The Global Digest

Asia Pacific

Why Propaganda passes as News in (Indian) Media

Special Contribution By Pushkar Raj

Social media in India

It is a common refrain in the country that news has declined in content and quality. Social media is full of debate on the issue since innovations like the paid news and scandals like Radia tape. A common thread of concern is that the media is scandalizing, preaching and serving the masses a low comedy in the name of news than informing which is its primary task.

How has this de-generation come about?

In a democracy News opens up a reality to people on which they can act. The journalist’s task is to inform about that reality by presenting facts from more than one perspective so that people can form an opinion and choose their rulers. However, lately the news is being prevented from reaching the masses. This is done by stopping the journalist from gathering and presenting the news.

The data compiled by Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) suggest that since 1992, 71 media persons have been killed in the country with hardly any punishment. A report by media watch website the hoot suggests that in 2010-16, 23 journalists have been murdered. There has been only one conviction in which an appeal is pending. Apparently, central and state governments are not protecting journalists and once harmed they government does not take interest in ensuring justice thus encouraging their purge. Ironically, journalist is merely a messenger going about his duty. Shooting the messenger was never so true than now.

Furthermore, governments do not want news to reach the masses therefore using defamation laws against journalists. For example, during 2001-6 Jayalalitha government filed about 120 defamation cases against media. The DMK government that followed her was no less better filing over hundred defamation cases against the media and the present government recently arrested a cartoonist for highlighting plight of poor at the hands of money lenders in rural Tamil Nadu. Big business is another enemy of news and the journalist. Pranjoy Guha Thakurta had to resign from the editorship of the Economic and Political Weekly , under the threat of a legal suit. He has also received defamation notices from lawyers of Mukesh and Anil Ambani led Reliance industries after he self published Gas Wars: Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis.

Corporatization of news

Corporate treat news as a commodity that can be made packaged and sold defining news upside down. On the contrary, news cannot be manufactured; news happens. The major task of corporate media is to suppress the news as it happens and replace it with manufactured commodity in that proportion and serve it to its audience that buy their other products too. Corporate control and regulate the flow of the news in the country now. Mukesh Ambani led Reliance group has taken over network eighteen group of companies and has invested about $ 6 billion in media sector. BCCL that runs Times group is already nearly 1.5 billion conglomerates thriving on its innovation of the paid news.

Star news is controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s century fox that is fourth largest media house of the world and primary source of news for Donald Trump, who some suspect, is the ‘liar in chief’ of the modern times. With NDTV and Living Media, that broadcasts Aaj Tak and publish popular weekly India Today in several languages, also receiving significant corporate investments news gets sanitized off purity and sensitivity when it reaches television studios. It turns into a propaganda with an agenda.

Thus, with radio news and Doordarshan (public television network reaching 596 million of 1.3 billion) under government and rest under corporate control, 16000 times rise in fortune of the son of the ruling party chief in a year is not a news. Instead, for private major TV news channels the exploits and wisdom of convicted and current babas, Karva Chauth, Shakahari Gurugram is the news. This media when tasked to cover social issue such as infants’ death in hospitals, or farmer’s suicide in rural India present a spectacle similar as shown in popular Hindi movie Peepli Live.

Another disturbing trend in India is tendency to defame and fracture the media as an institution by its own ilk. This is borne out from the headlines like, ‘Amit Shah’s son to file 100 crore defamation suit against website’ in a prominent newspaper. The headline is disingenuous as it imputes that the news portal’s report is ambiguous and deserves a suit. This is a case of corporate media demeaning independent media.

Reasons for optimism

Journalism will live as long as passion to bring out truth remains and journalists will create new ways to survive. This optimism stems from testimony of a soldier like passion and courage of the journalist Rohini Singh who broke Jay Shah story. She was trolled and threatened by the paid social media mob not withstanding that she had previously reported on Robert Vadra’s accumulation of wealth under the congress regime. She wrote back , “My primary job is to speak truth to power. To question the government of the day”, adding, “I don't do the sort of stories I do because I am ' brave’. I do them because that's journalism”. So long the above spirit remains news will shine in debris of propaganda.

Boat capsize kills 60 Rohingya and other stories in JUST ASIA, Episode 191

Boat people

This week Just Asia begins with the death of 60 Rohingya in a boat capsize off Bangladesh on September 28, as they were fleeing violence in Burma. A UN spokesman said 23 people were confirmed dead and 40 more were "missing and presumed drowned". Dozens of Rohingya have already died trying to cross into Bangladesh amid a military crackdown in Burma’s Rakhine state. Violence erupted in Rakhine on August 25 when Rohingya militants attacked security posts. More than half a million Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since then. Just Asia speaks to Adhilur Rahman Khan, Secretary of Odhikar, regarding the situation of refugees in Bangladesh.

Next, the UN Special Rapporteur on Cambodia said the government must do more to protect democratic freedoms in the run-up to 2018 national elections. In a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Rhona Smith said, “deterioration of the democratic space and freedom of expression in Cambodia is a primary concern, with many NGOs and human rights defenders subject to threats, harassment, arrest”. Opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested without a warrant in Phnom Penh on September 3 and accused of trying to topple the government with backing from Washington. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

In preparation for the 20th anniversary of the 1998 Asian Human Rights Charter, rights groups and activists are discussing how to move forward and ensure the genuine realization of people’s rights in Asia. The 1998 Charter was aimed at changing how human rights work was conducted in developing countries. In particular, the aim was to understand and improve the defective institutions and systems of justice required for human rights implementation. Just Asia speaks to Basil Fernando, AHRC’s Director for Policy and Programme Development for details.

Moving to Indonesia, the country is seeing a rise in anti-Communist phobia and rhetoric, with a massive protest in Jakarta on September 29. Held by anti-Communist groups and opposition supporters against the Communist ideology, the protest was termed 29-9. The protest followed the brutal attack on the offices of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) and Jakarta Legal Aid between 16 and 17 September 2017. These circumstances are weakening the efforts of victims and families of the 1965-1966 massacre to seek justice. They now face increased difficulties and obstacles to voice their hopes and desires. Finally, the Urgent Appeals Weekly features three cases from Nepal and Sri Lanka.

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