Saturday, March 29, 2008

Alternative zindabad Mainstream murdabad

Comunist Posts : Susenjit Guha

Alternative zindabad Mainstream murdabad
- Susenjit Guha

M J Akbar’s speech in Riyadh echoed a crying need for not only the much misunderstood Muslim society and Islam, but society in general which is denied the right to correct information and analogy by the mainstream media.

Trapped in a vortex of pressure groups and the establishment, the mainstream media is faltering in its duty to provide unbiased news and opinions, the hallmarks of freedom of speech and expression.

Former president of CBS news Richard Salant once blatantly put it: "Our job is to give people not what they want, but what we decide they ought to have." He may have spoken for his channel, but he reflected a malaise common to mainstream media the world over.

And J K Galbraith was succinct on that score: "The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking."

Certainly viewers and readers have the right to ask “Why the hell should you decide for us?”

But they don’t. Few readers, most of them nowadays, have a mind of their own when they read the morning newspaper or watch television. We are constantly fed opium which comes in the form of pre-conceived notions in different attractive looking packages into our drawing rooms. And opium is packed inside the folds when we hear the rustle of the morning paper. Some of them have nearly done away with the editorial page.

Challenging conventional viewpoints - stripping facts to the bone - has ceased to be the job of the media.

That brings us to J K Galbraith. We are not thinking anymore - thanks to the media which has relieved us from the painful task and morphing into zombies. Our interest is consumed by banal commentaries on trivia which in recent years have begun to occupy our minds and shape our conscience.

Media is normally under threat and gagged under dictatorships and totalitarian regimes. Surprisingly, presidenT, now grumpy looking, Musharraf of Pakistan set the institution free after decades which became his nemesis. He quickly turned Geo TV, ‘to live’ sounding in Urdu to Mauth TV by letting loose rampaging policemen on its offices. It remains to be seen how Asif Zardari, in Pakistan’s bumpy road towards democracy, deals with the media now. Bhutto dynasty is history and a Zardari dynastY, with his friend’s wife as speaker seems to be shaping up.

Dynastic political parties in democracies are naturally wary of media criticisms and impact editorial slants and news coverage of media houses. While dynasty thrived in medieval era owing to pliant subjects in thrall of the king or queen, in modern times, an exercise in sleight-of-hand is required to justify its continuance.

The buck stops just outside the palace as prime ministers are sponsored and tailored before elections till such time a scion of the dynasty manages to work up the aura of yore. And elected representatives expend their energy trying to be in the dynasty’s good books.

Alternative media is counter- hegemonic and challenges the very basis of conventional notion and wisdom without the threat of either direct or indirect establishment pressure. When an editor of an alternative US news site wrote back that he liked my piece, but was keeping it on hold for further scrutiny with his staff since he was uncomfortable with terms like ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’, I was surprised. He thought they were misperceptions and might further the very Bush/Neocon doctrine they were challenging.

That’s alternative media. It attempts to shuffle the mind till it flips into rewind, pauses, goes fast forward, but never stops.

But the numbers, who acknowledge there is a hidden hand shaping world events like never before, are swelling. Alternative media attempts to tell the truth rather than hide or misdirect as CBS’s Richard Salant bragged.

No wonder people are voting with their feet and putting their money and mind increasingly in alternative media in the US and Europe while the Riyadh speech of MJ Akbar is laden with possibilities for our part of the world.

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