resolve the contradictions like 1) the cultural nationalism which stands for one nation, one people and one culture and the reality of India`s plurality 2) letting in modern East India Companies through FDI and worse adjustment with the Western Mores and Culture which tend to pervert and disrupt our way of life, 3) the fate of Swadeshi Jagran Manch and its economic beliefs, 4)homogenisation of Hinduism, like that of Semitic Religions, by raising concerns about Hindus being reduced to a minority and using shibboleths of victimhood and persecutions and finally 5) the negation of the core values of tolerance, assimilation, accommodation and equal respects for all religions, the USP of Hinduism and claims of its intellectual and spiritual achievements which have no parallels.
It is here that the role of the media becomes critical. The present media houses have given up on journalism and are busy promoting their own vested interests and that of the Corporate. But the pursuit of Growth through neo-liberal means is being questioned by the likes of Thomas Pickett who has arrived at a conclusion, after extensive research, that growth does not necessarily lead to equality. The trickle generated by it moves upwards and not downwards. India needs not mere economic equality for the poor, marginalised and discriminated but also restoration of their human rights and dignity which had been snatched from them millennia ago merely on the basis of one`s birth. This requires radical overhaul of the existing power structures. The downtrodden, poor and the deprived too are “aspirational” now. There is urgent need to expand and speed up the affirmative action. The bogeys of “Merit” and “one people” must be rubbished and discarded till equality, in real terms, becomes a fact of life. The times have changed and are changing where conservatives must adjust to the existing and emerging realities and the Hindu-Right, instead of showing horns and fangs to minorities, should co-opt them for nation-building.
This is possible only if the media too transforms itself and frees itself from the corporate yoke. It must rediscover and renew its faith in ethical journalism and editorial independence. Will the Levenson report (on the UK media) help? Let media houses be run by public trusts, dedicated to public service, financed from public funds but without the participation of the three pillars of democracy. The impartiality and the diversity of views are of paramount importance. Let a group of eminent and independent persons from different disciplines and fields oversee the media operations.