To understand the manoeuvrings of media, the framework within which the media is situated during specific paradigms of governance needs to be understood. Historically, there are links between forms of governance in the pre- and the post-independence phases in India and their impact of media (Boga, 2020). Imperialist countries that were dominant global powers imposed ethnonationalist frameworks to govern colonised spaces such as India (Boga & Ranjan, 2022). Various aspects of a colonised society and its institutions functioned on the principle of Vertical Co-operation, which demanded the acceptance of an individual as part of organisation, along with his/her inequality or a hierarchal order of collectives (Filimon & Campaña, 2014). Later, the spread of education by the modern state, the pedagogical media and the use of intelligentsias were also central to the rise of the ethnonationalism which propagated an ideology rooted in the imperial administration’s imagining of a nation-state, the relationship between nation and ethnicity and the imposition of what Krishna (1999: 207, 211, 221; Anderson, 2006) terms “the fiction of homogeneity” while elaborating that “the arrival as a nation-state is coterminous with the exorcisation of all forms of identity barring the unitary sense of nation”.
Imagined communities or nations, rooted in power, function to operationalise ethnonationalist frameworks, that strengthen and propagate similar ideas and philosophies through values, culture, politics and economics with the help of the media and other machinery (Boga & Ranjan, 2022). Collectively, these processes shape society. In India’s case, its transition from a welfare democracy to a capitalist (neo-liberal) one in the nineties not only ushered in its “liberalisation” while strengthening divisive ethnonationalist governing frameworks, but also advancement in technology (digital media) deepened traditional social fissures of caste, class and gender in the multi-ethnic and diverse society. Kaur (2020: 7) refers to this as “New India” – a popular name for the post-reform, technofriendly, high-consumption entrepreneurial nation that encountered the elite that governed the world. India, which was reconfigured as a nation-state into an enclosed commercial-cultural zone was thus termed by Kaur (2020: 8) as “the brand new nation”: the nation revitalised and renewed as a profitable business enterprise with claims to ownership over cultural property within its territory. The impact of governing frameworks in a nation-state are highlighted in an example of a change in the feminist ideology cited by Nancy Fraser (2013): “The state-managed capitalism of the postwar era has given way to a new form of capitalism – ‘disorganised’, globalising, neo-liberal. Second-wave feminism emerged as a critique of the first but has become the handmaiden of the second.” Percolating into different structures, processes and elements of society, these frameworks influence powerful apparatuses such as the media.
Influence of Framework on Media
For decades, viewed as an extension of the country of their origin, the national and the international media have been weaponised by power to shape public opinion, globally and nationally (Boga, 2014; Chomsky & Herrmann, 1988; Chomsky, 2009, 1991, 1991a; Debord, 1970; Entman, 2004). Here, we use the word “weaponise” to indicate the negative use of media by power for manipulation and agenda setting, vis-a-vis the use of media as a positive medium to inform the public and convey their message to the State and vice versa. With India’s economic “liberalisation”, the corporate control over the media increased as the number of publications and national and international television channels multiplied. Changes in political and economic thought led to new patterns of ownership and processes that dictated pragmatism, catapulting commerce to the forefront (Ranganathan, 2014). Commercialisation of media led to trivialisation or invisiblisation of issues concerning the majority of the public and the burgeoning of both overt and covert power nexuses. For example, the widely known accommodation of business magnates in their managements by media houses led to an increasing suspicion of media’s agenda and their political affiliations (Guha-Thakurtha, 2012; Ranaganathan, 2014).
Traditionally, media have collaborated with power as it invisiblises or hyperises issues and non-issues to suit agendas. At other times, fluctuating geopolitical choreographies dismantle or alter strategic alliances between media and power — for example, analyses of print news articles in American and British publications from 2000 to 2010 show that the Cold War thaw, the September 11th attacks, and the subsequent “War on Terror” may have been responsible for toning down of the scathing coverage of the India’s occupation of Kashmir, compared to coverage in the same publications from 1950 to mid-1990s (Boga, 2018; Rasool & Pasha, 2018). Giroux (2005) posits that media, largely consolidated through corporate power control public perceptions eliminate critical thinking and reinforce central neo-liberal tenets that all problems are private rather than social in nature. New digital tools have also been weaponised to control the public and to meet the agenda-setting ability by those looking to establish hegemony. These multi-thronged processes have led to the consolidation of hegemony by power. Gramsci’s view that hegemony is “consent armoured with coercion” is pertinent to this post-neo-liberal context (Artz, 2003, p. 18). Colonial powers used tools to expand their power in occupied territories and within that context, ethnonationalism too may be viewed as a by-product of colonialism used for expansion. From right-wing violence against the oppressed classes widely circulated without repercussions on social media, to trolling the public on online platforms, the far right targets the leftists and liberals in India. Digitally, those propounding counter-hegemonic narratives are also targeted through the deployment of troll armies who peddle revised histories of a people to suit their agendas and to discredit rights advocates and journalists. Social media is also used to seek and viciously label the counter-hegemons irrespective of their gender. Historically, Dalits, minorities, tribals and other oppressed classes withstand the worst as patriarchy continues to prey on the weakest sections of society and it is no different in the digital realm (YouTube, 2015; BBC, 2018; NDTV, 2017; Newsclick, 2019; Rao, 2021).
