Nuclear strength and/or prowess commanded even by superpowers has its limitations, which has been displayed time and again. Havoc reportedly caused by floods in California may be viewed as just a minor example of this. When those who try and assert themselves as most powerful leaders – globally and regionally – appear to stumble in their own terrains, should they really be expected to gain actual success in that of others? This question has been posed as the recent years appear to have placed – most, including democratically elected leaders, in a crisis in their national domains. Media coverage and/or protests as well as demonstrations against them at various levels only suggest that they seem to be caught in a similar situation, differing of course in intensity. When leaders appear to falter and/or weaken on their own turf, what else can the situation engulfing them be described as but leadership crisis.
Ironically, American media has seldom been kind towards its own Presidents when it comes to criticizing their stand on numerous national issues. Similar has been the approach of British media regarding their Prime Ministers. So it isn’t surprising to find Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak being the present targets in USA and UK, respectively. What however cannot be ignored is the tendency of their being criticized for primarily issues of national concern and rarely for their diplomatic pursuits. In addition, western media seem fairly generous in going by, even supporting strongly, the stand taken particularly by US President on the international front, be it strong criticism or favour of certain governments and so forth. Present phase is witness to Russian, Chinese and Iranian heads being lashed out at extensively.
Media coverage – with considerable command over its freedom – can play role of a magical-strategic card for leaders in power. Support of media, based on positive coverage of diplomatic pursuits tends to play a key role in earning support of people at home and/or at least minimizing criticism from them. This interestingly seems to be an unwritten rule practiced by media almost globally. In India, rarely have questions been raised when anti-Pak moves are given importance. Western media appears to use the same logic in tagging individuals involved in violent activities such as shooting with label of terrorism. This label is rarely used when Whites, Christians and Jews are engaged in such violence but used randomly when Browns, Blacks, Muslims, Hindus and of other communities are held as even allegedly responsible for similar acts. This point is being specifically mentioned to draw attention to varying magnitudes to which “power” used by leaders and its linkage with media coverage can be (and tends to be) in general.
Whether under pressure or not, nature of media coverage may be viewed as symbolic of leadership crisis from various angles. When attempt is made by leaders (primarily those heading governments) to control media in their favour, this may be a sign of their fearing negative coverage on issues they expect criticism on. This situation is natural in cases of their probably being conscious of their lapses, failure, limitations and so forth in certain areas. In these cases, they expect “positive” media coverage- irrespective of whether it is manufactured and/or deliberately designed- to probably keep public oblivious of their lapses, etc. When role of media focusses primarily on creating a “hype” about leaders in power, chances of the same being controlled cannot be side-lined. A lot may also be decided by who owns various tools of media and how close they are and/or desire to be to leaders being favoured by these.
Chances of media giving excessive coverage – without being subject to any pressure- to certain issues also prevail. As indicated earlier, these include diplomatic pursuits and subjective labelling of certain sections as terrorists. This is not the first time that western media has displayed almost whole hearted support for American government’s stand towards Ukraine, Russia and China. Practically no questions were raised when US pursued the policy of so called Arab Spring in the name of democratic revolution. The leaders probably love this approach of media. To a degree, this contributes to noise being made about national grievances being pushed to side-lines. The same impact is expected in India by display of cards such as anti-Pak, communal, religious, targeting rivals and so forth.
With respect to Ukraine-crisis, tragically, little importance is being given to continuance of war spelling only distress for human beings. When and if a superpower chooses to pay little/no attention to moves leading to peace with probable priority being continuance of war to ensure diminution of Russia’s status, what does this suggest? Washington is apparently using Ukraine to target Russia. If Russia was isolated from all sides, this may have been possible. But as it is not, it is time US displayed diplomatic wisdom and leadership as a superpower, spelling peace for Ukraine. Nuclear prowess too has its limitations. It cannot contribute to bring dead to life, restore health of affected, ensure speedy development of what has been destroyed whether in California or in Ukraine. The former is display of nature’s fury and latter of war. Neither can nuclear prowess blind future to leadership of powers having faltered in taking constructive steps to resolve Ukraine-crisis.
Objectively speaking, excessive media coverage – whether negative or positive – can contribute to understanding the role being played by power-holders, as strong or weak leaders. And this includes bias displayed while according coverage to usage of labels such as terrorism, communal, etc. What is usually lost track of in these cases is failure and/or weakness of authorities in checking occurrence of such incidents. Excessive criticism of leaders’ role in being able to resolve national issues, whether inflation, unemployment and/or similar such problems, may be viewed as strong signals of people being dissatisfied with their governments. Paradoxically, when sections of media tend to shy away from criticizing their governments and leaders regarding their role on national grievances but choose to focus on propagating (or publicizing) their success, the message is the same. Just as media’s freedom contributes to criticism of their national governments, check on the same can lead to media going even overboard in “praising” them.
Exercise, use as well as display of power and media coverage linked with the same have limitations. Specifically, the latter may be reflective of crises in leaders’ usage of power at their command. Continuity of Ukraine-war can certainly not be viewed as strength of involved countries’ power-reins. Rather, failure to check its continuity may be viewed as failure of leadership at several levels. Irrespective of whether media goes overboard in its criticism, support, coverage and/or ignorance of issues leaders give importance to or ignore, possibility of the same reflecting leadership lapses/crises cannot be ignored. At least, not in this age of communication boom!
Nilofar Suhrawardy is a senior journalist and writer with specialization in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy. She has come out with several books. These include:– Modi’s Victory, A Lesson for the Congress…? (2019); Arab Spring, Not Just a Mirage! (2019), Image and Substance, Modi’s First Year in Office (2015) and Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp, In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006).