Sunday, 29 March 2020

Media: Manipulative Or Manipulated

Updated: May 23, 2015 1:34 pm

Have Indian politicians politicised the media, or the media power has compelled politicians to keep themselves on its right side, at any cost? Whatever it might be, the general belief is that the unholy alliance exists between a certain party or politicians and journalists or a publication or a TV channel. The freedom of the Press and fairness of the printed news or telecast is thus suspect

A news item in a local paper in Lucknow said that a protest greeted Rahul Gandhi in Amethi and the security whisked him away. This report was neither denied nor reported in any national newspapers nor by any TV channel. It was simply buried.

In India it is alleged that most TV channels and print media bury good stories if they dislike the government of the day. And for the burial they do not charge any fee. But the politicians or parties who are obliged return the favour in many different ways.

This sort of spiking is called burying of bad news (bad for the government) in England. Its simply done by bringing forth a story that compels publications to relegate the bad news to inside pages or just ignore it. But it is burying of good story (good for the governement) that is a norm in India if the party in power is not ideologically on the same wave length as the ‘intellectuals’ and Left-inclined who control the media. The opposition does not have to persuade any publication or TV Channel for the burial of any report highlighting some achievement of the government, its done on an edit desk.

How much discussion was covered on Jan Dan Yojana, an innovative and highly successful scheme of Modi government? Hardly any, and then was any Panel discussion on the Mudra Bank scheme? In fact not many are aware of the scheme. Instead occasionally serious damage is caused to the country’s interest, albeit unintentionally. For instance a TV anchor thrust the mike at a Nepalese woman whose child was buried when theirbuilding collapsed and asked her how did it feel to lose her son. That did not go down well with the locals.

Then the telecast about the rescue operations by Indian teams was covered but not much was said about the Nepalese rescue teams. The sensitive Nepal government asked rescue teams from all the 34 countries to leave. The Indian officials should have been more sensitive to the sentiments of the neighbour. .

There is, in fact, not much room has been left for it, that the present media dispensation just abhors Modi and his government. The newly incarnated Rahul Gandhi who since his return from a 58-day sabbatical has been punching Modi for his alleged anti-farmer policies, has given much glee to the media. They have been covering him extensively. In fact, all the anti-Modi elements are given much space and time. And giving maha-avoid to those who need not belong to the BJP but subscribe to Modi’s policies. It seems with Rahul, media is also rejuvenated.

What would one call this? Say the media has done pretty well. It has been burying the good news with its conveyors. Shoot the messenger sort of thing. Hundreds of thousands heard the questions that were asked to NRIs, standing outside the Madison Garden stadium in New York, while Modi was addressing the NRIs inside the Hall. In the UK, most papers would decline to help the government, but they fall in line when something about the Royalty comes along or some other vital news of national interest to their readers.

The politicians in India have always tried to keep in touch with political correspondents of major dailies. In the mid-50s, old-timers recall that MPs who spoke in Parliament almost pleaded with a Statesman’s Special Political Correspondent to mention their name in his weekly column in which he summarised proceedings in both the Houses. But the relationship was strictly within codes of ethics. The meetings would take place either the MPs residence or over the famous aloo ki tikki and coffee at the Old Coffee House. They were like now. We all remember how the agenda for news was being set between Arvind Kejriwal and the channel’s news editor.

The way a few journalists speak during TV panel discussions, any outsider will consider them to be spokesmen of the Congress. What converts them from a journalist to Congress jesters! This is an example of Media being manipulated. Not by cheque or cash for paid news, but by giving a Padma honour, an allotment of a flat or appointment in a commission or Board. In more blatant conversion fee a brand new car is left at the convert’s house. One hears , instead of cash, one PR man of a tycoon used to buy shirts and other necessities of a senior journalist of a business weekly.

Likewise Murdoch empire was investigated for hacking telephones .Cheque journalism was in the vogue among tabloids. Rebecca Loo who spent a night with David Beckham was reportedly paid over a million pounds for writing or giving interview to a couple of tabloids.

Such cheque journalism is not in practice in India, simply because no publisher is willing to fork out cash. But on an average the British media is fairly cleaner.

Sometimes God or shall we, in this case, say nature helped Modi. Reports of a tragedy buried bad news (for Modi). Here in India such a thing happening is very rare, because the media is largely controlled by the left-inclined journalists and for a major part, congress, said to have socialist leanings, was in power at the Centre.

Ironically the killer earthquake in Nepal that took around 10000 lives according to the Nepalese Prime Minister, was for Narendra Modi, an unsolicited manna from heaven; It buried, albeit for a short while, the bad news about the likely alienation of farmers from the BJP and its government.

