Originally Published 2012-03-26 00:00:00 Published on Mar 26, 2012
The panacea for the current problems emanating from a one-sided media coverages is public service media, insulated as much from the government as the market, something the Prime Minister promised during his earlier term - UPA-I.
Giving the marginalized a voice
Nothing fuels conflict more than a sense of injustice across a broad spectrum. Of these, some issues have a more powerful emotional resonance than others.

Helplessness, a feeling that there is no redressal for injustice leads to the sort of suffocation which often erupts in violence. If there is a ventilator of, say, the ballot box, the aggrieved vent their cumulative anger by voting out a party identified with injustice. This is what happened in UP.

In India some of this anger can possibly be dissipated by taking the route of the ballot box. But how does one address the grievances of the legions whose plaints are against the international system?

There is no nightmare more scary than the one in which you cannot scream, run or hit back despite your best efforts. This is precisely the sort of frustration, anger, helplessness which grips you when confronted by a brazenly one sided discourse beamed at you by the media. Here you are, a captive audience of a narration which you find totally unconvincing and about which you can do nothing except to vacillate between anger and rage.

There are different ways in which the media impacts. If you are indifferent or neutral or not terribly fastidious about the veracity of a story, your mind is liable to be made up or atleast influenced by the anchor or writer who is dispensing information or opinion. But if you are familiar with a subject you will not accept the version, particularly a doctored version, and feel a quiet anger build up because you cannot rebut.

You would, however, feel your sense of isolation relieved somewhat if other points of view were incorporated into the narrative to give it balance. Hence the need for a public service (not government) media.

During the cold war, Soviet propaganda was countered by the much more credible fare provided by the western media, particularly BBC World Radio. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the western media has allowed its credibility to plummet on two counts.

Since the victory over the Soviet system was wrongly interpreted as a vote of confidence in unbridled capitalism, the media became a creature of the market.

Secondly, from the cold war, the West descended into a series of hot wars. In wars, it is universally acknowledged, the first casualty will always be the truth.

In no sphere has the media done more harm than in its coverage of the war on terror. The world has been divided down the middle between those who choose to believe the media and those who see themselves as its victims. This divide is not only restricted to the coverage of the war on terror.

It has now been carried over to the coverage of wars themselves in the Muslim world: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and now Syria. Ofcourse, the manner in which the war on terror is being fought and covered has divided the Muslim world from the rest. But conventional wars and their coverage have played an even more pernicious role, that of dividing Muslim societies along sectarian lines. In the past five decades who had ever heard of Shia assertion and Al Qaeda’s revenge in Iraq?

Let me revert to my original theme: a sense of helplessness among those whose point of view is never included in the discourse generated in the western media. Does anyone remember the deathly silence in the West after Rev. Jerry Falvel’s post 9/11 rantings?

"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians - all those who have tried to secularize America - I point a finger in their face and say: "You have helped this happen". Falvel was in the company of thousands who saw God’s revenge in the collapse of the twin towers.

Can you then blame Sheikh Salman of the Wafaq party complain in Bahrain: "This kind of nonsense is never placed under the western microscopes. The smallest Muslim misdemeanor is amplified."

Likewise, when did you last hear a TV discussion on the causes and conclusion of, say, the Samjhauta Express bombing? Whereas a Muslim journalist whose guilt is far from established becomes a staple for the 24X7 media. It is this kind of perceived injustice which leaves a community seething with rage.

The panacea is public service media, insulated as much from the government as the market, something the Prime Minister promised during UPA-I.

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)
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