‘Modified’ media have done no good to India or Indians

Worryingly, most Indians do not seem to realise yet how the various media platforms they rely on for news and information actually operate

 ‘Modified’ media have done no good to India or Indians

Mrinal Pande

The Germans have one word for it, Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. India’s democracy faces a fascinating moment when to both Narendra Modi and the media entrepreneurs, this spirit of the times, suddenly and without clear reason, is reflected in a perfect connectivity with the masses. Both the leadership and the media vehicles used to attain this end appear more and more over-programmed, furiously aggressive and, more often than not, undemocratic. Modi and the media seem to have pushed back logic and the larger ethical questions for later.

Worryingly, most Indians do not seem to realise yet how the various media platforms they rely on for news and information actually operate. But the sizeable media following, Prime Minister Modi and his party have by now built, gives them two distinct advantages: the speed with which they can reach out to the people over the heads of professional news editors and the ability to circumvent the usually better informed traditional news media and set their own agenda.

Connection is the buzzword in Modi-fied media. And though the Prime Minister has steadily refused to engage with the media in pressers, authorised Modispeak keeps circulating in the larger part of our media, especially the language media. It ensures that fast flowing and furiously consumed information gets accepted unquestioningly by a large chunk of the people despite the relative banality of the ideas communicated. The Prime Minister has steadfastly denied the media the chance to quiz him over his policies but grants interviews from time to time to carefully chosen media outlets and individuals with proven government-friendly credentials. Watching Modi being interviewed by his fawning interviewers, one is likely to be disappointed if one was waiting for the spontaneous verbal wit, the controlled and articulate sarcasm of an orator who boasts of a 56 inch chest in mega public rallies during elections.

Most of his interviews have circumvented thorny issues like the rising levels of unemployment and communal tension. Instead, the focus remains on his interest in revolutionising India and making it a superpower. One interviewer went to the length of implying that he has a fakir-like air about him (Ek Fakiri see hai aap mein). Care is also taken that he sends an occasional shiver down the national spine by underscoring his deep-seated desire to take revenge (badla lena meri fitrat hai!) on all his detractors who have questioned his Deshbhakti, his Hindu maleness (Purshatva) or his intellect.

To media persons who grew up in the midst of the heady and liberating media environment in the early 80s, this carefully airbrushed image of the PM and his talk about Bharat ek Khoj is increasingly looking fake, amidst confirmed news of a deep decline in India’s economic and social indicators. It appears more and more that the Modi-fied media (pun intended) is trying to create a Noosphere: an internet with one mind, a uniform environment in which his concept of a Hindu nation vacuum cleans individual identity and firmly denies the viewers/listeners/readers any chance to make their own choices.

The frequently expressed derision and hostility against the media has unfortunate repercussions. According to the latest international report (Reporters Without Borders) on media safety, in 2018 alone, six journalists were killed in India and many more faced assaults and prison sentences. With that escalation, India’s ranking vis a vis the safety of its journalists, plummeted from 140 to 180. This sort of threatening atmosphere around the free media leads to deep distortion of news and opinions. It also sends a message to honest media practitioners that the State no longer thinks that freedom of expression and the ever-questioning individual mind remain our best and biggest defences against the subversion of democracy, its media and its citizens.

(The writer is Group Senior Editorial Advisor at National Herald)

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