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Mediaocracy

  1. The system of maintaining control over a nation by utilizing the media, usually perpetrated under the guise of “Freedom of Speech”. A system of Mediaocracy is not limited strictly to using the mass media or mainstream media to achieve its ends. It may often use “independent” and “underground” media outlets, such as blogs and podcasts, to achieve its ends.

  2. The third horseman of the Military-Industrial Media Complex (formerly known as the Military-Industrial Complex).

Example sentence: a) -The United States claims to be a democracy but in reality, it is a mediaocracy.

Example sentence: b) -The mediaocracy is instrumental in creating an environment of unrest and political, social, class, & racial polarization among our citizens to distract them from the real issues.

Urban Dictionary

The word Mediaocracy found its way into the “Urban Dictionary” in 2007, eight years after the online dictionary was founded by Aaron Peckham in 1999. Over 1500 words and phrases are added daily to the dictionary by enthusiasts active in different realms, such as languages, linguistics, culture, sociology and digital innovation. However, the word has been in existence nearly 25 years before it was added to the “Urban Dictionary”. It was first used by Harvard Law Review Association in an article titled “Mediaocracy and Mistrust: Extending ‘New York Times’ Defamation Protection to Nonmedia Defendants”, published in 1982. The article was primarily based on a United States Supreme Court order that held that private persons can get damages for defamatory and false content that appeared in media. In the three and half decades that have followed the publication of the article the idea of Mediaocracy has further developed covering very many areas of life and society. Debates on the concept has also grown along with.

Many international commentators on the state of play between media and the political establishment have highlighted several elections in countries as diverse as Russia to Turkey and even the USA as examples of the controlling role of Mediaocracy. The role played by overwhelming segments of the Indian media, especially mainstream television media, in the 2019 general elections would undoubtedly fall into the same classification.

One significant aspect of this debate has been on the relationship between political organisations and media in the communications age. This theme, advanced by many writers, thinkers, sociologists and journalists emphasized, primarily, on how Mediaocracy steps in to control the consensus that exists in a democracy between the people and political organisations, particularly those running the government. Defining this phenomenon, where media adopts a controlling role, writer and political analyst Daniel Greenfield state as follows. “The media is no longer informative but is conformative. It is not interested in broadcasting events unless it can also script them. It does not want to know what you think, it wants to tell you what to think. The consensus is the voice of the people and the Mediacrats are cutting its throat, dumping its body in a back alley and turning democracy into their puppet show.” He goes on to add that “media bias was over decades ago” and that now “the media is not biased anymore, it is a player, its goal is to turn its Fourth Estate into a fourth branch of government, the one that squats below the three branches and blocks their access to the people and blocks the people’s access to them. Under the Mediaocracy there will still be elections, they will even be mostly free, they just won’t matter so long as its upper ranks determine the dialogue on both sides of the media wall.”

Greenfield and many other international commentators on the state of play between media and the political establishment have, over the past decade or so, highlighted several elections in countries as diverse as Russia to Turkey and even the USA as examples of the controlling role of Mediaocracy. The role played by overwhelming segments of the Indian media, especially mainstream television media, in the 2019 general elections would undoubtedly fall into the same classification. A closer and deeper analysis of the trends in media coverage in the current election season underscores how these large sections of Indian media literally carried the campaign of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), particularly the two top leaders -Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party President Amit Shah -on its shoulders, literally becoming an electoral accomplice.

Some bare statistics as revealed by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) brings out this aspect strikingly. Consider this BARC data for the period between April 2 and 28, the phase when the election campaign was getting into high gear. During this period Prime Minister Modi addressed 64 rallies across the country while Rahul Gandhi, President of the principal opposition Congress addressed 65 rallies. Still, the airtime that the top 11 Hindi channels gave Modi and Shah was more than two and a half times the cumulative coverage that Rahul Gandhi and his sister and Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi got. In real terms, the channels gave more than 850 hours of airtime to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. Modi was given a total of 722 hours by these channels, Shah got 123 hours of airtime. At the same time, Rahul Gandhi and general secretary Priyanka Gandhi got only 335 hours of airtime from these channels. BARC data show that Rahul Gandhi was given about 251 hours within this period, and Priyanka about 84 hours.

Talking of specific instances, when Modi held roadshow a day before filing his nomination papers from Varanasi on April 25, channels went live for up to three hours. The television interviews that were aired the same day had a minimum duration of 45 to 60 minutes. Almost all interactions that the channels had with Rahul Gandhi on the campaign trail were below 25 minutes. If this was the comparison between the ruling party and the principal opposition , other forces in the opposition, including important regional players like Samajwadi Party (SP) , Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) , Telugu Desam Party (TDP ) , Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam (DMK) and the Left parties led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist ) – CPIM- literally got a pittance of coverage . Collectively, the coverage on them added up to less than 70 hours. Statically speaking, the airtime that these significant regional players got was ten times lesser than what the Modi-Shah duo got.

