Merely days ago, a media outlet mocked a private citizen who was threatened and bullied into apologizing to NDTV’s Srinivasan Jain. The tweet was soon deleted, however, no apology was offered. And today, The Hindu tweeted in support of Umar Khalid. The Hindu wondered how Umar Khalid managed to live in an unsecured state.
The Hindu soon deleted the tweet and tendered an apology.
The inadvertent errors by FirstPost and the Hindu reveal certain details about the ideological leanings and political inclinations of Indian media houses. The Media is often touted to be the Fourth Pillar of Democracy but people often fail to comprehend the full implications of such an assertion. The other three pillars of Democracy are not independent of each other, it logically follows that the fourth pillar wouldn’t be completely independent of influences as well. However, since the Media cannot be controlled through Constitutional means, political parties explore other avenues, one might call them unethical, to exert their control over the media.
One other obvious conclusion people seem to miss is that as the ‘Fourth Pillar of Democracy’, the Media, like the other three pillars of Democracy enjoys political power and are key players in the ‘Game of Thrones’. As the Parliament has the power to Legislate, as the Executive has the power to implement and enact policies, as the Judiciary has the power to award Justice in matters of law, in a similar fashion, the Media holds a particular political power as well. Although they claim to be a neutral ‘check on the government’, in reality, their power involves the creation of narratives and their purpose is to educate people on what the right choices are on behalf of the establishment, which may or may not be the political party which runs the government.
Edward Bernays, the Father of Public Relations, wrote in his book ‘Propaganda’, “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized.” Mr Bernays also remarked in the book, “It is asked whether, in fact, the leader makes propaganda, or whether propaganda makes the leader. There is a widespread impression that a good press agent can puff up a nobody into a great man. The answer is the same as that made to the old query as to whether the newspaper makes the public opinion or whether public opinion makes the newspaper. There has to be fertile ground for the leader and the idea to fall on. But the leader also has to have some vital seed to sow. To use another figure, a mutual need has to exist before either can become positively effective. Propaganda is of no use to the politician unless he has something to say which the public, consciously or unconsciously, wants to hear.” When one analyzes the role of the media in the context elaborated eloquently by Mr Bernays, the nature of the Power that the Media enjoys becomes abundantly clear.
Somewhere along the way, or perhaps it was always that way, the media came to believe that it was merely not enough for them to report facts as they were. They convinced themselves that it was their moral obligation as enlightened citizens to educate the public on the right choices and correct opinions. In other words, the media came to believe it was its duty to propagate what it perceived to be righteous. Thus, they turned themselves into tools for propaganda wittingly or unwittingly and with time their ideological orientation coloured their interpretation of facts on each and every occasion and twisted them beyond all recognition.
Although those higher up in the hierarchy may have been provided with incentives to peddle a certain narrative, the more ambitious ones trying to climb through the ranks were convinced that it was one of their primary duties to guide public opinion. It is not even controversial, most journalists would willingly admit that guiding public opinion is one of the media’s primary objective. But if one were to point out that guiding public opinion involved the use of propaganda and that the lines between propaganda and ‘guiding public opinion’ were blurry at best and nonexistence at its worst, journalists would flinch at such accusations of engaging in propaganda.
The advent of social media has exposed the biases of many such journalists and media houses. The Hindu and FirstPost can continue to claim to be ‘neutral’ media platforms. However, it should be pretty clear to anyone by now that neutrality is a garb under which propagandists shield their narratives. And media outlets may be independent financially but ideologically it cannot be by its very definition and manner of operation.