Media, which operate on the basis of a nexus of international political economy, has been employed by powerful States to spectacularise, misdirect, conceal, hyperise and misrepresent ideas, depending on the geopolitical climate and power’s need to protect, expose and further their goals within a neo-liberal framework (Boga & Ranjan, 2022). The governing class protects itself from public scrutiny through the media by manufacturing ideas, facilitating and intensifying conflicts through distortion, so that State power can expand. Laclau and Mouffe (1985) elaborate on the significant role of ideas in relations of power, be it as discursive formations, hegemony, ideology or the production of subjectivity. And the neo-liberal state propagates ideas through the media, they shape the media’s output. Here, Strӧmbäck’s (2011: 373) concept of “news media logic” which refers to “the institutional, technological, and sociological characteristics of the news media, including their format characteristics, production and dissemination routines, norms, and needs, standards of newsworthiness, and to the formal and informal rules that govern news media” may be employed to unravel the reasons behind the functioning of the media.
There has been a considerable shift in the commercialisation process from the early 1990s to 2010 and therefore, one may refer to the current timeframe as the post-neo-liberal era, which is essentially a heightened mode of economic functioning that ensures nullification of the independence of the media and its role as the fourth estate in society. In the post-neo-liberal era, we have witnessed complete hegemony by power and the fortification of the State-media-corporate-military-industrial complex. “Brand India”, after the corporatisation of the media since the early nineties, has strengthened the burgeoning state-media nexus in India (Fernandez, 2014). This is where the Indian media is currently located. Hence, this governance framework needs to be grasped in its entirety as it encompasses socio-economic, cultural and psychological facets which have a powerful impact on the public and influence them in direct and subliminal ways, depending on their operationalisation and regulation. These complex, multi-pronged, seamless, non-stop, market-driven processes that shape public perception en mass are executed through a set of practices by powers at large (Boga, 2018). Therefore, first, media needs to be located from the prism of governance frameworks that channel power and configure and reconfigure social reality continuously.
Media and Power
Decades ago, Debord (1970) contended that social reality is shaped directly by media and perceptions that alter public consciousness about the world initiate multidimensional changes within the world and us, both individually and collectively. Hence, media becomes a space of power-making, where power relationships are decided between competing political and social actors who seek to capitalise at any cost. Within this power-making context, opinion-building and agenda-setting assume significance. At times, in a bid to regulate the public sphere, media challenges power to gain credibility from the sections of society that are mindful and overly critical of it. This extended solidarity not only enables power to appropriate and manage dissent in those sections of society, but also to showcase its “democratic” nature by allowing the regulated space to its antagonists. Technological advances, invented for military purposes in the first place, have historically lent sophisticated channels for propagating divisive myths, thereby preventing organisation and resistance among the public against the establishment through the media; and in the post-neo-liberal age, via social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, especially in countries like Myanmar and India (Theobald, 2006; Michel & Andrabi, 2021). Technological militaristic manoeuvrings confined within the lieu of patriarchy, thus exude conditions that ensure furthering objectives and entrenching hegemony. These configurations also adversely affect marginalised sections and all genders, thus altering society to its advantage. This will be examined in the following sections. To sum up the argument, the notion of a benign media is a mythical construction because the media is weaponised as a secondary power-wielding mechanism to control the public.
