The Quality of Indian Media
VS SREEDHARA | New Delhi, February 17, 2012 15:16
Indian Media | quality of Indian media | |
Writing about the entry of FDI in the retail sector and the related issue of food security, Nagesh Hegde, the notedenvironmentalist and Kannada writer, has made a significant observation. In this age of information overkill, paradoxically, the consumer has very little option other than relying on what the producer of a commodity has to offer. Thus, we see people buying food products after reading the content list printed on the cover by the manufacturer. So much for manufacturing consent! This phenomenon can be extended to the way the media operates today. It generates a debate on any matter of public interest, by gathering opinions and comments from different sections of society, thus creating an impression that the analysis offered is free, fair and unbiased. But it is the media that sets the terms of the debate. Take the case of the FDI issue. Every mainstream TV channel and newspaper talked about it at length, providing heaps of information on how it would help or ruin retail trade and benefit the consumer.
There were two major issues that got sidelined. One was whether the so-called benefit to the consumer needed to be understood in the wider context of food security, and health. In other words, the debate lacked a clear understanding of the deeper consequences of FDI’s entry into retailing.
Closely associated with this was the second issue, which completely got lost in the din of a fiery debate. The question of FDI being linked to globalisation. It is obvious that the parties opposing the Bill have no serious quarrel with globalisation as such. If we observe the media debate on this, we can see the terms on which it was conducted was pivoted on such a middle class belief that globalisation is here to stay and, except in some cases, it is actually harmless and even beneficial. Above all, the debate completely sidelined the fact that the Indian state has got into a network of signed understanding with international agencies and, therefore, opposing one such FDI will not do unless one understands the imperial nature of these agreements and the hard truth that what is at stake is the sovereignty of our country.
The quality of the Indian media is thus shaped and controlled by the forces of neo-liberalism, of which they are an integral part. The equation between the two is, amazingly, absolute. One can identify several myths on which both neo-liberalism and Indian media thrive upon. The first of them is the myth of individualism and personal choice which insists that individual liberty can be achieved only if private property and corporate enterprises are given a free hand. The second is the myth of neutrality. It promotes the false idea that key areas such as the four pillars of democracy are neutral and above conflicting social interests. The third myth is related to the idea that conflicts such as the ones related to FDI and food security are merely sociological, and are not related to the questions of political economy. The fourth and most crucial myth is related to pluralism, which perpetuates the illusion of choice and diversity. Thus we see both the neo-liberal world view and the media interest fostering the opinion that pluralism is nothing other than choices available for the consumer. It is an illusion because in spite of having more than two hundred channels, what the consumer finally gets is conditioned by the common material and ideological interests of media owners.