The News Demonetisation Devoured


One month after the demonetization decision, things have become more complicated and messy. The Aam Aadmi who was suppose to benefit from it still finds herself bemused in all walks of life. Whether the move has any long term benefits is something that is fiercely getting debated. At the same time, the average Indian news consumer has also been infantilized into believing that nothing significant has happened in this one month apart from the chaos that has taken place after demonetization. Even a cursory glance at all our prominent news channels have made us feel that the government has actually managed to bring other alarming situations under control. Some national newspapers, like The Indian Express and The Hindu, have been an exception to this norm. However, this fails to capture people’s attention as it seldom possesses the power of the moving imagery that a television can boast of. Reading on the other hand is a stale activity devoid of any entertainment quotient.
So what are the news that I am trying to refer over here? Firstly, check out all the multiple reports that have been produced in the last month considering various aspects of our society. At a time when growth trajectories were still shown soaring high despite demonetization, employment levels plummeted to a 5 year low. According to one estimate, 69% of jobs were lost last year that compounds reaching the nadir point in the last 5 years. Global gender gap report puts India in one of the worst performing countries as far as women employment is concerned. At 27%, it falls way short in comparison with other developing countries, especially when figures get compared for urban India. The deeply flawed Citizenship ( amendment ) act, 2016 has got scant attention in the way it polarizes the norms of citizenship on religious lines. Similar is the case with other bills like the one dealing with HIV/AIDS wherein the issues raised by social activists among others have been systematically silenced. Further, with all the talk of cleaning up the economy from black money, the FCRA case which implicated both Congress and BJP, something that could have opened the lid on the contributions they receive, has been conscientiously buried. By voluntarily moving away from the case, the courts were not given a chance to rigorously persist with the matter. The Delhi centric issues have suddenly vanished away from the news channels. Even the thick blanket of smog looming over the NCR can wait when the most patriotic duty of demonetization is underway.

What about the other issues all over India that were unfolding in the last month? Like the government, the news channels refuse to conduct meaningful debates on the entire Chattisgarh episode which saw the state police hounding activists like Nandini Sundar on a completely flimsy charge to begin with. What happened with the investigation that was assured to us by the MP government regarding what looked like a blatant case of fake encounter in Bhopal? As has always been the case, news channels thrive on the breaking news culture. The assiduous following up of the growth of a particular news story fails to satiate the popular demand that constantly requires a new breaking news for consumption. Does anybody have an idea as to what exactly has ensued after the rallies carried out by dominant castes like the Marathas in the recent past? Instead we see reports which focus on how suicide reports have subsided this year in the state paying little heed to the fact that a more than average rainfall is the savior in this case. This has got absolutely nothing to do with the government’s policies as such.

Debates concerning the Lodha panel commission report, the initiation over the Direct Tax Code bill, Birla papers which directly implicate PM Modi on receiving unaccounted money during his stint as the Gujarat CM, Adani group getting a leeway of 200 crore from the government as was reported by Business Standard, the outright refusal to pay any heed to the penalty levied by the National Green Tribunal on Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living for violating environmental at the event organised on the banks of river Yamuna and the abominable treatment given to the Rohit Vemula family ( desperately trying to prove that they are not Dalit) along with the persistent assault on Teesta Setalvad and her NGO Sabrang Trust, are some other events that have been happily left unattended by the news channels.

Even the biased and elitist reportage concerning demonetization is visible when the entire discourse gets limited to how the move will affect businessmen and the affluent urban dwellers. NDTV is the sole channel that has taken the efforts to provide a detailed account what has transpired in the lives of the rural people in the far flung areas of the country. On the contrary, Times Now shows no signs of being less obsessed with Pakistan as it continues to organise a mini war everyday, giving a new lease of life to retired army generals from both sides to go for the kill one last time. National interest reigns supreme even for the news channels. In this case, they become the primary cheer leaders for manning our frontiers without even realizing the psychological impact it has on the average, gullible news consumer. Far from managing to create a breakthrough in the existing logjam, news channels like these actively augment the divisive forces. Pavlovian conditioning done by stenographers under the garb of ‘investigative journalists’ is what has got dished out to us lately. Visual media has thrived in this one month on capturing the desires of a consumer which secretly wants surprises to bring some excitement in an otherwise mundane daily routine. The government has been hugely successful in advertising itself in this environment and so has the visual media.

Amidst the nationalist hysteria, prominent personalities like Balmuralikrishna, Fidel Castro, Jayalalitha and C Ramaswamy passed away this month. Is it too much to ask for decent, insightful stories being made on what these people stood for and the legacy they leave behind at a time of trumped up nationalism displayed by our news channels?

Suraj Kumar Thube is currently pursuing his MA in Political Science from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He is interested in Indian politics and Indian political thought. He spends most of his time reading books, playing football and listening to Hindustani classical music.

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