Tuesday, January 26, 2021

How media uses terminology to change people's perception about movements: Creating positive or negative image, defaming protesters through clever vocabulary

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

It's a classic example that how any movement can be shown in bad light or defamed by mere choice of words.

The terminology used can make a big difference in creating positive & favourable opinion about any movement or defaming it from the start. 'Pradarshan-kari' (protester), 'Andolan Kari' (agitation) or 'Updravi' (vandal).

From mid-80s to 90s, a term was 'Kar Sewak', denoting 'sewa' i.e. 'service'. Hence, the right-wing movement that continued for years and hurt the communal harmony of the nation, eventually leading to destruction of Babri Masjid, was seen as 'nationalist', NOT as a movement that affected India's law-and-order.

Reality is that in India, the 'mainstream media' is not neutral, it doesn't even show a bit of bias, rather, it goes to the extent of passing off vandals as 'nationalists' while the real victims who agitate for a cause are termed 'vandals'.

This hasn't happened in a day. Farmers had demands and top political leadership should have addressed it but instead when they marched to Delhi, most TV channels termed them 'anti-national', and for days it was claimed that the 'Khalistanis' had infiltrated the agitation. 

Certain channels were doing the round the clock vilification of farmers and their protest over the last two months. Those involved in widespread violence and movements to divide the country on religions lines can be termed 'nationalists' by media through selective choice of vocabulary. 

That's the power of words, the ecosystem. Otherwise, the woes of farmers, who sat in freezing cold and the large number deaths can be ignored. Further, victims are blamed as those causing 'disruption' by sitting on the roads, breaking law-and-order and causing trouble. 

Even, 'traitors', 'terrorists' are the terms used for certain protesters depending upon who is agitating. On social media, this gets amplified and the language is even more harsh. When the news along with one-sided coverage---TV showing just one aspect i.e.protester's entry, not the policemen's lathi-charge, it has a huge affect.

Most farmers who entered Delhi, had tricolour, yet, the TV channels had the audacity to cast aspersions on their patriotism. Now imagine the silence, when right-wing groups took out rallies in different states, carrying Saffron flags, hoisting them on mosques in MP, or even Hindu Mahasabha calling Republic Day, as a Black Day. 

Aakar Patel points out in a tweet, '14 people died in the Patidar agitation of 2015. More than 2000 Indians died during Advani’s agitation'. Riots had taken place in many Indian cities during Rath Yatra. It was never termed lawless or anti-national, rather, positive image was created. 

Rath Yatra had passed through umpteen cities across India and many of them witnessed riots. Later, it was this movement that culminated in attack on Babri Masjid and its demolition, which again resulted in communal violence across India and death of more than 2,000 people.

Those responsible for inflammatory speeches, call for 'Kar Sewa' and gathering mobs to destroy India's secular character, were not seen as anti-nationals, rather, media treated them as 'respectable leaders' and paved way for the radicalisation in society to reach the next and more dangerous level.

What you are shown day and night on most channels, and the words used by media, this ultimately creates public opinion. The role of media in changing perceptions, manipulating public opinion is overlooked. The threat is more than we even realise.