But that was not all. In a clear display of Mediaocracy at work, there were very many “stage-managed” media events, including television interviews that sought to project the ruling dispensation and its most dominant leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in “larger-than-life” parameters. There are several instances of this type of coverage, but two television interviews stand out in this genre.

One of them was the so-called ‘non-political’ interview between the Prime Minister and Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar, where the fawning actor went on to ask such probing “non-political” questions as to whether the Prime Minister likes mangoes and how he prefers to eat them. This interaction was telecast by all the 11 channels at the same time. Data show that it could reach 1.7 crore viewers. In terms of impressions, the Modi-Akshay conversation was placed at a high 52 lakh.

Another top-rated show of this genre was the Modi interview with News Nation anchor Deepak Chaurasia. At one point in the interview, Chaurasiya says he wants to ask “Narendra Modi, the poet” whether he has written many poems in the past five years. Modi gestures for a file and says he had written a poem that very morning, on the road from Himachal Pradesh. As he goes through the file, the camera zooms in on a sheet of paper on which the poem is written. But in a completely ludicrous turn for both the performers, the frame captured a line written just above, which went as follows: “27: At the end, I would like to ask Narendra Modi, the poet, whether he has written any poetry in the past five years?” The camera had inadvertently caught the “deep-fake scripting” that had gone into this seemingly free interaction.

The spectre of scripting had been raised after Modi’s earlier interviews too – with ANI and ABP News – as none of them involved any cross-questioning. But the Chaurasiya-Modi show provided concrete evidence of the Mediaocracy games. What this visual showed was that Modi had been briefed in advance about the question – presumably, all questions since this was numbered ‘27’ – and pronto, the Prime Minister was ready with a typed-out poem.

How these interactions were shot sought to create the impression of casual, spontaneous conversations, but the camera zoom on Modi’s poem gave away the mediaocracy play completely. There were many other “gems” in the Chaurasiya- Modi show. The Prime Minister claimed in the show that he was too poor to carry a wallet in the 1990s. Yet, he also claimed to have used an electronic camera in 1991. The very first electronic camera – Nikon QV1000C – was announced in August 1988, and featured a ‘QV-1010T transmitter unit’ which would be similar to the box-shape that Modi made with his hands while describing his “shooting experiments” with the camera. In 1991, the US list price for this camera was $20,300. How did a man who was “too poor to carry a wallet” have such an expensive camera? In the world of Mediaocracy, no such probing questions are relevant when the agenda is primarily to conform to and project the ruling dispensation.

It was in this context that senior journalist Kaveri Bamzai coined the phrase “Tamasha TV for a tamasha Prime Minister” while analyzing the 2019 election coverage of Indian television channels. But as Bamzai noted in her article, it was not television alone that was following this seemingly ludicrous, but strikingly impactful mediaocracy games. An overwhelming section of print media was also following the same rules, barring a few exceptions in the national English media and other language publications. The deeply resourceful – both in terms of financial power and organisational efficiency – outfits of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) led Sangh Parivar, which includes the BJP too, were able to supplement these mediaocracy games through the social media too. Bamzai notes in her article that the alternative discourse in the social media, which according to an estimate from ‘Statista’ -internet’s leading statistics database which comes up with periodic consumer survey results and industry studies from over 22,500 sources on over 60,000 topics -is used by 326 million people as of 2018.

It has been noted by several observers and even historians, that the media has got increasingly corporate and vested interest driven over the past four decades or so, but its performance in relation to the 2019 general elections would go down in history as one that has imparted a bigger momentum and aggravation to this “free fall”, creating an unprecedentedly pathetic and odious paradigm.

Writing an incisive analysis in The Hindu after the announcement of election results, Krishnaprasad, senior journalist and former Editor of the Outlook magazine, pointed out that “large and influential part of the news media which blithely abdicated its role as the eyes and ears of the people — and turned into an undisguised, unthinking and unquestioning mouthpiece of the reigning ideology.” Notwithstanding Mr Modi’s advertised disdain for journalists, making the media forget their core tasks — to witness, to verify, to investigate, and to make sense, in the words of the British media scholar George Brock — was always a vital weapon in the manufacture of consent for the ‘Gujarat Model’. Despite early failures as Chief Minister, Mr Modi deftly achieved this goal. Established media houses were tamed by patronising their competitors. Some pesky editors were reined in or eased out by intimidating owners. Advertisements were turned off and on to let the bottom line send signals to managers.

