Musings on the Media


From a culture of rich debate and consistent evaluation and critique of the political, economic and social systems in the country and working as the fourth pillar of a democratic set-up, the media has emerged as a farce of status-quoist propaganda with the final nail in the coffin of ruling party spokespersons (note, Sambit Patra) becoming mediators and organizers of debate on television channels. The legacy of Doordarshan’s staid reporting melted into government announcements, while the fervour of freedom and fundamental rights founding print and electronic media established many regional and national dailies during the colonial period. Most of them survive till date and are believed to encourage critical thinking among the Indian public, making these alternative news media trustworthy sources of information when the government channels were obviously biased.

However, as a recent Cobrapost sting has revealed, our belief in the veracity of judgment these media machines espoused was a deluded endeavour, for vested interests have assumed a permanent position in their massive economically beneficial deals with industrial houses and political party controls. The influence of advertisements on reading and thinking was explored decades ago, but the Big Brother like systems of brainwashing into fake news have made ‘doublespeak’ and ‘thought-crime’ certain realities.

These mechanisms have undergone a terrifying metamorphosis from limiting propaganda to advertisements alone, to making news only for supporting the ruling party’s interests and becoming unofficial spokespersons for the same. This has slowly encroached into common memory, making news about Bollywood film stars’ children, inane details of PM Modi and CM Yogi’s pithy sayings, ill-researched comments, and foreign trips, more important than farmers’ protests, human rights violations, unemployment as a ground reality for a country that claims to ‘Make in India’ etc. They have redefined what is important and must be paid attention to, for Taimur Pataudi’s grin is more significant than cross-border skirmishes, or Thoothikudi shootings.

This newly emerging culture of silencing questioning voices has sparked off something more serious than the intolerance debate—the brutal attacks on student activists, aggression displayed by BJP-affiliated parties in university campuses and other spaces of protest, the collusion of state media creating ruling party leaders as demi-god figures, and establishing Hindutva culture as the legacy inherited by virtue of being Indian are only a few examples. Najeeb Jung, the fourth student protester working with Kanhaiya Kumar has disappeared, much to the despair of his mother and sister. Gauri Lankesh’s murder was mysteriously committed, no action taken against the perpetrators, and immediately forgotten. The recent episode of comedian Kunal Kamra’s ‘Shut Up Ya Kunal’ marked an interview with NDTV journalist Ravish Kumar—who many regard as the sole opposition, and last-standing bastion of critique to the central government.

The fact that both the fearless journalist’s family and Kunal Kamra were given multiple and often gruesome death threats after the interview is only an inkling of the future. The court case filed against independent media website ‘The Wire’ became yet another evidence of how ‘goonda raj’ is a legal principle of the Indian nation-state. Ascertaining survival while working in media houses has only two alternatives—quietly adhere to the status-quo to safeguard one’s existence, or proudly boast about the status-quo as the more utopian existence on the face of the planet, while minting money and converting news into a political business. The Cobrapost sting ascertained how the Times of India group, the India Today group and most other news and media groups in the country are open to payment in exchange for furthering a communal agenda and supporting the ruling party during elections.

In Punjab, the destruction of industry and monopolization of the same by big politically connected industrialists, the demise of agriculture, the absence of government jobs—many government employees continue to remain unpaid, and the added intoxication of the politician-police drug nexus has wiped off any semblance of a hopeful future. It is no wonder that many youth escape the country when they can, because physical, economic or cultural brutalisation is the only avenue remaining. However, at the same time, these issues are rarely reported because many regional news channels are controlled by ruling parties.

Perhaps Arnab Goswami’s horrible selling of conscience and obvious shouting at panelists in the name of debate is a macrocosmic symbol of what is occurring in the Indian state. This is a cynical picture, but it is high time we became realists.

Contributed by Tript

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