MediaInterrupted – Foxification

ImagePicture Courtesy: Cartoonstock.com

     As the election coverage by the media draws to a close, it is but pertinent to raise questions about the quality of discussion that was on offer on the televised debates (Times Now and Arnab Goswami merit a special mention – replacing NaMo chant in favour of ArGo as counting day drew nearer). Hardly worthwhile, is my assessment, in terms of core issues affecting the country and positively embarrassing in the way the news channels projected their own agendas. ‘Development’ was uttered unanimously, but adequate amplification of policies or strategies put forward by the warring factions in their manifestos, was seemingly lacking. “They did it wrong; we’ll set it right – was the only chant that could be heard from the puppets on display.”

I have a few theories about why this may be so.

1. Hijacking of the ‘intellectual capital’ by the adversary may be one of the reasons – Intelligence and commonsense may be a domain of the few in national polity, but such insecurity is ludicrous. And, if manifestos are indeed ‘transplantable’, then one may conclude that the ‘ideological’ divide is rather superfluous – resting on simplistic assumptions and populist sentiments. It is akin to justifying the ‘lack’ of developmental push during the final years of a government’s tenure on the basis of potential benefits that the opposition may claim if elected to power, owing to the long gestation periods involved in national projects. On an aside, I recollect an earlier incident when a minister, when asked about the poor state of infrastructure development in the Northeast, claimed that, “the better the basic infrastructure is, the easier it will be for the Chinese to invade us”. Astounding logic justifying the zero-sum rationale in developmental politics!

2. Restrictions in directing the activities of the civil servants, the ‘Yes Minister’ phenomenon – This seems to be a logical explanation, considering the observation that irrespective of the political flavor of the governing members (‘left wing’ or ‘right wing’), ultimately everyone tends to gravitate towards the moderate ‘centre’ when in power. This would also seem to justify the hollow ideology of the political parties covered previously. An idea may bring one to power, but maintaining power requires a lot more. The Spoiler is powerful indeed!

3. A general supposition that the Indian public does not need to be exposed to the nuances of policy – Considering the quality of material one is exposed to through the print media, it may be fair to assume that the media houses associate their idiot-box activities to suit the instant gratification needs of a certain quarter of the public. When the ultimate judgment relies on quantity (ratings), any number of reasons can be used to support the argument. Such ‘foxification’ of India’s news media has probably contributed to the sensationalism that pervades most television news networks today. John Oliver describes this aptly at: http://news.scroll.in/article/663108/US-comedy-show-host-John-Oliver-takes-a-dig-at-Arnab-%28and-berates-the-US-media-for-ignoring-the-Indian-polls%29

Earlier, I shared this link on FB with the enjoinder, “That guy reminds me of John Stewart…I don’t care who becomes the PM, but I sure would like to know when we’re getting our own Johns!”. If the present trend continues into the future, as it is likely to, I hope to see John-styled humour introduced at some stage into the discussion.

4. Maybe the media moguls and political pundits don’t have the inclination to pursue a comprehensive analytic line of reasoning – for reasons ranging from lack of politically-connected subject matter experts (so called technocrats with a role of advising the government) or due to concerns about viewership and ratings. Why is this so?

The former could be due to the difficult equation between the political class and the media, and also the narrow subject-matter expertise found in political circles – mainly drawn from the fields of law, journalism and amongst the bureaucracy. Lateral representation by Technocrats is likely to mitigate this to an extent, but it remains to be seen if the incoming government favours this.

In the latter case, the power of ratings is well understood. Yet, given the performance of the electorate in the recently concluded polls, it is evident that the collective conscience of the country knows how to rally behind a powerful idea. That they also recognise rationality and pragmatism is for time to tell. They may not be experts in the sense of the word, but they may be relied upon to reliably distinguish between the relevant and the irrelevant. While there may well be other reasons to justify superficial, irrelevant debates, the media may do well to recognize the phenomenon of erratic mood swings associated with the easily-wearied Indian television surfer.

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     Picture Courtesy: Cartoonstock.com

     Introduction of intellectual variety in the form of comprehensive analytics – whether in the form of formal debates or satirical humour may in fact open the way for an informed national debate passing down the telly-tube to the minds of a revitalized and empowered public. This low-hanging fruit may be on the verge of ripeness. First movers are likely to enjoy enormous advantages if this were to be delivered to the hungry audience.

Lest it be forgotten, this reasoning rests on the supposition that the media is genuinely independent and fiercely competitive as it is made out to be. Whatever the case may be, future developments are sure to enlighten us on the workings of the media and their equation with the political class.

Jillaine, the next one is for you. Looking forward.