Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Media and Corruption -EPW-
(Available free for a week, after which registration required)

Media and Corruption

Sabareesh Gopala Pillai
Vol XLVI No.13 March 26, 2011

The media, which is referred to as the fourth estate, is the central pillar of modern civil society – external and independent of the state. It is supposed to be the principal agent of public vigilance. Therefore, it is imperative that the media in a democracy remains free of commercial interests and autonomous vis-à-vis the state. But, unfortunately we witnessed prominent media personalities acting as ­intermediaries between the state and commercial interests, moulding public opinion through manipulation and control. More­over, the corporate media itself was involved in the cover-up which raises serious questions about its credibility. It was another form of “paid news” and it was only due to alternate media like blogs and twitter that these issues remained in the spotlight.
However, there is a larger process operating in the Indian media that is making it more corrupt and devoid of ethics and values. Media in India is becoming more “hyper-real”, in the sense that Jean Baudrillard used it to mean that there is no longer a “reality” that television allows us to see. ­Indian news television constructs a new ­reality which is different from the ground reality and this new reality is considered as ­ultimate and true by the people who view it. Duplicity becomes part of corporate ­media culture and hypocrisy is embedded in the character of the public personality.
Television constructs a new reality on the basis of which public opinion is formed. This becomes a direct threat to democracy because the public figure is no longer motivated to be genuinely responsive to the codes of ethics and justice but is more concerned about maintaining his “media image”. The political leader may not do constructive work but project an image through the media that he is working for the people. Justice may not be done but it just needs to be shown through the media that it is done. Politics and public life become a form of constructed symbolism and media becomes the carrier of these drafted symbols. Henceforth, the success or failure of a political leader, the capitalist and the media personality, lies not in maintaining ethics and integrity but in making sure that impropriety is not exposed in the public domain. The grand cover-up during “Radiagate” by the mainstream media was part of such an attempt, which was, thankfully, thwarted due to the responsible journalism of some prominent editors and the alternate media.
Before the liberalisation era in India, the bureaucratic apparatus was considered to be the villain of the piece, an abode of corruption and inefficiency. Capitalism is much more dangerous since it is based on the philosophy of dissatisfaction. Only when one is dissatisfied, there emerges the need for more consumption, which leads to further growth and revenues. A person becomes corrupt because of this under­lying state of dissatisfaction. Such corruption is more deep-rooted but it is camouflaged to appear just and fair. Corrupt media in a capitalist society is a fallout of the larger process of consumerism.
Sabareesh Gopala Pillai
University of Kerala