Historically, archival evidence obtained in Kashmir exposes the influence of the State-media nexus after India’s independence in 1947, where techniques of constructing artificial social reality, institutionalising dependence on State, mainstreaming non-issues and organising propaganda to distract the public in India and abroad have been practised (Boga, 2020). Resultantly, India ranked 142 on the World Press Freedom Index list of 180 countries, and its position has been steadily falling for the last few years (National Herald, 2020). Despite being a democratic, multicultural, secular country, its press freedoms have been adversely affected consistently due to its nature of governance. For example, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF, 2021), India’s position at 142 in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index is due to the State’s use of unconstitutional laws to gag journalists. RSF (2021) outlines the impact of the framework of the country’s governance on the media:
With four journalists killed in connection with their work in 2020, India is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists trying to do their job properly. They are exposed to every kind of attack, including police violence against reporters, ambushes by political activists, and reprisals instigated by criminal groups or corrupt local officials. Ever since the general elections in the spring of 2019, won overwhelmingly by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, pressure has increased on the media to toe the Hindu nationalist government’s line. Indians who espouse Hindutva, the ideology that gave rise to radical right-wing Hindu nationalism, are trying to purge all manifestations of “anti-national” thought from the public debate.
Journalists have been targeted not only in India’s conflict zones, but also in non-conflict areas (RSF, 2021). In October 2021, journalist Siddique Kappan from Kerala and his driver were arrested on their way to report on the gangrape and murder of a Dalit girl by four upper caste men in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras. Kappan is booked under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and other penal provisions by the UP government and remains incarcerated despite serious health problems (Kumar, 2021). Even netizens, free speech campaigners, cartoonists and students who critique the State on social media have been arrested (Hindustan Times, 2015). Such totalitarian measures indicate that the “democratic” State has modelled itself on the oppressive coloniser, transforming itself into an electoral autocracy . It explains why India has consistently plummeted in the global media rankings in the last few years. In the post-neo-liberal era, these phenomena cumulatively have resulted in a partisan media which further exacerbate societal divide and fracture society (International Federation of Journalists, 2022).
Post-Neo-liberalism and its Consequences
Within the framework of neo-liberalism, globally, transnational commercial interests have been expanded by organisations such as the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund to manage and transfer resources and wealth from the poor nations to the richest nations of the world (Giroux, 2005). For this paper, the author uses the term post-neo-liberalism as a device for questioning the mutation of previous forms of liberalism and neo-liberalism and the challenges they pose in the present (Davies & Gane, 2021). This framework will allow the author to delve into the causes behind the collusions of the media within overlapping economic, social, political, psychological and cultural contexts, and their societal consequences. Subsequently, post-neo-liberalism has accentuated intersectional class, caste and gender gaps with a detrimental effect on the oppressed groups and minorities. Racism, sexism, patriarchy, militarisation, transnational exchange of sophisticated technology for mass control are by-products of this autocratised governance framework. And the impact on intersection of gender and class and its effect on the media are visible due to the hegemonic control of power.
Intersection of Gender and Class
Gender refers to the economic, social, political, and cultural attributes and opportunities associated with being of a certain sexual orientation, and the social definitions of what it means to be associated with that orientation changes over time and it is not only an expanding spectrum – LGBTQIA+ – but also a sociocultural expression of particular characteristics and roles that are associated with certain groups of people with reference to their sex and sexuality (Jhpiego, 2016). The gamut of gender will also encompass Indian males from lower social strata (class, caste; Muslims, Dalits, Bahujans, Schedule Caste, Schedule Tribes, Other Backward Classes) being oppressed by male members from other dominant (higher) classes and/or castes.
In a diverse country like India, the understanding of the intersectionality of class, caste and gender are shaped by media. Even within the Indian feminist movement, upper-class narratives have always dominated the discourse while invisiblising Dalit feminists (Rao, 2021). Blogger Jaimine Anita Vaishnav (J. Vaishnav, personal communication, 22 October, 2011), a Mumbai-based lecturer, with a Ph.D. in Politics, explains how the composition of the Indian media industry dictates its output: “Brahminical monopoly of Indian media has structurally led to a systematic toxification and functional degradation of the public sphere. Since the press began in India, Dalit representation and Bahujan coverage always met the fate of performative tokenism. Due to this, the understanding of caste has always been culturally appropriated as per the convenience and agenda of the corporate owners (mostly Brahmin and Bania castes). The general awareness of caste in the social sphere is often (although, negatively) associated with the bounded debate around reservation and nothing beyond it.”
