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Media: Aggressive Ethos

Media: Aggressive Ethos

S. Sivadas , Jun 17, 2017


Pandit Nehru famously coined the phrase ‘eschew violence’ during the heyday of the new temples and five year plans, when people had jobs and the universities were vibrant. Now after four decades, we need to invoke the same slogan when things are not so rosy. Now, in the new century when a lot of things have changed for the better and there are no longer famines or pestilences, when the only problems that people face are obesity and diabetes, both life-style related, why is there so much fury when chroniclers make periodic visits to these areas of darkness and write colour pieces for the western liberal periodicals?

Every evening the television channels here explode with shouts and wild gestures and there seem to be imminent threat of physical violence. The channels almost invariably focus on the same issue, and one is amazed at this uniformity. In a country so diverse how is it that the issues are the same. And all have the same topic; violence – campus mayhem, assault on trains, road rage, drunken driving and every other day curfew in Srinagar, assault on foreigners, xenophobia, blatant racist attacks.

If on the rare evenings there are no issues, there is always twitter and someone somewhere is bound to send something outrageous, a holy man in a wayside shrine threatening the entire world of atheists, some obscure priest issuing a threat of annihilation and a prize for anyone carrying out a beheading. Even judges are not free from this infection. If one lordship decrees that viewers stand up when the national anthem is played in a movie that is violent and that makes you rush out, another extols the virtues of bovine dung. Then there are panels that are so concerned about the flora and fauna they issue edicts every other day, to clean this river, to save this dolphin. If such learned judges are so swayed by the things around and come out of their ivory towers, what can one say about the lesser mortals? The academics, most of the time worried about their tenure and Rastogi committee report on salaries, are not free of this virus. They all have turned columnists and write about sundry issues, like the benefits of walking. They also sign joint petitions or return the awards that have been conferred on them.

Subramanya Bharati said famously that though we have 25 languages and numerous dialects the ideas they convey and the messages they send out remain, surprisingly, the same, what Pandit Nehru again called ‘unity in diversity’. This the news channels exemplify. Across the country the same topics are debated evening after evening. All things are thrashed out and problems resolved within 30 minutes flat.

The kind of saturation coverage that we see now, even in the print media, is unique. Sample; a cycle rickshaw puller the other day requested a couple of youngsters not to urinate at the entrance to the Metro station in Delhi. The youths, college students, beat up the rickshaw puller and leave him dead. This is a grim story and in the hands of a Dostoevsky would have made an epic. The national newspapers devote two pages, three pages, with graphics and pictures and interviews with friends, witnesses, relatives, psychiatrists. The national leaders send twitter messages condemning the incident. I don’t know if the international media picked it up or if there were joint statements from academics across elite Western universities. As surprisingly after two days the news vanished from the news pages.

There is a lot of rage these days manifesting in our public spaces and even the privacy of homes and some of them are justifiable. There was the rage over jallikkattu, the bull race practised in some parts of Tamil Nadu, and now there is the rage over cow vigilantes across parts of North India. In elite institutions beef festivals are organized. A dog belonging to a foreign affairs service official goes missing and the TV channels lap it up. The touching story of the dog is all over the social media and finally after it is found 20 days later there is jubilation.

Flannery O’Connor once said that ‘to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you have to draw large and startling figures.’ This is what our visual media seems to be doing day after day. And this is telling on their health as is evident from the graying of their hair and their stoop. This is the kind of high pressure job that takes its toll. Cricket, the game of the leisure class, about lazy men discussing about the pitch and outfield and the weather and what stretched to five days, has now been compressed into three hours. The captain looks fierce and has the gait of freestyle wrestler, and he growls at the mike and makes frightening gestures when a batsman is clean bowled. Nonchalantly a cricket manager says that the Rs. 2-crore fee for a player for a season is ‘peanuts’.

This is a country of great paradoxes. It is not only a country of 23 tongues and one idea, it is also one that speaks in paradoxes, and what Kabir called the ulta bhasa (reverse language). In the epic poem that is a dialogue in the battlefield, the charioteer gives the pep talk to the archer, to goad him to fight. In this is the phrase about the virtues of the ‘speech that is inoffensive’ (anudvegakaram vakyam). If only our media in whatever avatar practised this concept it could make a whole world of difference. But that is not the fashion. One expatriate writer has even invoked ‘the right to offend’ as an article of faith that is the benchmark of honesty and truthfulness. Whereas there is no corresponding right to feel offended. Such are the paradoxes that we face in this second decade of this century.

Sivadas is a senior journalist based in Delhi with more than 5 decades of experience.



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