Manufacturing Consent in India: Mass Media and the Political Elites

Culture | Apr 4, 2017 / by Paresh Hate
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Introduction: This article is going to employ the theoretical framework of the ‘propaganda model’ of communication formulated by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky in their book, ‘Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media’ in the Indian context. The model explains how political elites in a country use media to influence policy behavior and public opinion. The model was primarily devised for the analysis of the media state of affairs in US but is believed to apply to any liberal democratic country sharing the fundamental economic structure and principles of organizing.

 

In totalitarian societies, public opinion does not matter as regards policies. Since the legitimacy of such a government is not premised upon the consent of the governed but only a few constituting political elite, mass media is not required shaping public opinion. On the other hand, in democracies, citizens displeased with governmental bodies hold considerably much more power to replace the exploitative representatives who have started thinking of themselves as natural rulers. In democracies, the legitimacy of the state is based upon the “popular explicit and implicit consent of the governed” or “will of the people”. Thus, displeasure on part of the citizens can lead to pulling down of the current rulers. In such a state of affairs, it becomes necessary to wield the mass media to shape policy perception and opinions. This is done by the political elites in the society.

Furthermore, there are other powerful groups that hold a significant amount of control over the means of production, majoritarian perceptions and markets. These are the capitalist corporations and conglomerates. Both the state and the capitalistic forces try to shape the course of a society due to their own goals- thirst for more power and profit respectively. In liberal democracies, however, these goals are not easy to achieve. The political structure of democracy allows people to replace its individual constituents without destroying itself in the process. There is a reason, though, that such radical and subversive developments don’t take place in the wake of exploitation and oppression. The fourth pillar of democracy –the mass media hailed as the “weapon of change”[i] and messenger of truth– plays a pivotal role in shaping public opinion. Media has been one of the significant catalysts in the modern world determining attitudes that people hold. Within the control of strong forces of elites, mass media becomes pervaded with perils of propaganda.

In a liberal democracy, one cannot straightforwardly influence citizens without abandoning the privileged positions that governmental and corporatist individuals so often do. These statist and capitalistic institutions, on the whole, have the most to gain from creating an inherent conflict of interest. Since people from these institutions are the ones commanding control over the media forces, the media inevitably at their hands becomes a propaganda generating machine, thus “manufacturing consent”.

In the first section, the essay explains what the five filters of editorial bias are. After that, the caveats peculiar to Indian scenario are mentioned. In the next section, the filters are applied in the Indian context. In the final section, conclusion is made.

 

The Five Filters of Editorial Bias

In their book Manufacturing Consent, Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky devise a conceptual model of the political economy of the mass media. This model of propaganda attempts to elucidate how the news-consuming public is manipulated by the political elite and how consent in manufactured among the population through propaganda for endorsement of social, economic and political opinions and policies.[ii] The authors explain how people are moved toward particular positions due to the news being structured in a certain way. This is done through five filters of editorial bias.

Size, Ownership, and Profit Orientation: Mass media outlets operate largely, if not completely, for profit. For this, they must be able to satisfy the financial interests of the company owners. These corporations and conglomerates in media sectors have a huge size due to many investors and political players being a part of such firms. This size is also a result of the investment capital necessary for reaching the public with technology related to mass communications.

The Advertising License to Do Business: Most of the revenue that mass media companies acquire is through advertising. Without the support of the advertisers, the media outlets fail to be economically successful and operationally viable. Media, due to this, has to align itself with the socio-political and economic attitudes of these advertisers.

Sourcing Mass Media News: Mass media is pulled into a “symbiotic relationship” with the sources of information that have an almost monopoly over such content. This is due to “economic necessity and reciprocity of interest”.[iii] Furthermore, non-routine sources, which can be objective, are unable to secure access to media companies’ list. The utilized sources come from governmental or capitalistic companies furthering their role in news media.

Flak and the Enforces: In the form of letters, telegrams, phone calls, petitions, lawsuits, speeches and bills along with other modes of complaint, threat, and punitive action, masses respond negatively to the news media. This “flak”, if “produced on a large scale, or by individuals or groups with substantial resources, [can prove] uncomfortable and costly to the media.”[iv] These flaks are threatening to power and profit and hence media outlets prefer avoiding them as much as possible.

Fear of the enemy (as a control mechanism): The installation of an enemy, real or imagined, to promote fear is the final filter. Particular ideologies are seen as “the ultimate evil”[v] threatening the established order or some favorable socio-political system among the news media. These philosophies to counter such “enemies” are, then, employed as social control mechanisms.

 

What is with the Incredible India

In spite of being a multicultural liberal democracy as well as a home to numerous corporate industrialists especially since the economic liberalization initiated in 1991, the socio-cultural background in which modern India grows renders it obvious that there will be differences in the country with its American counterpart. This remains true even in the case of mass media and subsequently, the phenomenon of “manufacturing consent”.