Krishnaprasad further pointed out that how this media paradigm was an extension of similar stratagems that had successfully played out in other parts of the world. “From North and South America (Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro) to West and East Asia (Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte), the playbook of the 21st century populist-nationalist politician contains the same to-do list: a) turn the public against the media by berating them as an “enemy of the people”; b) delegitimise the media by ascribing motives, calling them news traders, “presstitutes”; c) choke the media by limiting access; distorting the discourse with fake news, alt-right media; d) intimidate the media with draconian laws; by trolling, doxing, threatening journalists; and e) bypass conventional media using one-way radio addresses, made-for-TV events and social media. As the results of the 2019 election show, the best student in the class — the “first Prime Minister in 70 years to know where the camera was”, in the words of one political scientist — was able to alternately emasculate and weaponise media, and turn it into a force multiplier at the ballot box.”

Evidently, with the coverage of the 2019 general elections, Indian media has touched a new nadir. During the debates in the Constituent Assembly leading the formulation of the Indian Constitution, several participants including Dr.Bhimrao Ambedkar, the chairperson of the drafting committee, had described “the history of the press in India as the history of the freedom movement in the country.” The values that guided the Indian Press, it was repeatedly underscored in these debates, were the urge to reach the masses and impart to them with clear understanding of different aspects of society and life, leading to knowledge and ultimately equipping them to be defenders of democracy in its varied dimensions, ranging from protection of human rights to promotion of social justice and establishment of an equitable society. Indeed, it has been noted by several observers and even historians, that the media has got increasingly corporate and vested interest driven over the past four decades or so, but its performance in relation to the 2019 general elections would go down in history as one that has imparted a bigger momentum and aggravation to this “free fall”, creating an unprecedentedly pathetic and odious paradigm. Would the Indian media, as a collective, be able to get out of this deep pit and reclaim the values it once cherished and highlighted? The answer lies in deep introspection and collective resistance from committed practitioners in the field.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

ഫ്രണ്ട്ലൈനിന്റെ ഡൽഹി ബ്യൂറോ ചീഫും സീനിയർ അസോഷ്യേറ്റ് എഡിറ്ററുമാണ് വെങ്കിടേഷ് രാമകൃഷ്ണൻ. അച്ചടി, ദൃശ്യ, ശ്രാവ്യ മാധ്യമങ്ങളിൽ 35 വർഷക്കാലത്തെ പ്രവർത്തിപരിചയമുള്ള മുതിർന്ന മാധ്യമപ്രവർത്തകൻ.

അയോദ്ധ്യാ പ്രശ്നം, മണ്ഡൽ കമ്മീഷൻ റിപ്പോർട്ട് നടപ്പാക്കുന്നതിന്റെ അനുരണനങ്ങൾ, പഞ്ചാബിലെയും ജമ്മു കശ്മീരിലെയും ഭീകരപ്രവർത്തനം എന്നിവയെല്ലാം ഇദ്ദേഹം ആഴത്തിൽ പഠിക്കുകയും വാർത്തകൾ തയ്യാറാക്കുകയും ചെയ്തു. കഴിഞ്ഞ 25 വർഷമായി രാഷ്ട്രീയ റിപ്പോർട്ടിങ്ങിൽ ശ്രദ്ധ കേന്ദ്രീകരിച്ചിരിക്കുന്ന വെങ്കിടേഷ് ഒട്ടേറെ ലോക്സഭാ, നിയമസഭാ തിരഞ്ഞെടുപ്പുകൾ റിപ്പോർട്ട് ചെയ്തു.

ഗ്രാമങ്ങളിലെ സാമൂഹിക മാറ്റങ്ങൾ സൂക്ഷ്മമായി നിരീക്ഷിക്കുന്നയാളാണ് വെങ്കിടേഷ് രാമകൃഷ്ണൻ. ഒട്ടേറെ സന്നദ്ധ സംഘടനകളുമായി ബന്ധപ്പെട്ട ഉപദേശകന്റെ റോളിൽ ഇദ്ദേഹം പ്രവർത്തിക്കുന്നുണ്ട്. ഡൽഹിയിലെ ഷൂമാക്കർ സെന്റർ, നോയ്ഡയിലെ സംക്ഷം കിഡ്സ്, മെഹക് ഫൗണ്ടേഷൻ എന്നിവ ഉദാഹരണങ്ങൾ.
Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

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