Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Fourth Estate

Typically every issue has 3 media characters – the aggressor – who pushes the envelope and takes the role of the activist, the silent watcher – who wants to steer away from controversy and report the event as it pans out and the defender – who defends the issue either by being vocal or being silent about certain aspects so as to brush things under the carpet. These roles are played interchangeably by the men of media so as to suit their whims, pockets and favors.

The business of media is thus a business of ideologies more than anything else. Every newspaper is in the end a mouthpiece for what its owners stand for. The attempt is always to influence people. Some like Saamna are very direct and others like a Hindu employ numerous tools like subtlety, silence and misdirection to forward its ideologies. It is very clear how every Murdoch product will always favour war, catholicism, capitalism, anti-abortion, etc.

Atleast there is a refreshing honesty in the way party mouthpieces like Saamna work. There is no pretense unlike the men of English media and also regional independent media. They never claimed to be anything but propaganda machines. The language used by these mouthpieces is vile and extremely biased. The intention is to excite and infuriate the mobs into instinctive, brash actions. It is also a tool to justify its acts of violence against the minority. A healthy mix of rhetoric, passion and romanticism is used to hoodwink the readers into approving its actions.

It is also economics in the end. Whatever content that brings in revenue is published and whatever hampers it is avoided. And no one in this business is “Doodh Ka Dhula Hua”.

There is a certain sameness to the entire media industry today. An Arnab Goswami is no different from a Sanjay Pugalia in the sense that they all are eventually the pallbearers of the same brahminical lineage that 90% of the media industry hails from. It is still the upper caste who is covering the news, It is still the upper caste who is running the news business, it is still the upper caste financing it through ads. And so, while it may seem that it’s the masses who make or break these media entities, masses are the ones who matter the least to them. Masses are a number which comes every week in the TAM data. They don’t bring money. The advertisers don’t want to talk to the SEC C and D of our populace at all. And so the mouthpieces of the SEC A and B continue to grow and prosper. In a country of a 100 crores, the biggest advertisers are actually choosing between a 36 lac publication versus a 72 lac publication so as to maximize reach at the best cost per person.

The above two points of ideology and economics may seem strange bedfellows. They might even seem antagonistic to each other. But the fact is they both have gone hand in hand for ages now. Its what the catholic church does. Its what every Godman and media mogul has always done.

And this is where the role of the new media and the power it gives to the common man is so important and hence so infinitely scary for these merchants of distress. The pro-sumer is slowly emerging and the tenets of marketing are going for a toss.

The flip side is that every two penny bum who has neither perspective nor depth is spewing crap on his blog and taking every discussion – be it on a Pandit Jasraj youtube video or a Cricinfo article on Sachin - to a Hindu-Muslim slugfest where mothers and sisters of all parties are invoked.

The media is a lot of things, but sadly, it eventually is only a reflection of the society we create, we inhabit, he help proliferate.

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