It is a global virus and has been playing out almost similarly in other parts of the world.

The rot in Indian media is a part of global degradation in journalism
Voices Media Friday, October 14, 2016 - 15:34

We still have a little over two months left of 2016. Already most bastions of journalism are teetering on the precipice. Fake videos have been aired to get some ‘misguided’ students from JNU in trouble; a journalist working for Zee News quits, protesting against dubious newsroom practices that compelled journalists to deliberately distort stories. An India TV journalist has bravely complained to the Prime Minister about how the channel was compelling journalists to manufacture positive spin about a Prime Minister who is so popular that he does not need this.

These channels are perhaps the metastasis to the carcinoma of nightly English television news whose growth no one noticed till it turned malignant and uncontrollable.

Much time is being spent critiquing the individual anchors and channels and lamenting their partisan coverage of news. But perhaps they are merely a manifestation of a deeper malaise that has gripped the entire system. By removing one anchor or fining one channel, this malaise will not go away. It is a global virus and has been playing out almost similarly in other parts of the world.

Post Second World War, many sovereign nations have come into existence and most have even aspired for democratic political systems. However, few choices for political experimentation were left, other than the Anglo-American definition of democracy and its approved form of incorporating free trade and free corporate media. The free trade and free corporate media worked in tandem to smoothen the path of expansion of global capital.

With the help of the bogey of communism during the Cold War era, the Anglo-American brand of politics could be fetishised as the ultimate path to the democratisation of the newly emerged ‘uncivilised’ nations. The fall of the USSR encouraged some to hail this as the end of history.

“Free” corporate media are an essential part of this formula that has remained the shield and the sword to fell every political alternative that was not subordinate to the cause of the unfettered expansion of global capital. Leaders who were concerned with protecting their national interests were considered a threat to this ‘idea of democracy’ that saw the welfare of unregulated corporations as synonymous with human welfare.

Destabilisation of governments and assassinations were par for the course to protect the interests of the global capital. The history of Latin America, Africa, and the currently unfolding events in the Middle East stand as ample testimony to this. What were considered ‘Cold War conspiracy theories’ are now being confirmed by declassified documents of the US government, in addition to sources like Wikileaks and Snowden revelations.

Throughout this history of ‘global democratisation’, corporate media played an undeniable role by relentlessly chiselling and knocking public opinion into desirable shape. The free corporate media’s goal has been to pick politicians who are amenable to the demands of the expanding global capital, not the demands of the electorate in any country. This perhaps sounds like an unfair accusation but contemporary ‘democratic’ processes unfolding in two countries provide enough evidence.

In a detailed analysis of the media coverage of the 2016 presidential candidates through the primaries up to their nominations, Professor Thomas Patterson of Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy says, Trump is perhaps the first US presidential candidate who is entirely a creation of the media. 

Comparing the earlier elections and how the candidates' media coverage is tied to the amount of money they raise and ratings that they get through the ‘invisible primary’ phase of the election, he says, Trump met neither requirements but got way more free media attention amounting to some 55 million dollars, far outpacing the others in the race. And in almost all the eight major news outlets under study, the coverage either was positive or neutral.

In contrast, the coverage given to Bernie Sanders was negligible and remained meagre even after Sanders began to attract large crowds during the primaries and raised substantive campaign money surpassing other rivals in the race. Bernie Sanders was raising substantive policy issues about banking, taxes, housing, climate change and foreign policy that resonated with the public mood. According to Prof Patterson, Sanders continued to be treated as a candidate ‘most likely to lose’ by the media and given only sparse coverage.

American analysts like Peter Bloom lament, “The country’s political system is increasingly rotting from the outside in and the inside out—a disintegration exemplified by the respective nomination of these two candidates (Trump and Clinton) who represent the worst qualities of modern America".

The veteran journalist, Dan Rather, in a Facebook post likens this election to an inflection point in American history that has the capacity to “explode with such violence and monstrous effect that any semblance of continuity is hopelessly disjointed … And the violence here has been in ripping asunder our self-confidence in our system of government and in the unity we share with our fellow Americans.”

