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A large section of the media toes the government line and baulks from asking tough questions.

13/07/2017 8:30 AM IST | Updated 13/07/2017 8:30 AM IST
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Back during the UPA-II regime, Manmohan Singh's government was mired in allegations of corruption. The Commonwealth Games, 2G spectrum allocation and the coal-fields corruption scandals, one after the other, disillusioned the public. Prominent cabinet ministers and those close to the ruling Congress were indicted. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who's otherwise lauded for his personal integrity, was shamed for presiding over the most corrupt governments in decades. The media turned judge, jury and executioner. The masses hailed a truly "independent" Indian press which was fearless in taking on the establishment, albeit a feeble one.

Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan recently said that journalists should sometimes avoid telling the unpleasant truth. She must be happy to see that this is exactly what is happening.

As the unpopularity of the Manmohan government grew, anti-corruption crusaders such as Anna Hazare openly challenged the government and demanded the immediate formation of an anti-corruption authority/ombudsman as a check against future cases of malfeasance. The movement popularly known as the Jan Lokpal movement gathered momentum like nothing before. Many opposition parties including the now incumbent BJP sensing electoral dividends joined the bandwagon for demanding the enactment of a stern anti-corruption law.

But then what happened?

Three years into the Modi government, the Lokpal is nowhere in sight. In the guise of introducing amendments in the Lokpal Act passed in 2014, the government has conveniently stymied the appointment of the Lokpal. With only two years left for the next general elections it's highly likely that the government might just be biding time. The erstwhile anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare has maintained a deafening silence over the past three years. As for others—one heads the government of Delhi and the other bagged the plum position of the Governor of Pondicherry. And it appears that neither of them needs Lokpal any longer; such are the allures of power.

As for the media? Radio silence there too. Ever since the Modi government came into power, the Lokpal is no longer a matter of interest to the media. Has corruption disappeared, making it a non-issue? Not quite, given that we still rank a not very respectable 79 on the Corruption Perception Index. What do we make of the media's self-imposed censorship? How beholden are they to the ruling dispensation?

Over the past three years, there's a new trend of loudmouth anchors hosting high-decibel primetime shows, where the anchor appears to be hell bent on pushing the government's line. These days the government doesn't even need the IB ministry. Some news channels have gladly appropriated its role. Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan recently said that journalists should sometimes avoid telling the unpleasant truth. She must be happy to see that this is exactly what is happening.

Nearly six months after the demonetisation blunder no media house has the gall to openly hold the ruling party accountable.

Meanwhile, though the PM has condemned the recent spate of violence in the name of the cow, nothing seems to have changed. The gau-rakshaks run amok across north India. A Muslim man was assaulted by an irate mob in Dhanbad on the suspicion of carrying beef. A young Muslim boy was recently stabbed to death when an argument over a seat turned into religious slurs. A Muslim trader was lynched to death near Ranchi on the suspicion of carrying beef in his car the day PM Modi condemned gau-rakshaks.

There's a chilling pattern in each cycle of violence—a WhatsApp rumour about someone carrying or eating beef spreads, an irate mob gathers, the "suspect" is lynched. The police are either a mute spectator or arrive theatrically late, usually allowing the mob and their leaders to walk scot-free.

For the past two years, vigilante violence against Muslims has grown to the point that now there's no outrage in the media when someone is lynched in the name of beef. There are far fewer "tough questions", no "summary debates" across the news channels seeking justice for the unfortunate victims. There's an ominous silence, and efforts are made to ensure that such incidents get the least possible space lest the "nation's image suffers".

There's a lot more going wrong too.

A large section of the media toes the government line and serves as an extended propaganda tool for the ruling dispensation.

It's amply clear that PM Modi's pet reform, the demonetisation drive, was a monumental failure. The Parliamentary committee on the impacts of demonetisation has noted that in the process honest, hardworking and taxpaying citizens of India were made to suffer. GDP growth has fallen to a paltry 6.1% over the Jan-March period. The manufacturing sector is in shambles, capital spending is falling and nobody actually knows how severely the unorganized sector that accounts for nearly 90% of the workforce was impacted. There were reports of scores of migrant workers in the unorganised sector leaving for their homes in UP and Bihar as small-scale industries were either forced to shut or work on partial capacity amidst acute cash-crunch across the country. Nearly six months after the demonetisation blunder no media house has the gall to openly hold the ruling party accountable. Instead day in and day out abstractions like "nationalism" and "secularism" are the prime concerns for the mainstream press.

The media is often seen as the fourth pillar of a democracy, and entrusted with keeping a check on the government by asking tough questions on the issues that matter to the electorate. Yet today we live in an age where a large section of the media toes the government line and serves as an extended propaganda tool for the ruling dispensation.

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