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On media and activism

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Social Media has revolutionized the way we  perceive our media.


A question that has been of much interest is the role of media in activism. While I am in no ways an expert on the subject, I do have certain thoughts on this matter that I will try to summarize here.

The understanding of Media – and is till traditionally held to be such that they are to be “unbiased”, to not show fear or favour to anyone. The motto of Asianet News, something Malayalis would be familiar with sums up this line of thought. “നേരൊടെ, നിർഭയം, നിരന്തരം”  “Straightforward, Without Fear, Always” it goes. Media was supposed to be a paragon of nom-partisanship, a voice for the people against the “Establishment”. The media, in an idealized world is to “educate and inform”.

In the minds of the masses, the media was considered as organ that had a certain amount of sanctity and respect. There were obviously some newspapers which were known to have biases. In Kerala, they were known as ” പാർട്ടി പത്രം” and was meant to be an intellectual repository for the political party running it. All of these perspectives, in retrospect sound very much naïve, and that is what they were, a naïve perception by the innocent masses. The media and journalists were and still are self-serving professionals who are motivated by their own selfish interests. The problem was however that we (as in the masses) have been patently unaware of the crooked game that has been and is being played in the upper echelons of the media establishment that we remained so unaware of.

It is in this context that social media plays an active role in leveling the playing field as well as revealing the full depth of deceit that has been perpetuated by the media. It has become, quite literally, a voice for the voiceless, where the common man has as much standing as any Oxbridge Intellectual. It could only be in the 21st century that people like Mediacrooks or True Indology would be able to have such a voice and standing.  To quote Rahul Gandhi from his FT article:

“In democracies, information once resided in institutional silos accessible only to a limited number of people. The internet has destroyed those monopolies. Connectivity and the transparency it inspires has positively transformed the world, but in doing so it has also irreparably damaged the machinery of our institutions. The resulting fragmentation has created an environment in which strongmen can flourish apparently unchecked.” – Modi’s reforms have robbed India of its economic prowess, Rahul Gandhi, November 8, 2017, Financial Times

Ignore the shahzada’s pronouncements on how institutions have weakened and strongmen have flourished in such an economy. But he gets one thing right, rather astoundingly – that the information “silos” once were accessible to a select few, and that monopoly has been completely and utterly destroyed by the internet.

I cannot imagine how I would have ever written my articles on the state of Public Sector Units or about the problems that confound the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation if there was no internet. The Internet and Social Media have opened to us a window whereby one is no longer constrained by the institutional barriers that would otherwise exist in our society. The invention of the internet has to be the most significant moment for our political society in recent memory.

But all this is besides the point – what am I trying to get to is the role of  media activism or the active promotion of a particular ideology/set of ideas by Media. A popular perception or understanding would be that such a proposition is against the principles of  media ethics. However, I disagree with such a proposition. It is in my opinion impossible for a corpratrized media house to not hold biases. Rather than vaguely positioning itself as unbiased, it would be better or all persons involved for the media house to align itself publicly with those ideas and issues that it sees fit to align itself.

In such a situation, there is nothing wrong in campaigning and raising awareness for the issues that the organization feels should be highlighted. It is in fact necessary in some respects for such an activity. This however must be accompanied with disclosure of its biases and alignments. For some it is has almost become a needless exercise to disprove media reports that are partly, if  not wholly clouded with bias, which goes unadmitted.

There is much room for discussion and debate on this issue, but knowing what we know about our media, We need to rethink its role in a democracy.

To be continued.

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