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Media as Big Brother

Sagarika Ghose’s ‘From House to studio’ (IE, January 1) throws light on some interesting points while obscuring others. She i...

Written by Anush Kapadia |
January 13, 2003

Sagarika Ghose’s ‘From House to studio’ (IE, January 1) throws light on some interesting points while obscuring others. She is, of course, right that the media has moved into the space of dissent/critical analysis that the Opposition has vacated.

But what her piece also reveals is that the bourgeoisie’s desire to wrest back rule from ‘the farmers’ has been projected onto the English media. Opposition implies a desire for rule.

Take, for example, one of the reasons she gives for the rise of ‘Media-as-Opposition’: ‘‘An important reason for the rise of the Media-as-Opposition is the decline of Parliament.’’ This ‘decline’ is synonymous with the replacement of educated lawyers by presumably uneducated farmers, resulting in a Parliament that is either ‘dreary or violent’. The assumption here is that a bunch of Anglophone, Anglophile, and thus elitist lawyers are the proper bearers of the rights of civil society, whereas the farmer needs a good Civics lesson. This is nothing but an irredeemable nostalgia for a fully constituted class rule, a dream that, however unconsciously and thus unintentionally, underwrites each and every statement of the ‘Media-as-Opposition’.

“Government and Opposition are indistinguishable, so naturally it is up to the media to play the role of expose, interlocutor, and cop.” What, pray tell, is so ‘natural’ about a completely monopolistic and profit-driven cartel playing the role of judge, jury and executioner in society? Notice, in addition to all three branches of government, the most Machiavellian of governmental functions, that which embodies the state’s monopoly on violence, the police, is slipped into the list of roles the media must play, completing its new avatar of Leviathan/Big Brother.

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Of course, it is only the view of the bourgeoisie that they are true and ‘natural’ (divinely ordained?) bearers of the right of governmental power that can render such an inflation of an unaccountable and therefore undemocratic enterprise as ‘natural’. Not that our current government is particularly democratic, of course, but at least there is a pretension to be so, in the form of elections. Here, it is simply the divine right of the king at work.

Lastly, there is the whole notion of captivating the audience. The Media-as-Opposition is the only part of society ‘sexy’ enough to challenge Hindutva, for ‘dull homilies on pluralism’ are not ‘politically empowered enough to battle the mob.’

Here, finally, is the M-word, the one that sets apart Us from Them, rulers from ruled, enlightened from despotic, and so on. The mob likes a spectacle, and by gosh we’re going to give it to them. Here is our new strategy for rule: the media.

Notice how the appellation at the end of the article echoes the figuration of royalty: Instead of “The king is dead, long live the King,’’ we have “The Opposition is dead, but the media is alive and kicking where is hurts.”

Sadly, this desire for rule will remain unfulfilled, but it is a powerful ideology whose arrogance fuels fundamentalisms of other kinds. Vajpayee is right, there is not that much difference between secularism and Hindutva.

The writer is a student at Columbia University

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