People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 21

May 23, 2004

         The Days Of Mediaspeak

  Nalini Taneja


MANUFACTURING consent, desperately. This is what media—electronic and print—seems to be doing; and it wants to do it in double quick time.


The process that Noam Chomsky described so well in his writings, particularly in his seminal study ‘Manufacturing Consent’, has acquired farcical proportions in the attempts by our media to ‘assist’ the Indian people in forming a government for this country. Even as results kept coming in and it became clear the BJP would not form the next government, the media came out unashamedly in defense of continuity—mainly in terms of liberalization policies and the ‘feel good’ of Dalal Street—and in the process forgot to even mention that secularism was an issue and that the forces of communalism had been defeated.




The main campaign of a whole range of the political parties had been that it was in the electoral fray to defeat those who had forgotten the people’s agenda and were promoting divisive and communal forces in order to highjack this agenda. And now these communal and mindless drivers serving liberalization agendas had been defeated, but the media, it seems, had not noticed this. Prithviraj Chauhan, a Congress leader voiced the opinion that Chandrababu Naidu had lost in Andhra Pradesh because he had forgotten that people’s agenda is not the same as that of the small rich sections in this country, and because he had not taken a forthright position on the Gujarat genocide. Both were issues worth exploring. But on the issue of communalism the media maintained such a studious silence that no one who already did not know the connection between the BJP and communalism or that it had been implementing the RSS agenda, would have ‘discovered’ this fact listening in to the TV channels or reading the election news in print media. It was bad, in so far as media coverage of results is concerned.


A mention of Gujarat or victory of secularism, and as if on cue, somebody or the other from amongst the anchorpersons would bring in some inane point to fill the gap. Then of inevitable “commercial break” came in to remind us of all the goodies we would be deprived of if the stock markets are not made happy. Even when a leader from among the parties supporting the Congress kept repeating that their aim is to form a secular government, the media refused very firmly to pick up this word, or even to let a hint of it appear in their discussions and questions to political leaders. That a communal government is being replaced by one committing itself to secularism was not even registered in the media, leave alone supported by it. This is true of all channels across the board and most newspapers as well.


It is the same on the question of Sonia Gandhi’s acceptance of prime ministership. It was all ‘will she or won’t she?’, and will the allies accept her ‘foreign origin’, and what is Sushma Swaraj doing and Uma Bharti saying. Not once did any channel forthrightly bring in the angle of her citizenship rights, or thought on educating the viewership on the constitutional position. This so called ‘objectivity’ did not apply when it came to the question of the stock markets and ‘economic reform’.



In effect the ‘rights’ of Dalal Street’s dalals took precedence over citizens’ rights to election coverage. Having failed to ‘elect’ a government and a prime minister of their choice the corporate barons and their media channels became busy proposing a sort of Team B comprising those individuals and ‘managers’ from within the Congress-led alliance that would give India more of the same market-driven agenda. The media became mediators facilitating ‘face to face’ encounters between potential ministers and market managers, who may on the TV channel itself be pressured into commitments to ‘continue’ with ‘reform’--reform itself being a loaded concept that implied disinvestment, subsidies to the rich and cut on social spending.


Immense pressure was generated for three whole days in which the Indian people were made to believe that any deviation from the old economic policies could result in disaster for the nation, the collapse of the nation’s entire economy, and may be even make the formation of the new government impossible. While we had hundreds of spokesmen from the Dalal Street on view recording their preferences for what they expect from a government, we did not see a single kisan, worker, housewife, student, or middle class employee on the screen. The media has simply forgotten they exist.


The Left became villains who are trying to push India back into the middle ages and chaos. NDTV even had a programme where discussions took place and viewers were asked to SMS on whether the Left will destroy the government even before it takes over. The entire media picked up a few sound bytes from Com. Sitaram and Com. Bardhan and relayed them ad nauseum as if disaster had struck. The nation is reduced to the stock market and the stock market is expanded into the nation before our very eyes, literally. Anchorpersons are pushing the liberalization agenda forcefully, openly, without fear that their viewership can have any other view. Their ‘Nation’ consists of 10 per cent people, or even less.




This brings us to the larger question of media accountability, freedom of speech and right to information in the days of liberalization and religious fundamentalism. The multiplicity of channels and newspaper houses has not resulted in a multiplicity of views being aired. On the contrary the uniformity of views expressed today is unprecedented, the numerous channels from which it is being aired only creating the impression among viewers that if so many, different, and various channels are saying something, it must be true. In fact once results were out, the government owned Doordarshan performed in some ways more objectively.


If the election coverage is any indication one can safely argue that right to information has become more restricted than ever before. The money spinning Channels drown any alternative channels of information even as they flood the mental landscape with their own version of information, facts, factoids, news and views. Freedom of speech has become restricted in so far as avenues of reach and communication are held ransom by the ruling classes.



Finally, one cannot help but remember today what N Ram of The Hindu, so forcefully argued at a Convention some years ago—that media objectivity implies partisanship in favour of what is right and democratic. One cannot be non partisan on racism, on equal rights for blacks, on untouchability and casteism. We may add, one cannot stand on the fence on questions like Gujarat genocide, on secularism and communalism, on policies that lead to poverty and hunger. An objective media has failed on grounds of reflecting the true opinion of the country, and has tried to mould opinion along lines that are anti-people. It has bowed before its advertisement interests. It has voiced the opinion of its owners, rather than of its journalist force which is by and large in a majority happy with the people’s verdict.


‘Hundred hours’ were spent on ‘live’ coverage of election results on numerous channels, yet there was no analysis of the people’s verdict. The most obvious questions were not even asked. Why did the opinion polls and exit polls turn out so wrong? Why did the BJP do so badly in its own ‘laboratory’ of Gujarat? Why did the people vote for Congress-led front when the media had written it off? They kept talking about the ‘unprecedented’ sixty plus seats won by the left, but never asked the important question: why the left has been so immune to the ‘anti-incumbency’ tide? Clearly the worries of the media were not those of the people.


There is a need to ponder today on the question of democratisation and public control of media. Freedom from government control is not sufficient for a free media, and people’s right to information and freedom of speech. Along with BJP-led NDA, the Dalal Street-led media—the so-called mainstream media—has also lost an election, but is in no mood to introspect or seek answers to some very obvious questions.