Media in service of lies, half-truths and silence

The world no longer needs Goebbels to spread a pack of lies and churn out propaganda to suit some vested interests. It has the media dutifully doing the job much more efficiently and professionally, round the clock, 24 X7, weaving through half truths and silence a tapestry of deceptions to keep the public opinion blissfully ignorant of the dark realities that lie beneath the surface of the rosy pictures or of the other dark shades than the ones that are chosen to show. What dictates the media and what determines how media performs? Certainly the huge mass of power that the world of media – with its various forms of print, electronic and now online – is not one big huge monolith. Yet, it is part of the larger circle of power politics, driven by political affiliations and commercial interests, often serving the cause of one or several interests at the cost of turning blind to many other voices. It is one big powerful spoke in the larger wheel of power politics and naturally ends up serving the interests of the already economically or politically powerful elite, not the marginalized. 

Noted American historian Howard Zinn when he revised history from a people’s perspective told about the untruths churned out by the history handed over to the world – a history that was written solely from the perspective of the victorious. The media, controlled and manipulated as it gets in the hands of the lobbies of powerful, plays a far more dangerous role, telling us about a present from only one side of any multi-dimensional picture, a perspective coloured by interests and motives that are crucial to the power, existence and survival of the media. Contemporary history is being written on a day to day basis by this manipulated and controlled media. It is not a picture of truth. It is simply the perspective of the powerful elite, whoever that be, more often the state enterprise, though sometimes also non-state key players. 

The mainstream media is particularly conspicuous in its vulnerability to politics of control and manipulation and even as alternate media especially the social networking media maybe in many ways deemed to be driven by the power of the ordinary people, recent examples have instructed its manipulations even by the very elite, for instance in the case of the use of this form of media by anybody from the Taliban to Narendra Modi. The control of mainstream media is far more direct through control of business lobbies by way of ownership and the collusion of owners with mega multiple major global corporations and political elite. It is a world wide phenomenon and reveals itself through the multiple images like US media bashing of Iraq, its ommission of Vietnam invasion even from memory, its hype of non-existent war for democratizing the middle east or liberation of Afghanistan – everything that suits the state agenda. 

Media elsewhere across the globe follows, by and large, similar patterns, constructing the misplaced public opinion of placing a great degree of value on the virtue of ignorance – all in the name of democracy, nationalism and national security. Much of what goes beneath the surface of the games of power is now being churned out from the West by men like Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and Snowden. But popular media, far from nailing the governments for their pack of lies to the public are busy building a hyped demonization of such leaks and reinforcing the belief that security lies in the deceit of secrecy, not in truth and transparency. 

The Indian case is not very different from the American one, only that the tones are far too jarring and the bias much too visible, perhaps to suit the regional culture. Media has been a convenient tool in the hands of the state for anything from war mongering to suppression of the oppressed – whether it is political or economic suppression. Everything sells in the name of national interest, not because it suits the public but because much of the mainstream media has learnt the art of reiterating the virtues of an abstract national interest as some kind of a defined divinity. The repetitiveness of the war jargon, the tones of vindictiveness and the silence on the unholiness of some ‘holier’ elite aids the process of constructing a public opinion about something which may not even be true. Propaganda becomes the gospel truth not because it sounds appealing but because the media, by and large co-opted, controlled and pliable, has been trained to the best of its ability to professionally manufacture consent suited to certain specific interests. The media has travelled the long road from performing the job of informing the public to disabling information to donning the hat of good marketing salesmen while pedaling the untruths and half truths for benefit of some interests. 

The media is no monolith and so certain powers in the media discourse will always come under the cloud but there are exceptions – the intelligence wings, the army. Many journalists the world over have developed close nexus with intelligence agencies in their respective areas and virtually perform the job of co-opted spies and informers. Carl Bernstein, one of the journalist who revealed to the world the shocking Watergate scandal, maintained that there were over 400 American journalists who had secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency and that the use of journalists has been among the most productive means of intelligence-gathering employed by the CIA. Such relationships, now common and more brazen across the globe, are dangerous both for the health of a vibrant independent media and for democracy. It would be a democratic folly to turn a blind eye to the uncomfortable truths of what goes on in the name of national security by these extremely potent centres of power. Why is it that the media does not want to talk about these? Those who do are easily branded anti-nationals, constructs that are too abstract and based on the misplaced imagination of a nation. The problem does not begin from seeking greater transparency in the functioning of such forces but in deeming them to be holy cows.