With the government digging in its heels over the hastily-pushed-through Farm Acts, and the “godi” media only portraying the ruling party’s point of view, the voices of the pro-farmers media are being drowned out. This has led to suspicion, a complete lack of trust, and a breakdown in dialogue between the two sides. The media seems to represent the split personality of the national mindscape, says REVATHI SIVA KUMAR.
ven as the farmers’ protest enters its seventh week in the distressingly icy winter in and around Delhi, the schizophrenia of the Indian media has created its own share of stresses. Sections of the media that support the farmers’ movement bear the brunt of the hostility against the other “godi” or “government lapdog” media when farmers turn their backs on scribes or scrutinise their credentials before sharing stories.
Hence, with the rightwing media looking like a government brochure, it is perceived not as a platform for Voice but as a weapon to enforce Silence. It is no longer sought out as a medium of expression but shunned as a means of oppression.
On the other hand, the smaller, fewer, but equally fierce and hearteningly bright spots in the mediascape—some of the print and electronic as well as mushrooming digital and even social media platforms—provide a via media to the protesters. They are the less-heard and self-managed start-ups, mostly in the digital space, that are more independent as they are not fully dependent on corporate money or industrial manipulation to continue their battles.
While on the one hand the godi media is reviled as a government mouthpiece, the less visible but equally fierce liberal media represents the section that is rooting for democracy and the freedom to dissent. However, its levers for expression, including TV, print, digital and social equipment, are fewer in number and either get drowned out or cannot match the decibel levels of the shouting channels.
While media platforms have multiplied, there has been a disproportionate decline in the quality of journalism.
Interestingly, the communications from the polarised worlds of the Indian media—including TV channels, print, digital and social media platforms—today reflect the split personality of the political structure in the entire country.
With the right-wing media looking like a government brochure, it is perceived not as a platform to Voice, but as a weapon to Silence. It is no longer sought out as a medium of expression but shunned as a means of oppression. On the other hand, the smaller, fewer, but equally fierce and hearteningly bright spots in the mediascape—some of the print and electronic, as well as mushrooming digital, even social media platforms, provide a via media to the protesters.
The media is a microcosm of the national macrocosm, in which supporters of two divergent ideologies have dug in their heels and are not able to arrive at a compromise, nor even hold a dialogue. There is no longer analysis or exchange of perspectives but only stabs in the air which shuns or turns away from the other.
The battle trigger, i.e., the three farm laws that were passed hastily in Parliament—the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act—are still very confusing to most people. The laws might be spoken of as draconian by some and beneficial by most. Yet the core issues of either side are not completely clear.
To the farmers, the three acts challenge the existing agricultural mandi [wholesale market] system and threaten the Minimum Support Price regime. The laws have been rejected as they represent a huge challenge to the farmers’ ability to manage their own lives and livelihood, but the government refuses to budge, asserting that the policies would actually benefit the agriculturists.
SETBACK TO MEDIA
The media, which is supposed to reflect the people’s viewpoints and act as a mirror of their distresses, even while it should talk of truth to power and hold the government responsible and accountable, is doing the exact opposite: ramming government policies down the throats of farmers and calling the protesters anti-national, terrorists and Maoists.
Hence, the credibility of the BJP’s media and information front has become suspect.
Interestingly, the communication from the polarised worlds of the Indian media—including TV channels, print, digital and social media platforms—today reflects the split personality of the political structure in the entire country. The media is a microcosm of the larger national macrocosm, in which supporters of two divergent ideologies dig in their heels and are not able to arrive at a compromise or even have a dialogue.
With thousands of farmers on the battlefield, there is enough unrest on the ground to shake the godi media for the first time. With the farmers’ boycott and the slogans shouting “godi media go back” in Gurmukhi, Hindi and English and the strong messages they are beaming from tractors and other vehicles, there seems to be a clear message—lack of credibility and trust in the media, including the liberal section.
So, as even Twitter called out Amit Malviya, the BJP’s IT-cell head, as misleading and manipulative, the farmers managed to find other ways to disseminate and disburse information, realising that it is a battle not of facts but perceptions and messages.
Farmers have thus decided to seize media management, starting off their own print publication, “Trolley Times”, as well as a number of other social media initiatives that can make their voices heard, with a 21st-century ally in Twitter. There are a few supporters scattered around the world running a Twitter handle called Tractor2Twitter, which fiercely opposes the government’s IT-cell hashtags.
With a reach of about 100 lakh accounts, it concentrates on pushing one hashtag a day. It has been joined by a farmers’ union group, called the Farmers Unity Front or Kisan Ekta Morcha, which is communicating through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, and Snapchat. They are manned by 50 global volunteers, yet have thousands of followers.
Meanwhile, the rest of the non-farming groups, who are not stakeholders in the battle, remain bewildered and unsure about the three Acts that were passed roughshod through Parliament, though they are bewitched by the control wielded by the social as well as mainstream media.
While most people are vaguely sympathetic to the farmers, unlike the anti-CAA protesters, they might also be the pro-government classes who still do not disown their allegiance to the government.
Hence, it is a flashpoint in the countrywide drive for action and change. For the first time in the history of India, both sides are viewing each other with suspicion and confusion. With the binaries sharply defined, the situation seems to be slipping into a no-control mode. There is little dialogue or debate between the two sections, but only noise, almost like a war. Even if there is an exchange of information, there is no trust.
The binaries in the media are only confusing the issues further. So, most people are now skeptical or suspicious of the media, which has been seen traditionally as a trustworthy, anti-establishment platform. The leitmotifs of neutrality, objectivity, and balanced information associated with the press have been swept away.
As the sheer quantity of mind-space is being occupied by the ruling party, the public tends to go with whoever hits harder. And as the opposition parties are not able to fight back hard enough in the wrangling matches, it has become a situation not of who is right, but who shouts the loudest from the right platforms. Hence, it is a flashpoint in the countrywide drive for action and change.
THE MIRROR CRACKED
For the first time in the history of India, both sides are viewing each other with complete suspicion and confusion. With the binaries sharply defined, the situation seems to be slipping into the no-control mode. There is little dialogue or debate between the two sections, but only noise, almost like a war. Even if there is an exchange of information, there is no trust.
Today, then, the media seems to be reflecting, as much as it is creating, the schizophrenia in the national mindscape.
(Revathi Siva Kumar is a Bengaluru-based independent journalist, interested in exploring developmental issues. The views are personal.)