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Prof. T.K. Thomas
Prof. T.K. Thomas
Opinion

CACOPHONOUS MEDIA IN TROUBLED TIMES!

Prof. T K Thomas

As a broadcaster and media teacher one has tried to understand in certain depth the concept of the spoken language and written language. As undergraduate students we had Bernard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’ as a text. The enthralling lectures by a very well known professor often focused on the way one speaks. One of the things we learned was that speech is “one of the key markers of class and even identity itself”. Shaw’s rather enigmatic character Prof. Higgins could listen to a man in the street and do a social profiling of the speaker. Marshall McLuhan in his seminal work ”Understanding Media” while comparing speech to the written word argued that, “speech is a medium that engage all the senses while the written word does not.” Aristotle’s ‘Poetics’ speaks about three parts of theatre as Opsis [color] Melos [form] and Lexis [speech]. In all forms of speech, formal or informal, we find these theatrical elements which have an underscoring of all human emotions.

The above observations are meant to highlight the spoken word and its effective use in our political discourse today. If we analyze what our leaders on public platforms or the ‘spokespersons’ in television discussions or ‘shows’ speak, it amply reveals that many of the politicians can stoop to guttural levels. Most of the anchors and reporters are completely one sided or partisan obsessed with one party or the other; this goes against the grain of media ethics.

Think of some of the politicians, big or small; they have no qualms in abusing their opponents in the most intemperate, boorish if not vulgar harangue. The abysmal quality of the speech of the politicians cutting across party lines, has not even excluded those holding constitutional positions. The spokespersons of major political parties with honorable exceptions, in fact have carved a niche in speech marked by open abuses to double entendre, innuendoes, satire and ridicule. Their opponents would often beat them at their game in animated discussions. Television news channels by and large indirectly encourage such on- air duels. In fact this is the hallmark of television debates which are nothing short of vocal slugfests. Old timers recall the speech of the tall leaders of yester years as dignified, devoid of profanity, vainglorious bombast and above all personal attacks against their political rivals. For them facts were sacrosanct and never gave unverified details to berate their opponents. The quality of leadership and the overbearing power of the media, especially television, and various social media are considered to be some of the reasons for this observable fall in the standards of political discourse. After compiling a few obnoxious statements of some of our leaders cutting across party lines without naming them, one was in a dilemma whether to carry it or not as by repeating them one too will be joining the crowd. However as an illustration of the falling standards of political discourse here they are:-

# Referring to repeated instances of rape, “Boys will be boys, they commit mistakes”.

# “Politics is in your shirt, in your pant.”

# “….Is like a scorpion sitting on Shivling who can neither be removed by hand nor by the shoe.”

# “Would you take sanitary napkins soaked in menstrual blood into a friend’s home? So why should you take them into the house of God?”

# “When there is no electricity, there is nothing else to do, but produce babies.”

# “Figure conscious girls diet, thus Gujarat has a malnutrition problem.”

# “She has zero tolerance towards terrorism, despite being a woman”.

# ”Ye 100%tunch maal hai”[she{ a co worker} is 100%desirable object/pure item]

The intemperate comments by some of the senior politicians are mostly extempore. By the time they realize the impact, many of them deny their statements or say they have been misquoted. The problem is that they advertently or inadvertently use one of the most dangerous weapons in the world, the tongue. It can make or break relations at the individual levels. It is because of insinuating, ridiculing or demeaning comments by politicians that ultimately create controversies and confrontations. The media instead of underplaying such comments further blow them up and keep the controversies alive.

With the broadcast news industry mostly owned by big industrial giants, they are able to tremendously influence public opinion. Among the various theories of journalism is the ‘Agenda setting Theory’ which is not discussed here academically but in a simple way without being too pedantic. What has happened is that, today, it is the media that decide the issues before the people and would influence public perception and opinion. The danger is that issues that really concern the average citizen with a bearing on his life may be ignored. Instead, a partisan attitude with their own agenda of promoting their political ideologies or commercial interests are pursued.

The coverage of the recent events following the heightened tension in our borders with Pakistan raises questions about how objectivity is a casualty. Only the electronic media could give ‘breaking news’ early morning on what happened in Balakot. It was all about our Air Force going deep into the Pakistani territory and bombing the Jaish e Mohammad terror camp there. It was highlighted that 350 terrorists were neutralized in the attack. Opposition parties lauded the efforts of the Indian Air Force and interestingly, not the government. The ruling party and the government had made it clear that our armed forces would retaliate and it was a promise kept. Pakistan too threatened retaliation and early last week launched an air attack.

Now comes the role of the media; a majority of which supported the government who projected a so called ‘patriotic/nationalist point of view and a few others questioning the government. Sadly, the government and the opposition parties after initial bonhomie started articulating almost entirely differing points of view. After the Pulwama massacre on 14th February the government called for an all party meeting on 16th February when there was a near unanimity among all parties to support the government. This meeting was presided over by the Home Minister.

Then came the allegation that the ruling party was politicizing the war like situation and was utilizing the martyrdom of the armed forces for political gain. 21 opposition parties organized a meeting on 27th February and demanded another all party meeting presided over by the Prime Minister. The joint statement read out by the Congress president was not exactly music for the ruling party and the government. “The parties expressed deep anguish over the blatant politicization of the sacrifices made by our armed forces, by the leaders of the ruling party. National security must transcend narrow political considerations.”

The government and the section of the media questioned the nationalism of the opposition parties. Some of the media raised questions on various claims of the government about the number of Jaish terrorists killed in Balakot camp. Ruling party leaders especially its president said that 250 terrorists were killed in the pre dawn attack by the Indian Air Force. Some of the channels and opposition parties asked the BJP chief to reveal the source of the number. The Air Force chief stated that it was not for the Air Force to count the number of terrorists killed as their job was to bombard the targets assigned to them. A Union minister said that the number of terrorists killed was not important but the message to Pakistan was. The ruling party and the opposition disagreed on almost everything and predictably, the media projected views according to their political allegiance.

Same thing happened to the address of our Foreign Minister at the inaugural session of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Abu Dhabi on March 1, 2019. The ruling party and the government took the credit for the rare honor to the country for being invited, but were reticent to the OIC resolution condemning “atrocities and human rights violation in Kashmir” and dismissed it as an ‘internal matter’; the opposition Congress said that” the government sold out national interest by participating in the OIC meet”.

Similarly the ruling party is attacking the opposition for quoting foreign media questioning the veracity of the killing of large number of terrorists in the Balakot attack with the Union Finance Minister stating that “opposition remarks are hurting India’s national interest.”It is unfortunate that the ruling party and the opposition are divided at this crucial juncture of our history. The media would continue to project a divided nation with the general elections a little over a month away. Let’s wait and watch, who would cash on nationalism and patriotism in the clash between what a senior journalist calls “a fight between an event management company and an elusive rainbow coalition of parties opposing each other”!

To conclude it is considered appropriate to quote Gandhi ji who wrote the following words long before the advent of commercial newspapers, television and of course social media. He was much ahead of his time! This was carried in the Young India issue of 12-5-1920:-

“The superficiality, the one–sidedness, the inaccuracy, and, often, even dishonesty that have crept into MODERN JOURNALISM, continuously mislead honest men who want to see nothing but justice done.”