Ostrich Syndrome!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Media and Protests: Who Manufactures What?

In April this year the media went into a loud and vulgar rapture as Anna Hazare continued his four-day fast against corruption at Jantar Mantar in the capital. Hyperventilating newscasters repeatedly declared that the issue of corruption has “touched a cord” with the middle class. The circus at Jantar Mantar ended on a happy note with an amazing display of rhapsody for millions of urban, educated, elite Indians as they saw the government kneel to the demands of Anna in re-formulating the Lok Pal bill. But this was more than a month back. In Indian politics, one month is a long period. With a short public memory and an equally uncaring public attitude, it is easy to comprehend why another fast in another corner of the country has evoked minimal response. Social activist and Gandhian, Medha Patkar has been on an indefinite fast since last seven days at Mumbai in protest against the land grab at the Golibar slum, next to the Mumbai airport.
The contrast is striking. No high profile players, no well known public figures, no lavish tents, no Bharatmata cut outs, no mineral water bottles for the attendees and of course minimal media glare. All the goodies of Anna Hazare’s protest are missing from Medha Patkar’s remonstration. What is most conspicuous is the “wretched” clientele for whom Medha is fasting. Medha’s indefinite fast is for the basic rights of 26,000 families, which dwell the Golibar slum. Slum dwellers! People who are a road block in the conversion of Mumbai to Shanghai.
Medha is protesting the blatant callousness of the Maharashtra government and its nefarious Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA). SRA is the by-product of the political-land mafia nexus aimed at usurping those living in the slums of Mumbai. This futuristic Shanghai has more than 60 percent of its population living in slums with Golibar being the second largest slum of the city. The SRA aims to authorize private builders to redevelop slum land. The result can be anyone’s guess. Private builders take up the slum land by force, forgery or on cheap rates. The resale value of these prime locations brings phenomenal wealth in the general property market. Even more despicable is the Clause 3K of the SRA, which gives a single builder right to redevelop a slum without inviting any tenders.
What is most deafening in this protest is the silence of the media (electronic, paper and alternative) which stood with Anna Hazare in his high profile fight against corruption. No facebook pages, no twitter messages, no hourly news updates. Surely something is amiss “now” as compared to “then”. Was it the personal charisma of Anna Hazare, who was largely unknown to elite Indians till April this year, which drew the masses and the media? Or was it a will of the media to suddenly awaken to the reality of corruption in this country? It baffles me.
Surely, Anna Hazare’s well-orchestrated (and hence well funded) fight against corruption was more appealing to the urban middle class Indian then a fight for the slum dwellers of a small locality of Mumbai. Although to evaluate the efficacy of a protest on the basis of number of people benefited by it is not only dangerous but purely foolhardiness par excellence! Protests represent the core values for which a society stands, not the number of people affected by its success. May be it is for this very reason that our very conscientious media fails to represent decisively the issues raised by Irom Sharmila, who has been on fast for the last ten years against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Having said this, it may be noted that media has played a significant role in “individualistic protests” like those demanding justice for Jessica Lall or Priyadarshani Mattoo. Although it is easy to find instances of media manufactured struggles in India if the victims are elite, educated or middle class but to say the same for this very media taking up the causes of the underprivileged, oppressed or rural masses is difficult. No wonder there is hardly any coverage of Vidharba farmer suicides or of atrocities on dalits across the length and breadth of the country.
In India the amalgam of forces that drive a protest are also an important determinant for its adoption by the media. In Anna’s case high caste, elitist composition with a cosmetic supplementation by commoner Indians and fuelled by well-funded corporate driven NGOs, formed an ideal diet for high TRPs. A ready meal for media digestion! Unfortunately these ingredients of manufactured protest are lacking when it comes to core issues of human survival as in Medha Patkar’s ongoing demonstration in Mumbai.
The role of media in a democratic set-up cannot be over emphasized. But with more corporate control it is not difficult to discern what this integral pillar of democracy will support or rather avoid to support. With economic liberalization the media has become an important tool to formulate, channelize and direct popular protest; and there lies the danger for an unequal and unjust society like ours. Highlighting the correct story is a morally responsible task that has to be done without fear or favor. Medha Patkar and Irom Sharmila need an equal share of bytes & columns as Anna Hazare or Jessica Lall’s sister. Injustices cannot be compared, weighed and then sold to the general public wrapped in a piquant newspaper or an exciting television show. Discriminations cannot have different colors. Biases cannot be silent or loud. Inequality can never be less or more.


Pardeep said...

Good post..

Devinder Sharma said...

Thank you Dr Khan.

This is what I said in my face book today: "I found this thought-provoking article by Dr Shah Alam Khan of AIIMs/New Delhi in my mailbox. Although I am one of the founder member of India Against Corruption yet I am not comfortable at the hype media has created for Anna Hazare's campaign. I also feel the unexplained silence of the media for heroic efforts of Medha Patkar and Sharmila is something that we as society need to question. http://bit.ly/ikiI6xI found this thought-provoking article by Dr Shah Alam Khan of AIIMs/New Delhi in my mailbox. Although I am one of the founder member of India Against Corruption yet I am not comfortable at the hype media has created for Anna Hazare's campaign. I also feel the unexplained silence of the media for heroic efforts of Medha Patkar and Sharmila is something that we as society need to question. http://bit.ly/ikiI6x.

Devinder Sharma


Nagendra said...

