Emasculating the Media

Many Asian cultures have parables about a frog-in-the-well (kupamanduka in Sanskrit), an idiom that is not as common in the United States. This is ironic, since it is actually a very apt description for the American media, and the role they have played in creating an insular society that is largely ignorant of global events. For a visitor from any land of thriving media, watching the local news in the USA is an exercise in despair as the focus is more on entertaining and extolling the excruciating minutiae of the neighbourhood, rather than a genuine desire to inform the public.

One of the reasons for the abysmal record of the American media to act as independent checks of the political and legislative wings of the government is that they are owned by corporations who owe allegiance to the administration to continue currying favours. This is true both of the print media, where consolidation is increasingly the order of the day, and of broadcast where General Electric, the Walt Disney Company and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp own three of the biggest players. This complicity was exposed all too clearly last month when a Pulitzer-worthy New York Times investigation revealed that the Pentagon had plotted a propaganda campaign with these news corporations to deceive Americans about the status of the occupation of Iraq. Not surprisingly, this disclosure has been all but blacked out by the corporate media.

This failure of the Fourth Estate to challenge the government li(n)e makes one appreciate the vigorous Press that is present in India and the constructive role they have played in exposing scandals and kickbacks that would otherwise never have seen the light of day. An alert and unbiased media raises an awareness among people that is vital for a strong democracy, and the wide variety of newspapers thriving in India is an indication of the health of the state. However, there is also a subtle difference between an impartial reporting of news (performed quite capably by London's free newspapers, for instance) and taking a principled stand against injustice at great personal risk (attempted by the truly great). One cannot but acclaim the role played by The Statesman and Indian Express, in this regard, who stood up against Indira Gandhi's declaration of emergency in 1975-1977 and criticised it in unambiguous words-- the Government retaliated by blocking advertisements and bringing them close to financial ruin, but not once did these two newspapers houses yield to the pressure tactics.

Stories like these are few and far between in today's environment of superficial newsbites and anticipatory compliance, especially in the Western hemisphere which, ironically, has traditionally accused Communist leadership of such nepotism, propaganda and deceit. The recent debate between American presidential contenders is a case in point, where a pair of prejudiced moderators encouraged comments on non-issues for the better part of an hour, while touching upon plebeian concerns only as a rapid-fire questionnaire in the dying minutes. Happily, there is reason to rejoice in the knowledge that vocal viewers rejected this shameful display as an affront to their intelligence and complained in large numbers and in no-uncertain terms, leading one to wonder (with apologies to Carl Sandburg), "What if they called a debate, and nobody came?" The irrelevance and irreverence displayed by many of these so-called purveyors of American media do a grave disservice to the hallowed school of journalism and contribute to the disdain and distrust for mainstream media. This alienation also pushes readers to seek alternative news sources on the Internet that match one's political leanings-- not because these websites respect the sanctity of facts, but because they contribute to preserving one's ideological bubble.

But does not, though the name Parliament subsists, the parliamentary debate go on now, everywhere and at all times, in a far more comprehensive way, out of Parliament altogether? Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all. It is not a figure of speech, or a witty saying; it is a literal fact,--very momentous to us in these times.
Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes and Hero Worship

1 comment:

Ombudsman said...

Would like to set the record straight regarding the Carl Sandburg quote at the end. I assume you are referring to his line "Sometime they’ll give a war and nobody will come" from "The People Yes" (1936). However, the structure of your quote was used by Allen Ginsberg in "Graffiti" (1972): "What if someone gave a war and nobody came? Life would ring the bells of Ecstasy and Forever be Itself again". The line has also been attributed to Bertolt Brecht and John Lennon, and was popularized by the 1970 anti-war movie "Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came?".