Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Colonialism through Journalism: Establishing, appropriating, otherising and suppressing voice of locals through 'media power'

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi
It is an aspect that needs to be talked about more. How, locals can be totally sidelined and their voice suppressed cleverly through a complex but established process. 
That people can be made voiceless in their own land. This is possible through media. 
You can be made to believe that 'it' is a traditional 'vegetarian land' or the local history can be totally altered-erased, as in the case of several towns where it happened within a comparatively short period, around 15-20 years.

The ability to mould public opinion, gives this power. In front of your eyes, it will happen but you can't even notice. It is difficult to even understand as this is a different sort of power, you don't acquire it by cracking a examination or winning election. But this creates the discourse and sets the agenda for everyone, in later years.
Highly opinionated, biased and arriving with a sense of entitlement--a few people can make it happen. A job in a mainstream newspaper gives people this freedom, the power to push such a narrative. It is bizarre, the power to decide what to publish, what not to publish.
And, whatever is published on a regular basis, is believed. 
The lack of diversity in the newsrooms, as well as TV channels, makes it a universal phenomenon. If in the largest circulated newspaper, you won't find a single person belonging to local community, most of the caste groups or any of the minority religions in editorial, just imagine the situation. 
Similarly, in tribal regions, you may not find a single tribal in the editorial section. Groups that form barely 5-10% of population, form the overwhelming majority, and hence, the ability to present, misrepresent and project things in a totally different way.

Recently, I had given an example, which was posted on social media. I am again mentioning it. It is about a guy who came from a town 500 km away from the region. No great qualification, not even command over Hindi, but as he has an uncle in media, the youth gets job in newspaper.
Initially, he is asked to see copies from small towns, and soon becomes journalist.
Without knowing city or making acquaintances, no idea about town but believes 'local populace here is too backward and uneducated', though he has no statistics to support it. This is amazing sense of entitlement, armed with half-baked notions.
But the person is confident and feels that whatever he knows is absolute truth. He is ready to shoot his mouth, everywhere. He hasn't met people in the town despite having lived a couple of years now but never ventured into lanes or entered into households, but reflected in writings too about city, region.
Goes to a hotel, becomes friendly with him, then even tells him about what's wrong with 'your community', telling the owner whose daughters' and sons' achievements or education he has no idea about. Hotel owner has a beatific smile, nods, he has seen such saviours earlier too.
Meanwhile, his reports continue to show extreme lack of knowledge even about his 'beat'. Within 2-3 years he believes that he is voice of the region, now a 'buddhijeevi' [intellectual]. Imagine when there are dozens of such people in each media house.
Photo courtesy. Pexels