A report titled, ‘Who Tells Our Stories Matters: Representation of Marginalised Caste Groups in Indian Newsrooms’ shows that three out of four news anchors are from the upper-caste community; only ten of the 972 articles featured on the cover pages of the twelve magazines are about issues related to caste and that 89% of leadership positions in English TV news channels and 76% of news anchors on the flagship shows belong to the upper caste. Commenting on the structural impact of upper-class hegemony on gender, Vaishnav (J. Vaishnav, personal communication, 22 October, 2011) states that the NCRB reports of 2019 and 2020 indicate that India is unsafe for Dalit and tribal girls. “It’s not that there is no Dalit media outlet. There are, but the progress has been very gradual due to the neo-liberal media-politics nexus and there are hardly over 20 Dalit news outlets offline or online. Although there are few anti-establishment media outlets, unlike Godi (translated as “lap”, insinuating a subservient media to the State) media, in today’s panoptic system, which endeavours to report on casteism and caste-related issues. Unfortunately, the intersectional view between caste and other dynamics is still missing. Debates on caste on TV news media verily get diverted to the reservation issue without attempting to question the social foundation of graded inequity like caste structure,” Vaishnav (J. Vaishnav, personal communication, 22 October, 2011) adds.
Within the patriarchal (power) hierarchy, populations of Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis (tribals) have been targeted by powerful hegemonic forces, especially the youth. Away from the media gaze, all genders face atrocities, including torture and sexual violence (The Wire, 2017; Borpujari, 2015; Boga 2017, 2019). In mainstream media, Dalits have been invisiblised and according to a study conducted in 2019, only 5% of all articles in English newspapers are written by Dalits and Adivasis, and Hindi newspapers fare slightly better at around 10% (Oxfam India, 2019). This invisiblisation may be a result of brutalisation over centuries of the weakest section of society which is the farthest from the media’s gaze. It also amounts to an issue of lack of adequate representation in the country’s newsrooms, both in the English language media as well as regional, as figures from other studies reveal.
It is not just the Dalits who suffer, but also other minority communities such as Christians, The Wire (2021) reports that human rights groups which monitor atrocities against Christians in India have documented the violence by Hindutva groups from all states and released a fact-finding report titled ‘Christians under attack in India’. The report highlights that over 300 such instances have been reported from across 21 states, particularly North India, in nine months of this year (Pal, 2021).
Vaishnav (J. Vaishnav, personal communication, 22 October, 2011) quotes a 2019 report by American Civil Society Research that revealed that 40% of the content on social media platforms are casteist and derogatory against Dalit communities and Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution. “Atrocities Act of 1989 has failed on a few fronts on dissuading upper-caste clans to impede their casteist activities. Even today, a Dalit is killed for flaunting a moustache, riding a horse, drinking water from public tank, sitting on a chair, practicing exogamy, etc. Do we see media outrage over these issues? Imagine a lynching of an upper-caste man over these issues and see how the privileged media goes gaga over it for next few weeks! The Islamophobe nature of the Indian media, as seen in recent times, has added more fuel to the fire. Then, trolling against individuals for speaking against caste atrocities is a new normalcy,” opines Vaishnav (J. Vaishnav, personal communication, 22 October, 2011). This media portrayal of “worthy and unworthy victims” deepens existing societal fissures (class, caste, gender, ethnonationalism) while propagating narratives that benefit the dominant ruling class.
Impact of Frameworks Operationalised by Power
Each governance framework impacts society, and consequently the media and the public. Despite varied forms of governance in South Asia, media has struggled to remain the Fourth Pillar of society and has endured multiple setbacks. Patriarchy and ethnonationalistic ideologies have percolated to the media to the detriment of the repressed communities. For example, even though India is the world’s largest democracy and it is known for its diversity, its rank is consistently plummeting on the media freedom index due to direct violence, symbolic violence, as well as structural violence perpetrated by the State against oppressed classes. Of late, it has been categorised as an electoral autocracy by V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy Institute, 2022). Structural violence has been enacted through unconstitutional and draconian laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the colonial Sedition Act (Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code) which have been used against journalists while discharging their duty.
With ethnonationalism on the rise globally, its by-products like patriarchy have fractured society further, while asserting toxic masculinities on the weaker sections (class, caste) and deepening the gender divide and exacerbating societal divisions. Such disruptive intersectionalities translate into difficulties for media personnel, inculcating an environment of fear, leading to self-censorship and arbitrary punishment. One of the largest global media studies exposes these deep fissures while highlighting the impact of the post-neo-liberal governance framework. The Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), a worldwide media monitoring, research and advocacy project implemented collaboratively with women’s rights organisations, grassroots groups, media associations in 120 countries (since 1995) is the largest and the longest longitudinal study on gender in the world’s media.
