Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, in 1988 undermined the argument of the role of media as an effective tool to question the official narrative. Chomsky talked of the five filters through which the news has to pass to be served to the populace which include among others; Size, Ownership, and Profit Orientation, The Advertising License to Do Business, Sourcing Mass Media News, Flak and the Enforcers. Though Chomsky was talking about the US media, most of these filters work in the Indian context too. The problems that undermine the Indian media’s role as an effective pillar of democracy are many. Ironically some media channels seem to be a propaganda tool whereby official line is toed every time.
Rather than investigating the truth, the resources are spent in transforming ‘the claims’ into a dogma or alchemy of sorts. This problem stems from the fact that majority of the media channels are owned by politicians and business tycoons who seem to use them to undermine their opponents and promote their own agenda. Another problem is the creation and propagation of fake news. The popular opinion is sensed and fake news is peddled to boost that opinion. Anything that can be used to boost the TRP is propagated. Also media tries to transform the people into ‘sheep’ by catering to their primal emotions of religion, caste and now nationalism. To mask the failures of government, these emotions are fired by fiery jingoistic propaganda and this has had a devastating impact not only on the social fabric of the nation but the economic state too.
Recent increase in mob lynchings, suicides of Dalit’s, and the deepening religious divide are examples of the dark side of politically-motivated hate campaigns. On the economic side, suicide of farmers has seen an increase causing distress in the agricultural sector. And also, the state of employment as shown by the leaked labor bureau survey has painted devastating picture of unemployment which seems to be at a 45-year high. Furthermore, the nature of debates on some media channels is filled with hypocrisy and rants only. Rather than having a fact based debate, most of the times it turns out to be a competition of vocal hegemony between the debaters. It seems that the official doctrine of these media channels is, ‘the louder the better’. Sometimes those ‘experts’ who toe the line of the channel are allowed to speak. Rest are either fired or at best made to shut up. This has been going on for a long time and is not confined to Indian media only as Pakistani media has proved to be more than a competitor in this issue.
In this context, the arrival of social media seems to usher in a new era. Social media has democratized the propaganda space as you only need a mobile phone to voice your opinion. This seemed to be a good thing as many experts were frustrated with the mainstream media and saw the arrival of social media as a boon for democracy. This view has proven to be a false belief as social media has come out as a mixed bag of lies and rumours. Rather than bringing the people on the opposite sides of political divide closer to an understanding, it has created an environment of hate and distress.
The algorithms of most of the social media apps are designed to further our biases; for us to feel safe in our space; to be surrounded by like-minded people. This has led to divide which seems to be widening every passing day. This is evident with the rise of stereotypical terms like ‘Bhakt’, ‘Anti national’, ‘Urban-Naxal’ that try to categorize people into enemy groups creating an atmosphere of hate and gloom. The social media has also provided a better platform for fake news peddlers to do their work that has in some cases led to lynching and injuries. All of this portrays a bleak picture of the role of responsible media. But some mainstream media channels have navigated this web of filters and are doing a very good job by trying to present fact based news. Similarly, social media has also been a blessing for some people to bring to the notice of authorities the injustices that some people are suffering and this has really proved beneficial to our society at large. All this should be appreciated but we need to think of some solution to this huge problem that may break our society into fragments.
As liberals, we believe that unless a person is inciting violence, he shouldn’t be stopped from expressing his thoughts. The best solution seems to counter adverse views with better ones in a professional manner rather than demonizing people with insulting labels. Similarly, to counter the narrative of mainstream media, social media can be an effective medium where facts can be used to oppose the false propaganda by some media outlets.
We, as the responsible persons of this society should verify facts before passing it to other people. It is our moral responsibility to spread truth and work for the betterment of the people. We must shun those people or media outlets that spread falsehood and create an environment of hate in the society. We must question everything that is based on concoctions and lies; look for facts and evidence; don’t fall for ‘left ’vs. ‘right’. May good sense prevail in all of us?
Box: It is our moral responsibility to spread truth and work for the betterment of the people. We must shun those people or media outlets that spread falsehood and create an environment of hate in the society