The cost of taking the MSM lightly

Posted: January 21, 2018 in Media, Politics
Tags: , , , , ,

At the Ek Bharat Shreshta Bharat brainstorming session in Delhi, which I was invited to in December last year, during a group discussion, when I said the Bharatiya Janata Party was taking the mainstream media (MSM) too lightly, a bureaucrat cut me short with these words, “That’s because the MSM has been made irrelevant by social media.”

I was amazed and appalled at his smugness. I wondered if the bureaucrats are aware of the seething anger among the MSM for being snubbed and ridiculed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and abused by his army of trolls on social media on a minute-by-minute basis over the past four years. Do they even know how the media, print, broadcast and online, can control the narrative on any subject of interest to the general public and how it can spin it around at its convenience and a time of its choosing? It seems, right from the letter that was signed by the members of parliaments and people of prominence against the visa to Modi, the ‘award wapasi’, and up to the Padamavat release it has been the media that has controlled the narrative.

It has been the media that has assiduously flogged the disgraceful campaign against the film by the Karni Sena, by going overboard in its coverage. At every step, it was the BJP that took a knock. Irrelevant media? How successful the media is has been proved by the fact that after every such orchestrated attempt, it has the government pinned to the wall, looking contrite and apologetic. As it turns out now Karni Sena wasn’t promoted by the fringe but over eager chief ministers of a couple of BJP-ruled states looking to make political capital only ended with egg on the faces.

As 2019 approaches, there is an unease among the mediapersons, even those who have come round to the fact that Modi is in for the long haul, that he is silent when goons and ‘fringe groups’ allegedly owing their allegiance to the saffron brigade run riot around the country. There is also an apprehension among those who dislike Modi that he could get re-elected and that the win in 2014 doesn’t look like just another flash in the pan.

A senior journalist friend I met in Delhi told me, Modi’s silence acts as encouragement for the goons. She gave the example of Hadiya (Akhila) who converted to Islam to marry a Muslim. Why are the people from the right-wing taking up on her behalf when she herself is not interested, she asked? What happened to the Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution (Protection of life and personal liberty: No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law)? It’s her life so what right does anyone have to interfere? If she follows her husband to Syria and joins the ISIS and becomes a terrorist she will pay for it. Who gave some unknown entity the right to impose their version of the law? And when this happens Modi keeps silent, she said.

In an Islamic country where more than 98% of them are Muslims, imposing your will could work, but not in India where even if 79.8% of the population of India (2011 census) practices Hinduism, there is a sizeable 14.2% that adheres to Islam (2011 census), and 6% practices other religions (Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism and various other indigenous ethnically-bound faiths,. Again, with its 22 national languages and 33 different communities and so many castes imposing one’s will in such a multicultural country could be a recipe for disaster.

The same journalist said, “You condemn Mullahs running countries with their fatwas and their Islamic laws, but you have no problem with a mahant as PM to replace Modi and want India to become a Hindu state? How different are we from them?”

A news anchor I also met the same evening said to me, “Rahul Gandhi is improving” when I asked what Rahul had achieved in 13 years in political life. By the look of things, large sections of the media who despise Modi don’t care what Rahul says or does, just how dumb he is or how dirty he plays, as long as his antics can help in getting rid of Modi – by hook or by crook. Take the most recent incident of his Burberry jacket which costs an astronomical Rs 79,000 (http://www.timesnownews.com/the-buzz/article/rahul-gandhi-indian-national-congress-bharatiya-janata-party-burberry-jacket-meghalaya-shillong-concert-rs-70000-narendra-modi-renuka-chowdhury-suit/194256). Social media was on fire ridiculing the Gandhi scion for his extravagance but did you see too much play in the media about it? Of course not, because everyone just glossed over it and most journalists and media houses ignored it even though it came from someone who spent his holidays abroad but claimed he wore a torn kurta! Contrast that to the furore that erupted when Modi donned the supposedly Rs 10 lakh monogrammed suit. It was presented to him so he wore it and it was later auctioned. Both the issues were not worthy of 5 minutes of airtime, but look how each incident got played.