The sixth GMMP 2020 (NWMI, 2021) shows that in India, the overall percentage of women in news as subjects and sources dropped sharply in 2020 – to 14% in 2020 across print, TV and radio, compared to 22% in 2010 and 21% in 2015. This is also lower than the overall presence of women in the Asian region of 21% in print, radio and TV in 2020. Women as news sources also saw a sharp decline in India in 2020. Only 12.5% of journalists covering news in the print media were women; on radio 21% were women; on TV news 53% were women (NWMI, 2020). Only 14% of all the stories coded in 2020 focused on women. And those tend to be covered by female journalists, whereas 95% of the stories in 2020 did not challenge the gender stereotype, while just 5% of the stories clearly challenged such stereotyping (NWMI, 2021). This lop-sided portrayal in the media mirrors the functioning of the patriarchal, educated, upper-class/caste seeking hegemonic control of our society.
Similarly, another study in India by Boga and Bandewar (2020) titled ‘Ethical Challenges and Obligations in Health Journalism in India: Insights from a Qualitative Empirical Research’ indicates that journalism beats are gendered. The study revealed that beats such as health are considered soft beats by male editors and are assigned to female reporters, whereas crime and politics are considered hard beats assigned to male reporters in Indian newsrooms. Gender also influences the kind of stories that may be featured in the news cycle according to journalists interviewed for the study (Boga and Bandewar, 2020). Other intersectional factors such as class and caste also stood out and influenced the topics of reportage chosen to be featured in newsrooms (Boga and Bandewar, 2020). Patriarchy, a by-product of neo-liberalism, has thus contoured the media’s output by presenting a skewed reality that invisiblises sections of the population.
In the same vein, Udupa’s (2020) work shows that India’s digital revolution in media has produced vitriol and disinformation and information disorder and hate speech are part of the global process of racialised colonialism. Citing an example of an online attack on a female journalist in Mumbai in 2014 who published a report that a right-wing public rally addressed by a prominent Hindu nationalist leader failed to draw crowds, in her research Udupa (2020, P. 10-11) states that for Hindu nationalist supporters online, the journalist’s report smacked of dishonesty and elite contempt for the true voice of India. What started as a tirade of ridicule soon escalated to a full-blown intimidation (Udupa, 2020, p. 10-11). The translation of ethnonationalism into hate and the targeting of any voice that critiques it has become a rule rather than an exception in India. This autocratisation has further marginalised the oppressed communities (Varieties of Democracy Institute, 2022).
Studies also reveal that incidents of mob vigilantism aimed at Dalits and Muslims had used digital tools of visual morphing and targeted messaging (Siddiqui, 2018). It is important to observe that practices of State surveillance and biopolitics too are other important dimensions of digital politics (Rao, 2013). Infrastructural capabilities afforded by WhatsApp are used to organise communal hatred both online and offline (Cody, 2019). On the other hand, the global #MeToo movement against gender-based harassment and Dalit activism online in India hold testimony to social media’s disruptive effects (Ayyub 2018; Mitra 2001). Furthermore, restrictive measures are accentuated by the State, especially in regions of conflict. Historically, the US media have been complicit with the state in reporting wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan; similarly, the Indian media has also co-operated with the governing class in Kashmir since the 1950s (Boga, 2020). For those who dare to tell the truth, a different fate awaits.
Media and Conflict
Media watchdogs report that journalists have been kidnapped, killed, abducted, tortured and incarcerated under various draconian laws in countries with divergent governance structures such as India, Pakistan and Myanmar (AFP, 2021). In an ethnically and culturally diverse country such as India, especially states of Chhattisgarh, Meghalaya, Assam, Nagaland, UP, Manipur and Kashmir have witnessed the targeting of male and female journalists by the ruling class. It is therefore essential to expand our scope of gender and understand it as societal relations to include male members from the minorities and oppressed classes who have been victims of militarised masculinities not only in these conflict areas but all over India, especially spaces of dissent such as the site of the non-violent farmers’ protest and Shaheen Bagh sit-in at Delhi.
