[Reader-list] The Press: The Enemy Within (New York Review of Books)

Gora Mohanty gora_mohanty at rediffmail.com
Thu Dec 29 22:05:17 IST 2005

On Thu, 29 Dec 2005 Ravi Sundaram wrote :
> The continuing saga of the scandal of the US media. Our own media
> in India is probably worse, where the links between money, power and 
> staged media events is more than ever before. What is common to the
> pre-war US media and its current Indian counterpart is a certain 
> smugness and triumphalism. Some day the main new here will be the 
> scandal of the media industry itself.

Thank you for the long and interesting article. From what I see, the
problems with the US media pre-date the latest Iraq war. The TV news,
which is where most Americans get their news from, is outrightly
sensationalistic. Complex topics are boiled down to a simple,
soundbite-friendly storyline, which is persisted with even in the
face of contradiction. Thus, trangsressions of the US military can
never be questioned, except as anomalies, or as being due to the fog
of war. I still remember the sheer exultation on the faces of the
presenters of an oft-televised story in the first Iraq war, regarding
camera footage from a warplane showing a smart bomb being guided down
the elevator shaft of a hotel supposed to be housing the heads of the 
Iraqi war planners. It was about at the level of kids playing a
video game. I supposed it escaped everyone's attention that there
were real people, almost certainly including innocents, dying at the
other end. As long as it is non-American citizens dying in a remote
country, with only a sanitized version of events percolating into the
mainstream living room, it can all be dismissed as collateral damage.
I am amazed at the fact that till recently, the mainstream press, and
not just in the US, did not even seek to challenge the assertion that
civilian casualties do not need to be counted. Coverage lurches from
one mega-story to another, with little follow-up coverage once people
get tired of the hype. Who now remembers Terri Schiavo, and Lacy
Peterson now that American media is focussed on Natalee Holloway?

  However, I am sure that worse things happen in India everyday, and
go unreported. The TV media seems to be following the lead of US
channels in breathless sensationalism. While there are still a fair
number of good newspapers in India, one can see the trend towards
increasing fluff, with some newspapers, like the Telegraph, being
unabashedly lurid. In the recent execution in Kolkata, the Telegraph
carried a series of tasteless stories, culminating the day before
the scheduled election with a front-page picture of the cell block
from the outside, showing the site of the execution circled in red.
Predictably, a few days after the execution, there was a mea culpa
article lamenting the sensationalism of the coverage of the
execution in the press. And, this from the newspaper leading the
parade of yellow journalism.

  Nor am I hopeful that this trend is going to change, as when it 
comes down to it, news media are only purveying what people want to
hear. It is easier to get all enraged about the exposes made by yet
another sting operation on our corrupt politicians, while it is
forgotten that those caught with their hands in the public till in
the past have yet to receive any meaningful punishment. For someone
seeking better access to facts, the only solution is to seek out
alternative news sources. The Internet is a great resource
for this. Though one needs to skeptically filter a lot of the 
material, a clearer picture can emerge from these sources.

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