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Intolerance, The Motif Of Our times, And Role Of Media

By Dr Akhileshwari Ramagoud

04 December, 2015

Media, as we all are only too aware, is an inescapable part of the modern life. It not only informs but also influences our perceptions and forms our opinion . The influence spreads far and wide, not limiting itself to only readers of print or viewers of electronic media, through word of mouth, especially in a country like ours where literacy and access to electronic media is limited. A question that is not as old as chicken-and-egg one but still as relevant is whether media influences the society or the society influences the media?

An average citizen blames the media, especially cinema, and cites it as the main culprit in the so-called degeneration of the youth, the erosion of values, spread of the culture of violence, of ‘polluting’ young minds with scenes of love-making and sex and so on. Very often, too much credit is given to the power wielded by the media. The fact is that media is part of the society; it is a creation of the society and naturally, it reflects the society and its weaknesses as also the strengths. The values it promotes are those of the society; its priorities and themes reflect the society’s priorities and themes. For instance, immediately after india gained independence, the themes of the films, the music, the songs all reflected the new nation’s aspirations and ideals, of equality, of removing poverty, of working hard and unitedly, of building an inclusive nation, of the need to end exploitation, and of spreading love for each other and for the country. At that time, India harnessed the power of the media such as radio, and different folk and traditional media to educate people. The newspapers, especially the language newspapers, were not lagging behind in spreading rationality, changing the traditional mindset and superstitious beliefs. Reform of the society was the major aim of the newspapers and magazines especially in various Indian languages in the decades preceding and following independence.

Similarly, when TV was introduced, it was under the government’s patronage and it was used as one more instrument of the state for the welfare of the people. Colour TV was seen as a luxury that the impoverished country could not afford, according to the government and hence, it was avoided for a few decades.

Over the years, India and the society underwent gradual change, their priorities changed, some values were thrown overboard and yet others adopted while several values remained unchanged. Inevitably, the narratives changed as did the discourse, both in the society and in the media. In the process, the society and the media which is an integral part of society (but actually likes to believe it is a separate entity and above society, and that’s a story for another time), influenced each other, sometimes borrowing, sometimes lending; sometimes the media reflecting the society and sometimes, the society aping the media.

Motif of unreason and belligerence

The prime time television channels today, in major languages of the country including English, are setting the terms of discussion of national issues; in fact, they are deciding the issues that should go national. There is no doubt that the news channels today are a major influence on the discourses of public life. Dare I say that these discussions are the motif of our times, the present times, when a small section of the majority community, namely, the Hindus is flexing its muscle, expressing its intolerance and hatred through physical aggression, following the jungle law of might is right. There is no fear of the consequences of its violence, ranging from physical assault to murder, since these violent people have the silent backing of the powers-that-be.

The motif of unreason and belligerence has been adopted as a policy by one English language ‘national’ channel which took it to the top of the TRP charts. And given the paucity of imagination and creativity, given the tendency to copy the ‘success formula’, almost all the rest of the channels have adopted this method of screaming and shouting and drowning out the opponents’ voice in the name of ‘debate’ or ‘discussion’. I watch a few English chanels, some Hindi channels and fewer more Telugu news channels and all of these channels have fallen for the ‘formula’. The success of this programme has prompted several news anchors to adopt its style, each of them trying to out-do the original.

How is discussion conducted by our aggressive anchor-friend who believes the entire nation tunes into his programme every night at 9 pm and that he is the voice of the nation? There’s no nuanced debate, or reasoned discussion. Agree if you are a friend and disagree at your own risk! The programme is of shouting, both by the anchor and his guests. The more the voices, the higher the decibels and louder the cacaphony of voices drowning out voices of reason, the better for the TRPs and for the image of the anchor as a fearless journalist and the channel as keeper of national interests.

There’s no inclination to listen to the other point of view; there’s no tolerance for the counterview. There are no shades of grey: only black and white. There is no middle path. Either you are with me or against me. The tone of questioning is accusatory, the body language threatening, and intolerant of different point of view, bullying, and riding roughshod on those who don’t agree. In effect, dissent is snuffed out. The anchor is all-in-one: the judge, the jury and the hangman!

The worst treatment is reserved for the Pakistani guests, especially the ex-army and ex-government-wallas. The anchor is the last word in zealous patriotism, the most dangerous kind of patriotism. Pakistan is pre-judged and is pronounced guilty, as decided. India of course can do no wrong. It acts only for self-defence. There’s not even a suggestion that India too could be fishing in troubled waters. No Indian guest, not even the sanest or the most objective, will get away with even a hint of sympathy for Pakistan. The take away from the daily nightly rant are insults, heckles, snubs and humiliation.

Yet interestingly, with the VIPs, especially those with Prime Ministerial aspirations, the aggression is replaced with softness, the demeanour becomes almost reverential if not obsequious, and the high-decible voice goes low. This is typical of the bully: insult, humiliate, snub, heckle and shout down those perceived as weak. On the other hand, respect and adopt a demeanour of awe in the presence of those perceived as powerful.

This then is the perfect image of the a section of our people who have taken the centre-stage in the country today with their unabashed intolerance, anti-democratic, self-righteous attitude towards those who don’t agree with their worldview or hold the opposite viewpoint. These people are calling the shots today, threatening to damage permanently all those values that have marked India. We don’t need another brand of intolerance and bullying on our TV screens, night after night, to further dilute and emasculate reason in the people.

Dr Akhileshwari Ramagoud is a veteran journalist and academic. She can be reached at akhileshwari.ramagoud@gmail.com



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