In areas occupied by militarised masculinities, other State structures institutionalise surveillance, communication and Internet blockades, cyclical detentions of youth and torture. All this makes life unbearable for those under militarised occupation, another form of governance within a democratic setup. Violence against tribal activists in Chhattisgarh such as Soni Sori and Hidme Kawasi failed to make headlines in mainstream Indian media (Boga, 2015, 2019). In addition, classic counter-insurgency tactics demand that the ruling class uses tribals to kill tribals in ultra-Left dominant areas. Deployment of paramilitary groups, non-state actors (Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh, now known as Vikas Sangharsh Samiti conceived of by the RSS) and specialised battalions such as the Greyhounds, Bastariya, CoBRA in these areas have drawn faultlines within communities in the forests of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha and Jharkhand, some of the violence-affected Indian states in the Red Corridor that spans across 10 Indian states (Sundar, 2015; The Wire, 2017; Singh, 2021). To exacerbate matters, for the last decade, as a counter-insurgency measure, surrendered women Maoists have been recruited by the State into commando units and have deployed in parts of the Red Corridor (Mishra, 2019). This extension of militarised masculinities (for a militaristic or a hybrid form of governance) to the female population translates into a fully militarised society with habitualisation of violence as a norm. Away from the media gaze, even children are not spared by the governing class in conflict (Human Rights Watch, 2008). This suggests that violence is not gendered. Correspondingly, in Kashmir, the Ikhwanis or renegades (surrendered militants) have been used since the early 1990s to penetrate deep into society, along with other armed groups such as the SOG, Territorial Army and CIK (Boga, 2007). Women have been recruited as informers by Indian intelligence agencies in the conflict zone where rape is used as a weapon of war (Bhalla, 2017; Busru, 2018). Over decades, counter-insurgency (COIN) tactics of divide-and-rule in the region have formed a totalitarian structure which has had a cascading effect on the media that operate under exceptionally difficult circumstances.
In-depth interviews of print journalists, columnists, editors and photojournalists who work for local, national and international news agencies from Kashmir in 2016, offer an insight into the hardships they encounter on and off the field (Boga, 2018). To identify Kashmir as a controlled space, it is imperative to grasp what Fanon (1967, p. 65) expounds: “It is not just an occupation of territory, on the one hand, and independence of persons, on the other – it is the country as a whole, its history, its daily pulsations that are contested, disfigured, in the hope of a final destruction.” Under militarisation, the individual’s breathing, he elaborates, is “an observed, an occupied breathing – it is a combat breathing” (Fanon, 1967, p. 65). Correspondingly, information emanating from militarized regions such as Kashmir is also controlled by hegemonic power. Though the media are notionally free from the direct control of the State, yet they function as agents of legitimisation of the dominant ideology due to several reasons. The neo-liberal state has militarised the public space, increased the suppression of dissent, leading to a growing escalation of concentrated and unaccountable political power and social changes in local environments (Giroux, 2005).
In such a scenario, Gramscian notion of hegemony may be understood as a process which is to be “continually reproduced, secured and lost, rather than an achieved state of affairs” (Gramsci, 1975; Hall, 1977, p. 333). Within that paradigm, the media, in their propensity to serve a hegemonic function for the good of those in power, effectively manufacture consent and establish a hegemonic view of the world which is germane to the frameworks involved in reporting (Chomsky, 1991). Especially, in regions of conflict, where the space for societal discourse turns into a battlefield, States use it to legitimise claims, demonise the enemy, marginalise counterviews and generally create societal beliefs that support their violent actions (Bar-Tal, 1998). These practises criminalise political dissent, invisiblise histories and exemplify the difficulties of daily life in a conflict zone. In such hostile terrains, a major recurring theme in the interviews of Kashmiri journalists is restriction imposed upon them by the authorities while reporting.
For decades, media personnel in Kashmir have been operating under extenuating circumstances amidst different forms of violence along with the stress and trauma that accompany such existence. Operating in an environment that endangers themselves and their families, journalists struggle to highlight instances of daily injustice. Voicing concerns about fear of “truth becoming a victim”, Interviewee 6 (2016) estimates that “any media house going against the establishment can be punished by a ban”. “In 2016, all newspapers were banned for three days.” According to him, the media in Kashmir “is caught between the professional morals and pressures from various agencies, mostly the government. This means it is not free…”.
Restricted access not only hampers reporting from the ground, but also adversely affects their performance professionally. Stories that the State does not want featured in the media are resultantly not covered due to an imposition of stringent restriction on access, reflecting how restriction is employed as a weapon at the State’s disposal (Ganai, 2017). The volatility of the region translates into actions (hostility) against the media while discharging their duty. To cite an example of direct violence, photojournalists have been stopped from filming or photographing particular incidents. Interviewee 1 (2016) shares his feelings on the result of such censorship:
You feel helpless that things are happening in front of you and you can’t shoot. I feel sometimes it is better to be invisible so that you can cover the things which you are stopped from covering by the other party. After all, we are not judges, we’re just messengers.