This is what Rahul Gandhi is so smug about because except for the few who speak against him, the rest of the MSM is, by and large, glossing over every Rahul blooper. And by 2019 it will only get more open and defiant. The BJP and its social media/political managers have a battle ahead.

And there are enough disgruntled elements in their own party who’ll jeer from the sidelines as the Modi/Shah combine do battle alone against the formidable Congress ecosystem. Before that happens, Modi needs to handle the troublemakers and the motor-mouths in his party who are damaging his and the party’s prospects with their indiscriminate utterings and actions. Their two minutes of notoriety is costing the party dear. Like the recent case of the over-zealous right-wing activists who disrupted a Hindu-Muslim wedding even though the families were in agreement.

Then there is the agenda. A couple of years ago, a national newspaper carried this headline “Dalit boy beaten by 4”. Anyone reading the headline would assume the obvious in this day and age. However, the report stated that a Dalit boy was beaten up by four other Dalits. I called a friend in the newspaper and asked why they couldn’t say “4 Dalits beat up boy”. He said it doesn’t sell.

A few decades ago it was common knowledge that if there was a communal riot it usually involved the majority and minority community. Our seniors taught us never to mention either community in a communal strife to ensure we did not inflame passions further. However, today I see news reports that proclaim “Hindu kills Muslim man” I am okay with that because times change and the media need to change with the times. But here’s where the “agenda” coms in. Take the even more recent incident of the young man who was killed by his girlfriend’s family. The headlines didn’t say the boy was a Hindu and the girl a Muslim. Had the genders been interchanged, what would the headline have read? Your guess is as good as mine. There are umpteen such examples. The media is not exactly painting itself in glory with such biased coverage of news, but I think they are beyond caring what anyone thinks of them.

At the same brainstorming session, I also heard thinkers and journalists wax eloquent about integration, and a lot of other blah. My apologies, but it seemed to me that many of them exist in a bubble. I guessed that there were hardcore RSS and right-wing ideologues apart from some journalists and thinkers. Over and over again, they spoke about changing the “narrative”. The problem with that is, you can’t talk of changing a narrative that stresses on winning hearts and making India one, on the one side, and pretend everything is just ‘right’ when goons run amok riding roughshod over people’s ideas and beliefs just because it doesn’t agree with theirs. Or when paid hoodlums manhandle couples or young girls and boys under the pretext of imposing a moral code. Not acceptable. And add to this the frenzied publicity by a gleeful media to motor-mouths and “do-gooders” in the BJP. It will cost the BJP dear by the time 2019 comes around.

Also, to combat the left-liberal ideologues (and they are all over the place), the right-wing needs to come out with a fitting verbal response for every argument, not a slanging match. The right has some articulate speakers and I met some of them at the EBSB meet. There are others I’ve heard and read, but they need much more to engage in a measured debate with the left liberals who have often smoothly taken the debate away from them with ample help from the anchors. Shouting might win you an argument but not the match.

I read recently that the Information and Broadcasting ministry plans to set up more than 60 media units (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/eyes-on-2019-polls-government-plans-over-60-media-units-to-expand-outreach/articleshow/62716129.cms) across the country to strengthen the Modi government’s outreach to smaller cities and rural areas in the run-up to the 2019 general election. It is one of the sensible things being done to combat the left-liberal narrative but it should have been in 2015. But then, Smriti Irani wasn’t the Minister for Information and Broadcasting.

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Comments
  1. abhiray59 says:

    I agree with you. It is true Modi was crucified by a section of media for Gujarat riot. Sine he became prime Minister, Modi Ji has not really been comfortable around media, except a chosen few. Add to this his silence on topics like murder of members of minority community, running amock of Karni Sena etc. Modi may claim law and order is a state subject. Law is taking its course, etc etc. But as leader of India it is his job to uphold rule of law, see why a section of system is malfunctioning. Even applying balm to hurt psyche is inecessary. As much one may use social media, if editors of main stream media are against him, they will never say anything positive.

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