Linguistic differences are spread throughout the country. Unlike US, there is no one language, such as English, that dominates the social and political discourses taking place in the country. Even though English language is much widely spoken, its effective use as a medium for dialogue and propaganda is largely restricted to elites. This is particularly so in the metropolitan cities such as Delhi and Mumbai. Similarly, these cities which are also the financial centres in the country draw more interest from the media.

The ideological potpourri also doesn’t allow a single media outlet to exercise control over the entire country. Multiple political parties and influential private individuals hold considerate dominance in the markets of media. There is hardly a single group that hegemonizes over the entire country. This means, in India, there will not be a single group that shall manufacture consent through propaganda. Multiple groups competing for public acceptance will be found in various parts of the country. These groups are based on religious, ethnic, ideological, linguistic and historical grounds. Media personnel, also, holding various socio-political beliefs partake in this propaganda business. Basically, due to these factors, there are interesting consequences that can be seen in the model of Herman and Chomsky. For instance, in India, there will be multiple local and regional enemies that are national threats. Which is the prime cause of evil will depend upon which group you belong to. Moreover, news media in the country fails to own the whole mass media market due to state laws and linguistic barriers. In any case, the model provided by the authors still applies to the Indian context.

 

Manufacturing Consent in India

Size, Ownership, and Profit Orientation:

Among media outlets, for example, numerous individuals and corporate bodies invest. Dainik Bhaskar Corporation has shareholders such as, among other investing and publishing companies, Government of Singapore and ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Company. The Deccan Chronicle group’s shareholders include LIC, Religare and ICICI Bank. One of its chairmen, T. Venkatraman Reddy, was the son and nephew of Congress MPs late T. Chandrasekhar and T. Subbirami Reddy respectively. In the Hindustan Times group, corporate shareholders include HDFC, SBI, Reliance Group, and Bajaj Allianz. Shobhana Bhartia, the chairperson and editorial director, is married to the MD and Chairman of Jubilant Life Sciences. One of the directors of the same group is married to the niece of Ambani brothers.

Information TV who owns media outlets such as News X, India News, Aaj Samaj, and The Sunday Guardian has 99.89% of its shareholders as corporate bodies. These include Onkareshwar Properties; Lakshya Buildtech whose director is related to Congress leaders; Mariana Properties whose managing director is the husband of Congress MP, Jyoti Mirdha, and through her is connected to ex- Haryana Chief Minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Apart from this, director Kartikeya Sharma who holds top positions at almost ten companies holds 60.72% shares through another company, Mark Buildtech, where he owns the maximum shares. In the Jagran group, public mutual funds own 11.07% and Foreign Institutional Investors hold 12.85% of it. Within promoter group, 61.42% of corporate bodies hold shares in this group.

NDTV group’s ex-chairperson Prannoy and Radhika Roy individually and through their holdings company own almost 60% of the shares, who are also related to CPI (M) member Brinda Karat. Abhey Oswal, father-in-law of Congress MP Naveen Jindal, with his company Oswal Greentech holds 14.17% of the shares.2.43% of shares is held by Rajeev Chandrashekhar, a politician and founder of Jupiter Capital. Network 18 that owns multiple media channels such as CNN, IBN and various other channels in regional languages has shares belonging to Reliance Capital and Keyman Financial Services. Its Marathi channel IBN Lokmat is owned by Rajendra Darda, ex-MLA and ex- Education Minister. Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd., the media conglomerate, has various shareholders from Bharat Nidhi, AshokaViniyoga Ltd., Arth Udyog Ltd., TM Investments Ltd., and Camac Commerical Company.[vi]

As the data available above indicates, multiple individuals from Indian politics and various business companies have made investments in the media firms. The sizes of the media outlets are also huge in some cases, such as Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. The reach of many of these outlets is, thus, on a national level; in other cases, regional level influence is the only achievement. This is seen with media groups such as Sun TV whose shareholder, Kalanithi Maran, is the grandnephew of DMK leader and ex-Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Karunanidhi. Due to these facts, many news outlets are biased toward political parties and views. Of course, many companies in this field hold individual socio-political views as well, but many are generally also found among mainstream politics.

 

The Advertising License to Do Business:

Revenue generation today among media outlets cannot solely be done by the readership or audience. A large part of the revenue is due to the advertisers. As Herman and Chomsky make it clear, “The ad-based media receive an advertising subsidy that gives them a price-marketing-quality edge, which allows them to encroach on and further weaken their ad-free (or ad-disadvantaged) rivals.”

The advertisements in these mass media are, moreover, not only done by private companies selling various services and products. In many cases, if the channels are popular and have a huge audience, many of the governmental policies or initiatives are promoted. For example, following the decision of demonetization by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a lot of advertisements endorsing e-payments as an alternative to hard cash were observed.[vii] Similar strategy was applied to the initiative of Swacha Bharat Abhiyaan. For whatever the merits of governmental initiatives such as demonetization, a media environment that promotes these policies disallows the viewer-citizens from fully being able to critically scrutinize the governmental decisions.

Media houses “strive to qualify for advertiser interest”. In this endeavour, they avoid showing or publishing opinions or items that can drive away potential investors. This, more often than not, causes “radical” or “controversial” opinions to be suppressed in the popular media. Inevitably, if audience is only allowed to see the socio-cultural ideas of the status quo through the media, the audience goes down to later legitimize it.

 

Sourcing Mass Media News:

In India, Press Information Bureau is the nodal agency of Indian government. It provides information and data related to the government plans, policies, program initiatives and achievements to media houses across the country. A central bureau as such means that the news disseminated among the audience through media outlets is largely pro-status quo or pro-governmental. News critical to the establishment is generally suppressed unless distributed by private individuals with considerable influence in the markets.

More often than not, however, these other sources for information also have vested interests. Independent news information that isn't provided for public power or profit due to failings in other factors (such as gathering advertisers or investors) is likely to remain unpopular. This can hinder the flow of information even if it is objective and credible due to the dominance of media markets by corporate powerhouses and government.

Furthermore, most news that is available is found from news agencies such as Asian News International, Press Trust of India, or Reuters. Since these agencies provide information to more than fifty news channels and newspapers daily, the audience observes similar news everywhere and is moved towards endorsing or accepting viewpoints depicted in the news.

 

Flak and the Enforces:

The presence of flak is comparatively easier to observe in these times of social media where platforms like Facebook and Twitter generate criticism toward various news media outlets being partial towards political parties and particular opinions. Channels like Times Now have recently become home ground for endorsing nationalism and military obsession. NDTV is one of the most government-critical channels in Indian media today. Such partisanship on the part of media houses has drawn considerable amount of protest and outrage among public.

Indian media houses, due to complexities mentioned in the second section, cannot determine the public view outcome of the whole country. Thus, they need to be satisfied with avoiding criticism of people from particular groups. Most media outlets do so by providing information with evaluations that aligns with the majoritarian sentiment. Other groups whose negative feedback is avoided by media companies is government, corporate businesses, political parties, and intellectuals in the country. These groups hold the power to shape public opinions.

The rise of flak is detrimental to TRPs of the channels and newspapers. It can lead to lack of investors and advertisers. Many media houses also fear protest and outrage by people. Many news channels office have been attacked. Thus, there is a substantial importance given to reducing flaks as much as possible.

 

Fear of the enemy (as a control mechanism):

In India, governments or corporate firms lack dominance over the public opinion throughout the country. Thus, through mass media, many enemies, real or imagined, are produced to put in front of the public. These enemies are employed to generate fear among the masses as a control mechanism and support policies and viewpoints that are espoused by these groups.

Since India is a large country with heterogeneous population, one such enemy is unlikely to make people compel to do something. Instead, various groups have various enemies and counter-ideologies to combat them. For instance, recently, “anti-nationalism” and the fight against it is seen to be prominent among mass media. This sort of “anti-nationalism” is thought to be a threat to national security or the state's integrity. On the other hand, Hindutva-ideologues are seen as a challenge to liberal democracy by liberals, centrists and Marxists in India. Among regional issues, in Maharashtra, parties like Maharashtra Navanirman Sena have set their agenda over enemies such as “Bhaiyaan” from Northern states who allegedly want to steal the jobs and resource opportunities from the natives of Maharashtra region.

Multiple such enemies are created by mass media and popular culture through governmental means that are used to force people into uniting or following a particular view. Some such enemies can have basis in reality and others can be created entirely for propaganda purposes.

 

Conclusion

Taking into considerations the peculiarities of India, the ‘propaganda model’ still remains a viable framework for the mass media situation in India. In India, various statist constituents and corporate conglomerates own or hold shares in media outlets. Media houses, further, try to align themselves with the attitudes their advertisers promote so as to get more profit. The lack of multiple sources in terms of news and information hinders dialogue and criticism since the sole source might be prejudiced or skewed. Media companies further try to avoid feedback from the audience and propagate ideological enemies.

All this is done not by mass media on its own. Rather, it is the political elites employ the mass media as a tool of propaganda in liberal democracies.

 

 

 

[i] Tom Stoppard, Interview, The Guardian, (London, 1988-03-18)

[ii] Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, New York: Pantheon, (1988)

[iii] Ibid. pp. 18

[iv] Ibid. pp. 26

[v] Ibid. pp. 29

[vi] https://www.newslaundry.com/2014/02/05/who-owns-your-media-4

[vii] http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/demonetisation-govt-spent-rs-94-cr-on-ads-to-popularise-e-payments-117020200588_1.html

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Written By Paresh Hate

I do social and political criticism of status quo because it has unresolved foundational issues pertaining to ethics and philosophy that call for scrutiny.

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