Deconstructing the feeling of helplessness, Interviewee 1 (2016) alludes to the fact that the only way censorship can be circumvented was if he was “invisible”. This invisiblisation, in his imagination, would enable him to fulfil his function as a photojournalist. Interviewee 1 (2016) operates on the assumption that the opinion his work generates in the international arena of news (and later, political archive) on Kashmir is being regarded by “the other party” – the censor – as counter-hegemonic. This clash of polarized narratives could be behind the will to censor. Furthermore, Interviewee 1 (2016) hints that only power can place him in the role of a “judge”, whereas in reality, he says he is only a “messenger”. From the standpoint of the State, the objective of regimenting people’s minds fuels the need for restrictions (Bernays, 1928). Shriver (1995: 138-139) too opines that media is effectively used to “redraft public memory”, thereby “endangering human moral consciousness”.
In this volatile milieu, journalists working for local, national and international media outlets have handled differently by various stakeholders of the conflict. As a result, they often “feel trapped” in the conflict. A photojournalist, who works for an international news agency outlines the divergent takes on the media by different stakeholders, and says (Interviewee 1, 2016):
Government thinks we are troublemakers, security agencies think we are responsible for the trouble and people think we are paid by government and security agencies to hide the truth.
The contradistinctive perceptions on the local media magnify the views of different stakeholders in Kashmir and illustrate the volatility of the media’s role in the contested space, where each side (public vs. local journalists) is pitted against the other to hinder organisation for political dissent. This colonial (neo-colonial in Kashmir’s case) policy of divide-and-rule may have been incorporated to create fissures within a unified resistance (Prashad, 2007). Gramsci (1975) deconstructs such state practices by explaining that unitarian fanaticism produces a permanent atmosphere of suspicion towards anything that might smack of separatism and that violence and denial of justice by the repressive state systematically erodes the social fabric of the society, creating unending cycles violence, impunity and a violent resistance or what Appadurai (2006) refers to as a radicalised nationalism.
To diversify this argument, it is also noteworthy to include the perception of the State about the media in Kashmir. The State’s view about a journalist’s function in Kashmir is illustrated with the statement it made in court in the case of jailed local photojournalist Kamran Yousuf who was arrested on 5 September 2017 and charged with sedition for allegedly being involved in a “conspiracy against the nation” (UNHCR, 2018, p. 33). While producing Yousuf in court, India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) — India’s counter-terrorism law enforcement agency, in their charge sheet, defined the “moral duty of a journalist” (Manve, 2019):
Had he been a real journalist/stringer by profession, he may have performed one of the moral duty of a journalist which is to cover the activities and happening (good or bad) in his jurisdiction. He had never covered any developmental activity of any Government Department/Agency, any inauguration of Hospital, School Building, Road, Bridge, statement of a political party in power or any other social/developmental activity by the state government or Govt of India.
The lacunae between the people’s perception of a journalist, the State’s perception and a journalist’s opinion of what his job entails are highlighted in the section above to illustrate the cause of the friction between the parties and the effects it produces on the factors that a journalist encounters while trying to discharge his/her duties. The examination of all three gazes enlivens varied facets of this complex conflict which leaves no relationship in the militarized region unaffected. Interviewee 4’s (2016) impression is that “responsibility for this lies with both the media and the administrators who collaborate, as neither is sincere. Jingoistic media always represent the interests of the administrators while those who discharge their duties in a dedicated manner have no space in modern journalism”. Through such means journalism is made subservient to the powers-that-be. Unfortunately, these are not the only hurdles Kashmiri journalists encounter while reporting.
The advent of technology in the media sphere has exacerbated matters, especially in conflict zones. Considering his two-decade-long association with the profession, Interviewee 1 (2016) claims that things have significantly changed in the media’s operational ability since the 1990s due to advancement in technology and this, in his view, has confirmed to be a double-edged sword for some.
Nowadays, a lot of people do ‘desk reporting’ – they don’t visit the spot but watch the event on TV and report the story. Professionals should not look at the story simply for their own interests.
Here, the negative role of technology in reportage results in journalists playing it safe and reporting with the help of television visuals. Here, “desk reporting” refers to reporters who interview subjects for stories over the phone and do not visit the scene of the incident to interview subjects. This part of the interview impresses on the trajectory and the imbalance of power on the field in Kashmir, where the State with its various apparatuses, directly or indirectly, prevent media from executing their duties. As a result, some journalists remain confined to their homes or offices for weeks (Boga, 2010).