Thank you sir for this post. Its really quite deep, as for as one generally sees. Though I was feeling good about Hazare effects I was definetly not able to fully comprehend its likely cause including timing, as why it was when elections were scheduled.

Saw another news article on rediff, having a negative publicity to Medha Patekar efforts on Mumbai slums. It seems again focussed on so called middle classes looking for their own betterment on the expense of slum dwellers. And yes, it will be definetly well funded by builders involved.

These builders are so powerfull today, it seems they will construct houses in whole of earth. Again fooling one or another class of middle class. Its such an shame to this corrupt nation that at one end those farmers are robbed at throw away prices, at another ends these screwed up middle classes facing similar fate through huge loans. Ad all these moneys are getting channelized to all those black white red whatever u name it.

Its such an tough time for law abiding tax paying hardworking indians these days. We cant hope these corrupt mediawala's to cover Dr Medha efforts, its not that it will not generate TRP's but it is because they are all hand in gloves with those corrupt babu's, politicians, goons or builders whatever u says it.


Sabihur Rahman said...

It is nice to harbor compassion, but not at the cost of wisdom. Understand the following 3 issues:
1> The slum dwellers are in effect encroachers on Govt./Public land, and the SRA scheme is an effort to give them title to a legal home. The builder DOES NOT stand to gain TILL the slum-dwellers get their rehab dwellings. So this scheme is NOT the same as displacing farmers. The slum-dwellers have to be rehabilitated before the equivalent sale component can be utilised.
2> If the moronic idea of implementing Rajiv Awas Yojana is Mumbai sees the light of the day, hordes of the relatives of the current encroachers will be in the city and will squat on the plots they can. Moreover, the current structures will be subdivided internally and will lead to chaos. If you decide to allow unlimited influx into the city without a cut-off date, do you realise the burden this will impose on the electric/water/infrastructure requirements of the city?? Have you ever heard of planning???
3> Thousands of slum dwellers have invested their time in this scheme. Should 150 people, whose demands have been rejected by the High Court and Supreme Court, be heard over those thousands who are running from pillar to post for their rights?

Society has risen against pea-brained and visionless "social activists".

Shah Alam Khan said...

Dear Mr. Rehman,
Thanks for your comments which unfortunately appear very skewed for reason not really known to me. The essence of this post was to highlight the blatant bias of the media towards protests particularly when they are not fulfilling the agenda of the corporates or the consumerist class. You knowingly or unknowingly didn't comment on the essence of the matter while going into the details of Ms. Patkar's protest. Agreed, everyone has a right to derive whatever is acceptable from a write up and also to ignore what is inconvenient or unacceptable. You have raised three issues and let me answer each one sequentially.
1. The builder DOES gain to stand even if it is against the wishes of the slum dweller. As per the authority act, if 70 percent of society members sign the papers of authority, there isn't much left for the remaining 30 percent. In the case of Medha's this particular protest the society in question had signed the papers for one builder while the eviction rights were shown to them by another....if protest in this regard is visionless, pea brained attitude of Ms. Patkar, I can only wish that there are many more pea-brained social activists in this country. We really need plenty of them!
2. I never commented on the Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojna. Whether it should be implemented or not is both an administrative and ethical decision which the state government and the peoples' representatives should decide. Local demands need local solutions, not the grand and not so grand ideas of people like you and me.
3. Well it is definitely not a matter of 150 people. Exaggeration to prove a point is arty but at times shows the ignorance of the artisan. Anyway read my article again. Protests shouldn't be measured by the shear number of people affected by its success (or failure for that matter) but by the consciousness of the society.
Good to be in discussion with you.
Shah Alam Khan

Ludhiana said...

Dear sir
your post as always is thought provoking
but at the same time, i donot find anything wrong with Anna's protest. If the issue of corruption is not valid, or important than probably i am wrong. I agree, many of the protests are totally ignored, that probably varies with how well a person is able to present the issue and express him/herself. I belive it is an art 'how to influence people and make followers'. see it yourself, you have so many followers reading your posts and praising them, but there might be people who are not able to express themselves well. secondly, it has become a fashion among leftist and pseudoseculars to abuse the urban middle class. if any act of injustice or alleged injustice happens, all the web active so called intellects, come forward to blame the new urban middle class. No one needs sympathy, thing that need to be emphasized is equal rights and oppurtunities. I wish to highlight the word equal!

Shah Alam Khan said...

Dear Aman,
Great to see your remarks. I can absolutely understand why you don't find ANYTHING wrong with Anna's protest. A small anecdote: went to Jantar Mantar to see the circus. Was astonished to see that there were anti-reservation slogans raised at Anna's forum. Immediately realised who and why this protest was organised.....corruption was just a garb!
Thanks for calling me pseudo-secularist and leftist (even if the words were not meant for me). The rhetoric sounds familiar and also gives me a sense of direction - happy that I am on the right track.
Good to be in discussion after a long time.
Shah Alam Khan

Navin said...

Dr Alam,
Nice article.
But the fact is that the media, especially the electronic one, is totally a business and nothing else. They telecast only those items which either funded or can raise TRP. Megha's fasting was neither of these two. News/discussions of cricket is always funded by BCCI and Anna's fast was a TRP raiser. Baba Ramdev's fast was even better for ele-media. It has both elements and therefore it got more coverage even then Anna.
Jay ho !

Neha Verma said...

Packers and Movers
thanks for sharing this information
nice article great post