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The Media's Obsession With Celebrities
And Ignorance Of The Common People

By Shahidur Rashid Talukdar

24 June, 2011

For the Indian media, only the celebrities are important. If you are not famous enough, your say, your cause and even your life has little news-value for the mainstream media. In India , when a celebrity sneezes, whole media weeps in sympathy whereas when ordinary people die, in protest, atrocities, calamities, or even in state sponsored massacres , it's hardly a news.

Although there have been many such cases in the past of the mainstream media's obsession with an issue involving a celebrity, while being completely tame about serious issues involving ordinary citizens, I will focus on some recent or rather ongoing cases.

India has long been suffering from the menace of corruption, but media's role in highlighting the issue was limited. Only after the famous activists like Anna Hazare sat on an indefinite hunger strike, the media jumped into the scene. Seeing the overwhelming success of the anti-corruption movement, Yoga-Guru Baba Ramdev launched the second phase of the protest on June 4. From amongst millions of his followers, the ultra-famous Yogi, Baba managed to pool over sixty thousand supporters in the Ramlila Ground in Delhi to his cause, which has been upheld by some, while severely criticized by others as noise-creating and impractical.

Irrespective of the pertinence of his demands, which were redundant at best and politically motivated at their worst, the electronic and print media gave him their fullest publicity , until people were literally fed up with the issue. The media did not spare even a moment of the whole protest-Yoga drama from publicizing. But why not the same is true for other protesters in the country?

A day before Ramdev's protest, on June 3, in Forbesganj, Bihar - an eastern Indian state, a group of villagers went to protest against illegal blocking of a road connecting the village to the outside by Auro Sunaram International - a privately owned company, their protest, far from creating the desired impact, had an adverse effect on the villagers. When the state ( Bihar ) police was expected to help them fight against the company, the police played party to the land-grabbing company authorities.

The Bihar police not only acted against the public interest, they cold bloodedly fired bullets on the un-armed villagers and killed five people including one woman and a six-month-old infant and an unborn baby and injured many others . In their killing spree , the police chased the villagers inside their homes and fired at them. But the mainstream media was strangely silent on the whole issue. None of the leading regional or daily newspapers reported the incidence. Only a few online blogs like www.TwoCircles.net , www.Ummid.com , www.indianmuslimobserver.com and Youtube videos conveyed the news to the world. It was only after the sixth day of the incidence, when it became a political issue, the media took interest.

It is being widely suspected that the state government allowed the police to act against people's interest and favor the company's land-grabbing and road blocking operation, although the exact nature of the government's complicity is yet to be revealed. But who is there to raise this issue to the wider world? The mainstream media hardly gave any time or space to such an outrageous incidence of the police's betrayal against its own people. Where is the media ethics? Doesn't such a heinous act deserve a wide publicity, sincere condemnation and a serious media investigation?

This is not the only case of media's apathy towards common people. Unless you are famous enough before the media, your cause - however noble it maybe, will go unnoticed before the media's blind eyes. Our not-so-famous iron lady from Manipur, Irom Sharmila has been fighting against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) , a draconian law which bestows unlimited powers to the armed forces, for last 10 years. What is the media's take on this? A decade of Irom's hunger is not enough to awake the mainstream media, which has largely been quiet on the issue. Why is this apathy? Is it because she is not as famous as Anna Hazare or because the effect of the AFSPA, which has taken away hundreds of innocent lives, is not dangerous enough?

Another such victim of media's indifference is Swami Nigamanand, who died on June 6 after a prolonged protest of over four months for saving the river Ganga the holy river for the Hindus. His death was a national news but his cause, while he was alive, drew little media coverage. Otherwise, he would not have to die such a tragic death.

Be it the poor victims of Forbesganj, Irom Sharmila of Manipur, or Swami Nigamanada the bleak face of Media apathy is same. The only reason, it seems, is these people are not famous enough for the media to take interest. Hence, their death or their suffering is not news-worthy. These faceless people are the real heroes of genuine concerns. India salutes them even though the media may not care.

Shahidur Rashid Talukdar is a PhD student at Texas Tech University, USA. He blogs at  http://glimpsesofatraveler.srtalukdar.com/







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