A similar drama has been playing out in British politics. Jeremy Corbyn who displaced the Blairite hegemony in the Labour Party is hounded by mainstream media. This process has exposed not just the Murdoch and other corporate media houses, but the so-called ‘respected impartial media’ like the BBC and the Guardian, who use the same strategies of trivialisation and distortion to challenge Corbyn. Both BBC and the Guardian have already apologised to the Corbyn supporters but continue with their distortions. Ronan Burtenshaw gives an overview of the main stream media’s relentless attack on Corbyn and his policies through persistent distortion of his policy statements.

In both the cases of Sanders and Corbyn, even in the face of surging favourable public opinion, the candidates continue to be characterised as ‘unelectable’ by the mainstream media. Interestingly, this was the export version of Anglo-American democracy that was being imposed on many a country for long and the chickens have come home to roost. A Patrice Lumumba assassinated here, an Allende assassinated there, and the series of regime changes in North Africa and the Middle East that are still unfolding have one underlying theme – that of global capital and its hunger for unfettered access to every market and natural resource. The corporate media have played a significant role in identifying friendly politicians to support and the unfriendly ones that need to be marginalised.

In the USA it does not matter whether the candidate is a Republican or a Democrat. It is whom they serve that matters for the way the corporate media treats them. Similarly, in the UK it is of no consequence if the politician is a Tory or a Labour member. It is which tune they dance to that determines the media’s attitude.

Successive British Prime Ministers, including the latest Theresa May, have paid their respects to the media baron Rupert Murdoch, who controls major influential news outlets in the UK, the USA and elsewhere, who has global interests in shale gas along with the Rothschilds (Genie Gas). There have been widespread protests against fracking by the shale gas industry, and its by-product that has been classified as a grade A carcinogen, by environment groups.

The sensationalised coverage of non-issues also serves the important function of keeping the public distracted from core issues. While the British media was going to town on Jeremy Corbyn not getting a seat on a Virgin train, the government decided to scrap the Human Rights Act to replace it with a bill of rights that arms the government with much expanded surveillance powers.

For the rest, the debate could be focused on the candidate’s identity as black, a woman, support or otherwise for same sex marriages, or whether s/he is a sexual predator or not. Emotive issues trump substantive issues each time in the mainstream media discourse, especially come election time.

Given the unprecedented crisis the world is going through by way of the refugee crisis and the unending wars inflicted on vast geographies across the world, an anti-war candidate like Corbyn will be hounded, and discredited. Sanders, while not really a political radical, is also opposed to wars and has campaigned for better education, health and most significantly, climate policies.

The bottomline of these ‘democratic’ exercises is to ensure the election of candidates most likely to take forward the agenda of the global military industrial interests, while pretending to give popular opinion the right to choose. Increasingly, selected candidates can be found under any political label – conservative, liberal, Tory, Labour, Democrat or Republican.

There is only one core global political formation – military/industry and military industry. That industry has captured the political forces in all so-called multi-party democracies and has taught them to espouse a single/common agenda. The parties and their flags are notional. The media will try to distinguish the colours of the flags for us, but will fail to unravel their common masters.

When you walk into the supermarket, you will see fifteen brands of tea, all made by the same company. Whichever one you buy, it’s the same company that benefits. Indian politics with its so-called multi-party democracy is no different. You have to be a corporate friendly, war-mongering ‘super-patriot’ to be eulogised and built up by the big media, even if you have heinous crimes on your record. Otherwise, you will be viciously mauled and silenced.

With the absence of a sustainable enemy like communism in the Cold War era, 2016 has revealed the real face of global politics. They know we know. The global scale of popular discontent with mainstream media is a testimony to this. It is to be seen if there will be any reasonable response to global public opinion.



Note: Opinions expressed are personal opinions of the author.


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