Is the media manufacturing middle-class dissent?

21 August 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from Delhi: The media coverage of the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement, like the movement itself, is a story in two parts—and both show the perils of the watchdog becoming the lapdog in diametrically opposite ways.

In Act I, Scene I enacted at Jantar Mantar in April, sections of the Delhi media unabashedly played along with the establishment in a “crude and disgusting character assassination”, discrediting civil society members in an attempt to strangulate the joint Lokpal drafting panel, without  showing any remorse.

In Act II, three scenes of which have been enacted in the past week at Tihar Jail, Chhatrasaal Stadium and now the Ramlila Grounds, there has been no need to invoke Armani and Jimmy Choo, after the government’s spectacular cock-ups at the hands of high-IQ, Harvard-educated lawyers who recite nursery-school rhymes to wah-wahs from unquestioning interviews.

On the contrary, it can be argued that the pendulum has swung to the other end this time round.

The Times of India and Times Now, both market leaders in number termshave made no attempt to hide where their sympathies lie in this “Arnab Spring”, when the urban, articulate, newspaper-reading, TV-watching, high-earning, high-spending, apolitical, ahistorical, post-liberalised, pissed-off-like-mad middle-class gets worked up.

When the market leaders go down that road, the others are left with no option but to follow suit.

Obviously neither extreme can be the media’s default position. However, unlike last time when there was little if not no criticism of the “orchestrated campaign of calumny, slander and insinuation“, at least two well known media figures  have found the courage to question this kind of wide-eyed, gee-whiz reporting.

Sashi Kumar, the founder of India’s first regional satellite channel Asianet and the brain behind the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), in Outlook*:

“In the race for eyeballs, a section of the media—some TV channels in particular—give the impression of sprinting ahead of the story and dragging it along behind them. What defies imagination, even as it stretches journalistic credibility, is that the messengers become the lead players, directing the route the story will take, conjuring up twists and turns where there are none, and keeping the illusion of news-in-the-making breathlessly alive….

“The relationship between such media and their essentially middle class consumers is becoming uncomfortably incestuous. When respondents cluster around a camera for a vox pop, they are not so much required to offer their independent view on an issue as add to the chorus of opinion orchestrated by the channel. A photo op masquerades as a movement. Dissident voices get short shrift. It is more like a recruitment drive than a professional journalistic exercise to seek and purvey news.

“Increasingly, the channel’s role seems to be to trigger and promote a form of direct democracy by the middle class. Politics and politicians are routinely debunked; even representative democracy doesn’t seem to make the grade.”

NDTV group editor and star anchor Barkha Dutt too strikes a similar note in the Hindustan Times:

“Critics of the Hazare campaign have questioned the media narrative as well, accusing wall-to-wall TV coverage of holding up a permanent oxygen mask to the protests. It’s even been pointed out that Noam Chomsky’s scathing commentary on the mass media -‘Manufacturing Consent’ would be re-written in TV studios today as Manufacturing Dissent.

“But again, if the TV coverage of the protests is overdone, it only proves that the UPA’s perennial disdain for the media — and the diffidence of its top leaders — has given its opponents the upper hand in the information battle. There is something so telling about the fact that 74-year-old Anna Hazare made effective use of the social media by releasing a YouTube message from inside jail and the PM of India’s oldest political party is still to give his first interview to an Indian journalist.”

*Disclosures apply

Photograph: Besides temporary studios set up by almost all the news channels, nearly a dozen Jimmy Jib cameras (swinging cameras on cranes) hover over the heads of those assembled at Anna Hazare‘s fast at the Ramlila grounds in New Delhi on Friday.

Also read: The ex-Zee News journo on Anna Hazare team

Ex-Star News, ToI journos on Anna Hazare team

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6 Responses to “Is the media manufacturing middle-class dissent?”


  1. I could not comprehend much of the above post. Could this be high brow writing? For some criticizing Anna is fashionable. Criticizing the Govt is something anybody can do.

  2. Venkataraman Ramamoorthy Says:

    Anna Hazare has become, unfortunately, a media creation, though his motivations and intentions are noble and well-meant. A feeling is unmistakable that a larger-than-life image has been thrust on him by the crazy Arnab gang. The moment Arnab and company finds Anna Hazare has outlived his utility, they will drop him like a hot potato. Contrarily, Mahatma Gandhi was not a media creation. The Mahatma survived because the kept a decent distance from the Newspapers and the captive Radio of the Govt./V.Ramamoorthy, Chennai.

  3. Law of Omerta Says:

    Modern media = Bollywood. Both are works of fiction.

    After seeing the hysterical coverage of last few days, I can only say that media is in need of even more reform than the political class.

    I am really sorry to say this but some really powerful folks in the media have started behaving like demigods, they think that they can manufacture news.

    This is not the way events should be covered. All aspects of the story should be presented. By what criteria are they saying that creation of a new Lok Pal will solve the problem of corruption in an instant.

    The corruption in India is due to the fact that our officials enjoy too much power. So there is need to cut down on this power. But the Civil Society wants to create a new organisation with unimaginable power. How is this going to create a corruption free country?

  4. Ravikumar Says:

    Its very sad, that in nation like India, people believe whateevr media says.They never question the motive or veracity of the reports. Anna is a very normal villager, now due to the media coverage, Kran bedi gets the audacity to call him India!Like DK Baruah called Indira is India and India is Indira, during emergency, this lady calls a man as India.Hight time, India boycotts the shoutng arnab brigade…

  5. Neeraj Says:

    Media creation bull****.. Agree media has a role to play, positive or negative, depends, but that is so in every other case as well. Governments, law enforcers, politicians, celebrities, who not tries to use media to theiri advantage dependant ofcourse on how much willing a particular media house is willing to get used. But saying that Anna is just a media creation is crap. Every Indian vows by the fact that corruptions is eating away India and Indians, and now when someone out of his sheer guts has amassed all the public support against the apathy of ruling class, there are still people criticising him…insane, habitual critiques they are – or is it yellow journalism, if my understanding of the term is right. Or maybe govenment is indulging in backstage tactics – of give and take, you know what I mean, to veer the media, towards its own corrupt interests, I say this because there is perceptible difference in media overtures, in last 2 days. CNN-IBN, pro-Sonia, all knows was anyways trying its best within moral boundary to flay the people movement, but now I see Star News and Times Now, also to shift their stands. Alas, power, money and greed can do anything!!

  6. omsherryom Says:

    the ‘intellectual’ class or so called, are mesmerized how they not get soooo much support as anna…how come media started following Anna and no one is following them! How lakhs have gathered throughout India. Surely it might be claimed that they are on anna-board because of to-be in media craze but genuine love and support for Anna cannot be defied or defined by a logic… These intellectuals and politicians are seeing their fiefdom in trouble and would throw any logic around to distract and dilute the support for Anna…


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