If one is constantly imbued with certain kinds of the doctrine and thought processes through reinforcing visuals or ideas, gradually it starts to set its place in their subconscious. That’s how ideology works, its 24*7 presence around us through the media, songs, posters, street art or the cinema can internalize or mould the gravest of the wrongs. Freud would call it ‘unconsciousness at work, most of what we think takes place at an unconscious level, yet exerts powerful effects on our lives. In the contemporary India, we can find the masses, the intelligentsia and the Indian media comfortably divided into two extremes of ‘the dissidents’ and ‘the faithful’. Media being the fourth pillar of democracy, asserting its right space in India but mostly with the wrong agendas, inclining with the rightists and occasionally parleying with the centre right politics. The year of 2019 has been the year of elections, propagandas, media bargaining and the online wars reducing media to a ‘banal agitprop’.
Pulwama and Balakot strikes, General Lok Sabha elections, Assembly elections of Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Sikkim, Haryana and Maharashtra and Mission Chandrayan have kept the Indian media occupied. It has been observed that the testimonies from the other side on the serious issues like Assam NRC, abrogation of article 370 are either missing or misinterpreted. Switching on to our TV sets and news channels is becoming only an addition in the traumatic experience. The elite media houses and the social media have become ‘the thought police’ from George Orwell’s 1984 who keep a check on our ideology, orientations and food choices.
Indian media from past few months has constantly been creating war hysteria in the minds of the masses. Along with outrageous animations, imageries, conspiracy theories, they even come to the extent of announcing the dates and potential war strategies. War is often ensuing, mostly when diplomacy fails and is a serrated step but the constant infiltration of it in our minds is normalizing the whole concept of the ‘warfare’. Military might is demonstrated on news channels, show casing newest of the missiles and combat technologies. Similar perceptions are received from the social media posts, and are also alarming; the agenda setting disseminate and most actively transpires through such mediums. The emerging liberals are being attacked on twitter and hateful hash-tag trends are fabricated en mass by the dubious accounts. This is the woeful reality of the Post-truth world where populism dominates over pluralism. Their specific targets are those who take a stand against the government or the military and are being attacked online and on the ground as well.
Under the Constitution of India, freedom of the media is part of the freedom of speech guaranteed by Article 19 (1) (a). However, no freedom can be absolute, and reasonable restrictions can be placed on it. One of the basic tasks of the media is to provide truthful and objective information to the people that will enable them to form rational opinions, which is a sine qua non in a democracy. The real issues in India are economic, that is, the terrible economic conditions in which eighty per cent of our people are living under the poverty, unemployment, lack of housing and medical care and so on. India ranked 102 out of 117 countries in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2019, a rank much below than its South Asian neighbours such as Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan. The GHI report, calculated by The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) pointed out that “India is suffering from a serious hunger problem”. Another study ‘The world air quality report 2019’, by IQAir AirVisual and Greenpeace, 22 of the world’s top 30 polluted cities are in India. Instead of addressing these real issues, the media often try to divert the attention of the people to the ‘non-issues’.
The pliant media coverage following post Pulwama to Balakot air strikes to the general elections of Lok Sabha, everything could be understood as the larger project in the ‘manufacturing of the consent’. There are certain authorities who are in the position to make decisions to determine the functioning of the society. These decisions about the investment, production and distribution are in the hands of concentrated networks of major corporations and investment firms. These are on the important positions in the government, in the private sector and in media. They are the ones who make the decisions having an overwhelming donor role. Elite media are the agenda setting media. They set the general framework and local media more or less adapt to their structured ways. In the last few days I had been reading a local Hindi daily from the Hindi heartland state in which one could easily notice the bias of the newspaper with the usage of the extreme language. During my course in Journalism back in my graduation days, the first thing we were taught was the ‘neutrality’ in serving the details, without taking the sides. My professor would always ask us ‘to act like a camera’, which impartially reflects everything it receives from its lenses, but that is certainly not the case seen around.
The story of misery of Indian media in 2019 is not only limited to the events of the first half of the year, it continues its agenda setting with the prejudiced selection of the topics, distribution of concerns, framing of issues and bounding debate within certain limits. These agencies as Chomsky and Herman put it in their seminal work ‘Manufacturing Consent’, determine, shape, control, restrict and serve the interests of the dominant groups. This is a big market and they try to sell the ideology with an appealing packaging. What comes out of this is the perception of the world that satisfies the perception of the sellers. The same media, in India has also contributed in constructing a certain kind of images of the Muslims, Dalits and the women which are then constantly reinforced by the other mediums like cinema and television commercials. The article is not an attempt to dismiss all the good ever done by the media but to recognize the broader and contemporary trends endorsed by it. Horrifying revelations about the Indian media, instances of its unscrupulous involvement in the financial, criminal, civil and sexual crimes facts were consolidated by ‘The 2017 Edelman Global trust barometer’, calling it as one of the most corrupt media in the world. In 2019, ‘Reporters Without Borders’ ranks India 140th out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index. These reports state that the people expect the media to reflect the opinions and voices of the unheard, but people feel that they cannot trust the media content anymore as most of them have found it to be driven by vested interest and aimed to exploit the situation for gaining TRPs. It also states that overall there has been a “global implosion” in a total trust deficit. Although recently in October, 2019 News Broadcasting Standards Authority of India (NBSA), has issued advisory to all the news channels and programmes to avoid ‘inflammatory debates’ which are likely to create tension in the wake of Ayodhya issue but the outcome of the content analysis of the same of the period October-November 2019 has been very dismaying.
At the same time when the trust in the media, cinema and TV shows is hitting at the all time low; there are tiny isles of valiance in an ocean of conformity. Away from the flag waving cinema of the year like Uri, Batla house, Kesari, Parmaanu and Paltan, there are courageous attempts like Ghoul and Leila in the series of dramas. These have been heavily critiqued as ‘anti- establishment’ but should rather be treasured as an attempt in creating a space for debate, discourse and the incorporation of the antithesis. Similarly there are very few media houses which essentialise non-conformity, and are important for the reason and dissent. Not being able to register the dissent is not fruitful especially in the age of powerful and charismatic leaders as it deprives the common masses of objective understanding of the status quo.
Sabah Hussain, Research Fellow, Department of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia