Media is a dangerous weapon of mass distraction.
The most convenient yet effective way to communicate information to a large population is through media. The information so conveyed is not necessarily true and certainly not credible in our nation’s scenario. In fact, the past few years have seen an influx of scientifically and morally outrageous commentary from leading Indian politicians. The media has naturally and predictably reacted to this influx by giving it widespread coverage, having debates over the statements, and directing unnecessary attention towards the absurdity. A case in point of such political behaviour is Union Minister Satyapal Singh’s dismissal of Darwin’s theory of evolution. His voicing out of his opinion that the Darwinian theory of evolution is ‘scientifically wrong’ and thus, should be removed from school and college curricula led to a plethora of articles, television reports, and other forms of media coverage. While the media stays busy concerning itself with absurdity, who pays attention to the myriad problems plaguing the nation? Who calls out the scams and corruption running rampant in our institutions? Who turns away from the ignorance being broadcast on television and take a serious look at the unreported reality?
Noam Chomsky aptly articulated the media’s predicament ― “The key element of social control is the strategy of distraction that is to divert public attention from important issues and changes decided by political and economic elites, through the technique of flood or flooding continuous distractions and insignificant information.”
The social importance of media coverage is monumental in present-day India. Indian television media is a mammoth industry that stands at an estimated size of INR 588 billion (KPMG, 2017). Furthermore, news channels accounted for 8-10% of all television viewership in 2016 (KPMG, 2017). With the existence of such a gigantic instrument of social control comes the power to control the information being disseminated into society. Media can therefore successfully create certain images of situations or people that are not necessarily truthful; media has been extensively employed to spread stereotypes through a similar means in the past and continues to be used to do so. In our current situation, we see how the Indian media can be further used as an instrument of social control to distract the majority of the population from the real issues at hand.
It is worth noting that the very day that BJP minister Satyapal Singh commented on Darwin’s shortcomings, the BJP at center saw a walkout staged by the Opposition during a Legislative Assembly discussion addressing the heavy firing and shelling by Pakistan at LoC, Jammu. The Opposition accused BJP of failing to satisfactorily deal with the killing and displacement of its citizens by Pakistan, followed by anti-BJP and anti-RSS slogans being raised at the House. Furthermore, another controversial incident involving the BJP that occurred close to the Darwin statement was the firecracker factory blaze in New Delhi, in which over 17 people were killed and numerous more were injured. The factory was registered under the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) which is controlled by the BJP. Moreover, North Delhi Mayor Preeti Aggarwal was reportedly caught on a near-viral video cautioning officials to remain silent about the incident, since the NDMC licensed the factory. The BJP faced pressure at the hands of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who stated that a thorough probe would be conducted into who gave the factory a license and how the incident took place. However, journalists were not as interested in these socially-concerning subjects as they were with the eye-catching story of a major politician making an outrageous comment.
A Fundamental Duty prescribed by the Indian Constitution for all Indian citizens is ‘to develop a ‘scientific temper,’ humanism, and the spirit of inquiry and reform.’ The idea of all citizens being encouraged to possess a ‘scientific temper’ is endemic to the nation’s Constitution; it is a clause which sets the Constitution apart. First formulated by Jawaharlal Nehru, the phrase refers to a way of life which uses logic and rationality to question, observe, and analyze. However, when the media covers absurd, baseless rejections of scientifically proven natural theories, the very essence of scientific temper is violated. This violation further occurs at the hands of the very politicians who have been awarded the power to rule by the Constitution in our representative democracy. Through such statements, these representatives not only lose the credibility they previously may have had in the eyes of the citizens who elected them, but also undermine the ideals of the Constitution, and of the nation as a whole. Furthermore, ignorance is instilled in the citizens who hear them. These citizens are sensitized towards absurdity and de-sensitized towards the reality of injustice in the nation.
Nevertheless, all journalists and news channels cannot be accused of conforming to mass distraction. This is where an uglier side of media emerges - one of the causes of the success of this scale of media distraction can be attributed to India’s diminishing press freedom. Various cases of hate speech and violence against Indian journalists who attempt to present their unfiltered opinion, including the murder of Gauri Lankesh, are among the reasons that India has been ranked 138 out of the 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index 2018 ("India: Deadly threat from Modi's nationalism | Reporters without borders", 2018). This diminishing freedom in the press along with the media’s obsession with absurdity guarantees the burial of the government’s growing number of failures and false promises.
Mass distraction through media coverage should be a major concern of the 2018 Indian citizen. Perpetuating ignorance has emerged as a viable tool for politicians to employ in order to keep the media busy and distract the media consumers from false promises made and the real concerns at hand. Moreover, it is being speculated that consuming ignorant statements such as the aforementioned dismissal of Darwin himself takes the attention away from the shortcomings of the ruling government. Whether the politicians who make these statements do so deliberately or otherwise, the principal aim of their delivery is to spread absurdity and ignorance among the public.
Reporters without borders. (n.d.) India: Deadly threat from Modi's nationalism. Retrieved from https://rsf.org/en/india
KPMG India – FICCI, (2017, March). Media for the masses: The Promise Unfolds. Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report.
Header Image Courtesy: © Eric Drooker https://www.sott.net/article/302236-Censorship-American-media-has-shaped-everything-you-think
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