[Reader-list] Fwd: Indian print media:critique

Monica Narula monica at sarai.net
Sat Dec 3 03:13:58 IST 2005

In the way things are, this was forwarded to me. Good comparative  
media reading.


Begin forwarded message:

> It's dressing-down of Indian print media. I mostly agree with the  
> view.

> Cautionary tale By Ayaz Amir (Dawn 2 Dec 05)

> IT takes a good two hours in the morning going through a stack of  
> Pakistani newspapers. It takes about half an hour to go through the  
> leading English dailies that you get in Delhi. I have had to read  
> them — newspaper-reading being a habit that members of the tribe  
> carry with their luggage — these past three or four days (invited  
> to Delhi for one of those seminars...what else?...in which worthy  
> subjects are discussed) — and I can say with confidence that I  
> don’t know what’s happening in the rest of the world.
> You read them and you get to know more than you probably would want  
> to about happenings in the film or fashion industry. But if you  
> want to know a bit about events in the rest of the world you would  
> have to seek some other fountain of knowledge.
> You can’t blame television for being chatty and entertainment- 
> driven because that’s how television sells. But you would expect  
> newspapers to be slightly different. No such luck with Indian  
> papers which, driven by the great forces of the market, have been  
> dumbed down to the point where they are indistinguishable from any  
> other consumer product. Small wonder if they are marketed in the  
> same way and as aggressively as, say, a brand of washing powder or  
> the latest cell phone from Nokia or Samsung.
> There’s no point in singling any newspaper out. By and large, they  
> all look like tabloids out of Bollywood, devoted primarily not to  
> anything as gross or insulting as national or international issues  
> but to some form of entertainment. After the information revolution  
> and in the age of globalization we were all supposed to be more  
> ‘empowered’. Is such dumbing down the new road to empowerment?
> In Pakistan we are supposed to be overly obsessed with politics.  
> Newspapers are full of political reporting. Columns and articles  
> often sound as if they are one long wail about the national  
> condition. Indeed, we have turned moaning and the pursuit of  
> cynicism into national art forms.
> Sounds morbid, doesn’t it? Yet comparing it to the Bollywoodization  
> of the Indian media, the conscious pursuit of blandness and  
> mindless entertainment even by such standard-bearers of the Indian  
> press as the Times of India and the Hindustan Times, you wonder  
> which is the more insidious, such over-the-top passion as to be  
> found in Pakistan or the complete loss of passion, at least as  
> mirrored in the press, you see in India?
> You have to admit, it’s a neat arrangement. The masses are  
> entertained — constant entertainment or a form of it the new opiate  
> of the masses, much more effective than religion in many respects —  
> while the governing class and the great captains of commerce and  
> industry have things their own way at the top.
> This principle the later Caesars observed to great effect in Rome  
> where, when the empire started falling on hard times, they saw to  
> it that the Roman rabble and indeed even the more responsible  
> citizens were kept occupied and entertained by never-ending  
> festivals and gladiatorial contests, so that no one thought too  
> hard about the intrigues and power games being played behind palace  
> walls.
> Do the mass of American citizens think too hard about what is  
> happening in their country or what their country is doing to the  
> rest of the world? That George Bush and the cabal around him — a  
> more dangerous set of characters than the world has known for some  
> time — could drag their country into a war on the basis of the most  
> transparent lies doesn’t say much for the collective intelligence  
> and awareness of the American people or indeed of their chosen  
> representatives in Congress.
> The same Roman principle is at work here, the masses stuffed to  
> overflowing on a diet of consumerism and entertainment while the  
> leaders of government go about their business undisturbed. If  
> questions are now being asked about the Iraq war it’s not primarily  
> because of a rush of any new-found awareness but because the  
> seriousness of the Iraqi resistance is more than anyone in  
> Washington had bargained for, and because the lies of the Bush  
> administration are finally catching up with it.
> I hope I am not stretching the point when I say much the same  
> dynamic can be seen in India where the media has managed to do two  
> things very successfully: (1) brushed some very serious national  
> problems under the carpet, to the point where there is not much  
> national or international awareness about them; and (2) celebrated  
> a story of Indian progress which partly is very real but which also  
> relies heavily on fiction.
> Entire regions of India — UP, Bihar, to name only two states — are  
> in the grip of serious lawlessness and there is not much that  
> anyone has been able to do about it. But sitting in Delhi or  
> reading the Indian press you won’t get this impression. Only when  
> something out-of-the-ordinary happens, a high profile killing, for  
> instance — although in India’s wild east even this is no longer  
> surprising — does it figure in the headlines, otherwise not.
> There is a full-fledged insurgency in the northeast — Mizoram,  
> Nagaland, Manipur, etc — but you won’t get to know much about it if  
> your sole source of information is the Indian press.
> More serious than these two problems is something potentially more  
> dangerous. From the Nepal border in the north right down to Andhra  
> Pradesh in the south, a wide swathe of territory almost cutting  
> through this huge country is in the effective control not of any  
> government, central or state, but the Naxalite movement. This is a  
> mind-boggling circumstance, about 160 districts of the country —  
> the total number of districts in Pakistan being 105 — outside  
> governmental control. But again the Naxalite movement doesn’t  
> figure much in Indian discourse.
> True, India’s stability or integrity is not under threat. India’s  
> very size is the biggest shock absorber of all, its capacity to  
> absorb problems of this nature or magnitude commensurate with its  
> bulk. Still, to insist, or convey the impression, that nothing  
> troubles the Indian heartland is to close one’s eyes to reality. As  
> already stated, the Indian media performs this pigeon act very  
> successfully.
> India is coming of age as an economic power. It is also flexing its  
> muscles as a major military power. We all know the story and the  
> statistics. Indeed, talking to an educated Indian who wears his  
> patriotism on his sleeve (there being no shortage of this kind  
> because being relatively new to high-power status, Indians tend to  
> be touchy about different aspects of their nationhood) one stands  
> in danger of getting an earful of these statistics.
> But it is also a fact that the benefits of growth are not evenly  
> spread, roughly 30 per cent of the Indian population enjoying the  
> fruits of progress while 70 per cent is still trapped in different  
> versions of poverty.
> While the rich-poor divide is true of most societies, the great  
> success of the Indian media lies in obscuring this distinction.  
> Watching Indian TV or reading Indian papers one could be forgiven  
> for believing that the entire Indian population, one billion  
> strong, is living the high life. This feat the media has achieved  
> by trivializing national discourse. The biggest temple of all in  
> India is dedicated to none of the older gods in the Indian pantheon  
> but to the new god of entertainment.
> The cautionary tale is for us as we move forward on the road to  
> democracy (a journey which would be made easier infinitely if  
> Pakistan’s ruling general, fourth in a line of patriarchs the  
> country could have done without, is persuaded to shed his fears and  
> his uniform). If we can get democracy without lowering the standard  
> of national discourse or without the pursuit of trivia, that would  
> be a goal worth striving for.
> Enjoy this Diwali with Y! India Click here

Monica Narula
Raqs Media Collective
29 Rajpur Road
Delhi 110 054

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