Although surveillance has always been a vital constituent of the ruling apparatus in Kashmir, electronic snooping underwent a marked increase from 2008 to 2010 (Falak, 2015). Technological transnational alliances have normalised these constitutional measures which threaten citizens’ privacy globally and India is no exception. As a victim of State surveillance in Kashmir, Interviewee 4 (2016) claims: “The government lays curbs on phones, Internet and texting services”. Resultantly, those who consider journalists to be the “Fourth pillar of the society do not realize that actually the profession is in shambles, especially in strife-torn regions” (Interviewee 4, 2016). Similarly, Interviewee 8 (2016) informs about the levels of surveillance the population is subjected to:
Journalists in Kashmir are under constant surveillance from different agencies. Various branches of the state police do a regular profile check. Phones are tapped, mails screened, and social networking websites put under vigil for any anti-India posts.
The panopticon that has been encircling Kashmir may be viewed as a construction of the State, which has been intensifying its mass-surveillance architecture for over a decade, observes Kashmiri journalist Uzma Falak (2015). Mbembe (2001, p. 118) too propounds “all verbal dissidence, whether written or sung, becomes the object of close surveillance and repression” by the neo-colonisers. And in Kashmir, all forms of dissent are perceived as “anti-India” by the governing class (Misri, 2014). In these circumstances, one may deduce that a culmination of these factors makes journalism subordinate to the aims laid down for it by the political forces governing it (Becker, 1999). Not just in regions of conflict but also at a macro level, Lakoff and Frisch (2006) emphasise that the military establishes systems of surveillance and intimidation to influence both enemies and citizens. With a similar intention to intensify the systems of surveillance in the subcontinent, India’s Information and Broadcasting Ministry floated a tender to weed out “fake news” and “snoop and put on surveillance” the social media activities of the users on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google, Instagram, LinkedIn, Flickr, Tumblr, Google Playstore, Pinterest, emails, news, blogs, forums and complaint websites (Hindustan Times, 2018).
Habitualisation of violence becomes a part of coercive apparatuses for the monopoly of violence in the neo-colony. Benjamin’s insight that such a “state of emergency… is not the exception but the rule” is germane to Kashmir (1969: 257). Situated in that paradigm, despite operating within the confines of the law, the State “set the limit” by invoking the Official Secrets Act in Ifthikhar Gilani’s case (Gilani, 2005; Thomas, 2017, p. 88). The State also set “a yardstick” for journalists covering the turmoil in Kashmir by taking away their dignity, privilege of operation and assaulting them like an ordinary “civilian dissenter” in an arena of conflict where class location and professions occupy a noteworthy space in the struggle for survival through collaboration with the discourse of the ruling class (Nordstrom & Robben, 1995, p. 7-8; Thomas, 2017, p. 91).
Frameworks are fundamental to understanding the media’s location and functions. Socio-political, economic, psychological and geopolitical nuances that go into the making of the post-neo-liberal environment in which the media operates is of tantamount importance as it influences its output. Hence, media politics in any country emanate from this amalgamation situated with a particular framework. In India, the world’s largest democracy, which has recently been categorised as an electoral autocracy has a governance framework shaped by neo-liberalisation and post-neo-liberalisation that influence the functioning of the media. Hence, media need to be viewed as a tool, which continues to transform to suit various agendas and new requirements by power. For example, people’s struggles have been reframed as per the dictates of the ruling elite locally, or transnational powers. This has delegitimised mass movements in the eyes of the public, both nationally and globally.
Giroux (2005) explains that neo-liberalism’s pedagogical practices and political culture operationalise a social universe and cultural landscape that sustain a particular authoritarianism contextualised under the power of a religious and market fundamentalism along with anti-constitutional laws that destroy democratic spaces, thereby deepening class, caste and gender schisms. To control public opinion, the media has been either weaponised by power (corporate) or has been controlled and censored by the governing class, leading to an increase in polarisation in society and mass political inattention in any governance framework in varying degrees. This has, in turn, exacerbated the gender divide and patriarchy, a by-product of post-neo-liberalism, emerges stronger. It also explains the targeting of all genders based on their political positions by the far-right parties that are directly or indirectly aligned to the ruling class. The intersectionality of class, caste and gender has not been addressed by the media, leading to a a skewed portrayal of reality. Therefore, in order to unravel the reasons for the manner in which media functions, one has to locate within an existing framework to illuminate its effects.
Dr. Dilnaz Boga is a professor, freelance journalist, filmmaker, and researcher based in Mumbai. As a journalist, for over two decades, she has written and taken photographs for The Guardian, L’Humanite, Al Jazeera, Frai, Dawn, New Internationalist, Asia Sentinel, Himal, IndiaSpend, Hindu Business Lineand The Hindustan Times. In 2019, Dilnaz completed her Ph.D. at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences on the local, national, and international media’s coverage of Kashmir from 1990 to 2010, and has been teaching journalism.