The aggressive agitation by the Congress Party led by a fully charged Gandhi who it seems has been primed to taunt and ridicule Modi was buried too by the praise he got the world over for the decisive and swift rescue operation, Maitri, in Nepal. During an interview by BBC, Nepalese Information Minister told the BBC correspondent, “We are totally dependent on India,” to which the BBC man said that India had a very decisive prime minister and a man of action.

So its like one man’s meat is another man’s poison. But coming back to the burying of bad news, Indian government has not developed the knack for burying bad news. The British are experts in this. Examples are many. One morning a news broke that David Cameron had chosen to axe two members of his “vanity staff” after he reversed his decision to employ a personal photographer and camerawoman at the taxpayers’ expense. “In a difficult economic climate, it is perhaps heartening to

hear that Cameron has found both members of staff alternative employment—at CCHQ. Both will now be employed (once again) by the Conservative Party.”

In normal circumstances such abrupt and swift u-turn from the Prime Minister could make the front pages of newspapers, the news that swiftly followed Cameron’s decision meant that headlines will be dominated by the upcoming royal wedding. A commentator suggested that the Prime Minister might have learnt about the wedding announcement prior to the announcement about his sacked snapper, but No. 10 later denied that these reports were true.

The Governments are very sensitive to reports of corruption, like when Akhilesh government succeeded Mayawati’s, over 10000 police recruits were axed on the suspicion that money changed hands while selecting them, this report was denied and papers released that the scandal in police recruitments was once reported when she had taken over. Both news would have been buried in the west.

Another example shows how corruption tales are with great expertise buried. A breakdown of the list showed that the British taxpayer directly paid for 8,841 tickets to allow scores of top civil servants, ministers, actors and business leaders to attend the Olympics and Paralympics .

The overall amount spent – £1.17millionfwas far more than the £750,000 which had previously been forecast by sports minister Hugh Robertson in November 2011. It was spent on 8,841 tickets for the Olympics and Paralympics games.

Analysis by The Daily Telegraph showed that thousands of pounds was spent by the government on free tickets for scores of its ministers to go to events including beach volleyball, rowing, athletics, basketball, handball and the BMX cycling.

However, the figures did not include scores of free tickets given to the Coalition’s most senior ministers including David Cameron, Nick Clegg and most of the Cabinet by Locog, the Games’ organiser.

Imagine Modi and Arun Jaitley doing such a thing. The blood veins of the likes of Arnab, Thapar and Rahul Gandhi would have burst with anger. If Rahul had done it, the news would possibly have been buried.

Another major difference between the Indian and British media is that when there is something that concerns national security or threatens to damage the fibres of democracy the publications do not let their ideology or bias creep in.

But the worst here is that we rarely have clean reports on important matters or individuals. As one put it, reports mean straight reporting. How many Indian media persons swear by it.

And if media can be manipulated in political field, it becomes manipulative in matters of secularism. We quote verbatim conclusion of a detailed study on attacks on religious places. It bespeaks the manipulations by the media. ‘On an average,the English mainstream media reported about 46.25 news articles per incident of attack on Christian places of worship whereas it reported a mere 2.02 news articles per incident of attack on Hindu places of worship

‘Further, the 46.25 reports per incident related to attacks on a Christian place of worship had approximately 80 oblique references to the BJP, Narendra Modi, parliament debate, elections, Ghar-Wapsi. However such oblique references were rarely found in reports related to attacks on temples.

‘According to the concept of secularism as commonly defined and ‘understood, the Indian English mainstream media should ensure that its reportage remains religion-neutral. Unfortunately, as our analysis shows,the 46:2 ratio of its reportage on attacks on places of worship of Christians to those of Hindus doesn’t pass this religion-neutral test by any standards. Therefore, there is very little evidence to show that the mainstream English media is reporting news based on the spirit of secularism it claims it adheres to.’ ‘The same ratio also shows that our mainstream English media is being significantly selective and unfair in its coverage.

‘Highlighting a very tiny number of incidents of Church attacks and giving it frequent and repeated coverage while downplaying the real fact of repeated attacks against temples (almost one temple attack per day), certainly lends itself to the conclusion that the media is indeed creating, shaping, and pushing a false narrative. And damaging the ideals of secularism. It is evident that like our politicians, media persons too are of nowhere the class and character of those after independence. For comparison I will stick to journalists.. Mulgaonkar, Chelapathi Rao…. I have named only two. Match them with anyone today and then we shall compare more names.

No wonder the media has been manipulative and has willingly let itself be manipulated. But it is not the only guilty alone. The other one, you can guess.

By Vijay Dutt

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