Sunday, June 29, 2008

Role of Media: Impact on various cultures

Imagine it was 1800 AD and a Danish cartoonist depicts Mohammed in his cartoons. Would the Islamic world have known about it? And how long would it have taken to know about it? And if some people got to know about it would they have been able to rally the whole of Islamic world to agitate against this?

Not really.

The present day media, consisting of live reports 24 by 7, detailed documentaries, regular news broadcasted on TV, internet that connects the world, people and their opinions on an unprecedented scale, transparent press, is entering our lives unhindered and uncensored on a daily basis. In an instant, we know if France has banned scarves in their schools and we watch this event as it unfolds on a daily basis. Now, we know if a remote town in Oregon has put up toilet seats with pictures of Hindu Gods. The news is beamed to all homes in India (and elsewhere on the planet) on primetime.

Different civilizations on this planet are exposed to the same media content but in reality each of these civilizations hasn’t matured along the same lines and hence we see different reactions to the same news from different parts of the world. The West which has actually invented the instrument called Press, using it as a potent force for bringing in the first people’s movement in Reformation, and which later on brought in Age of Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, Scientific Revolution, has also used this potent force to mass hypnosis and propaganda during both the World Wars.

Right after WWI, seeing the impact the media and news coverage has on the swaying opinions of the masses, it was clear that this new tool had a very big role to play. America, a constitutional democracy, consistently uses media to manufacture public opinion to wage it wars. However, the long tradition of media with necessary checks and balances in these countries has a maturing effect on its people – not that it is a permanent one.

The populations in the West do not go to streets the minute they see an American flag being burnt in a remote town in Palestine. They do not get onto streets to protest against Da Vinci Code though it targets at the fundamentals of its religion. However, the same movie raises massive protests in other parts of the world, such as in India, Philippines, etc, where the movie is eventually banned. Here, we can see the clear difference in maturities of different civilizations. Not all of us are at the same maturity level when it comes to dealing with international events as they unfold before us.

This particular point, that we have different temperaments and maturity levels, is completely missed out by local media. In an attempt to ape the West and their media, these local media people ignore the maturities and sensibilities of local populations and instead put them through same exposure as the West resulting in completely unexpected reactions from the people.

Indian people were not exposed to this kind of media content on such a massive and transparent scale even few years ago. It all started quite recently and we have already reached the exposure levels of West within a short period of time. While the media has gone an exponential acceleration in this country, the culture and maturity level has not. Indian mindset is still set in 16th Century while being exposed to the information content of the 20th Century.

We have not got our reformations, we have not got our scientific revolutions, we have not got out Age of Reason, Age of Logic, we have not got our Industrial Revolutions, and we have not got our Age of Enlightenment. We are still a superstitious, blind belief-led, orthodox culture set in Middle Ages of Europe, with heavy doses of religious ignorance and antagonism, with feudal mindset and heavy casteist divisions, but watching the events as they unfold in remotest corners of the earth along with much mature civilizations.

The media blindly aping the West is not just suitable to Indians or many other civilizations. Most Indians media play the role of relayer of information but do not take pains to explain it. For example, in a recent episode of hike in fuel prices, the media sounded shenanigans and spelled the doom for the consumer but did not take pains to explain how the soaring prices in the world market could have influenced it. Such irresponsible behavior can cause lot of turmoil.

On a daily basis the untrained Indian audience, which applies to audience in most post-colonial emerging nations, is witnessing the conflicts arising in remote corners as they are relayed without being prepped up. An Indian who is used to considering legs as filthy and impure watching someone in the West wearing sandals with pictures of Indian gods would be completely shocked. Such information does not make his life better. In fact, it had made it worse. He is not used to seeing it in his daily life, and with his limited exposure to his surroundings where legs are given their lowest place in the hierarchy of things, this sacrilege doesn’t go well. However, if the media wants to play a constructive role, it can precede the news items with how cultures differ in their view of feet and why West does not think feet to be impure. That explanation may help. However, it is starkly missing. Instead, jingoism is used while breast-beating young journalists foment hatred by showing the footage in such a light so as to elicit more antagonism and not understanding.

Some of us may be stumped to see why a remote town in Lebanon protests Danish Cartoons of Mohammed. How come similar caricatures of Jesus Christ in a town in Bangladesh go unnoticed by the West? How come Indian Hindus run to the nearest deity of Ganesha to see it drink milk, while all such miracles in the West are news items in a tabloid read by a whimsical few?

Danish Cartoons united the whole Muslim world to rally against Danish citizens and it embassies and launch major protests across the world. In near future, we will see more such events which will trigger even massive conflicts, civil wars, local wars, international wars, etc. Unless the media plays a constructive role, it can actually trigger conflicts as is the case in the USA where war is actually brought on by the media.

The idea of this article is not to regulate or control the media, or to accelerate the maturities of civilizations, but to agree that we have an issue at hand, a factor which we should not ignore when we broadcast various conflicts.

Example from Indian Context

Let me give an innocent example on how aping West in does not seem to make sense. During the Da Vinci Code episode, CNN-IBN ran a week long program called ‘Sacred Feminine’. These TV anchors just took the phrase aping the West and started to push it into India not knowing how and where it applies.

Sacred Feminine comes as a challenge to church’s orthodoxy in the West because Abrahamic Gods are all men and the Church has always seen women in poor light. Even now the Church and the religion in the West is dominated by men. However, the current socio-political structure in the West running counter to the religion has liberated its women and made them (almost) equal to men. Their women do not suffer the same ignominy as Indian women. On the other hand, India is quite the opposite. It has always given equal status to women in theology and religion but has not liberated its women in socio-political structure.

Sacred Feminine of Da Vinci Code challenges the theocracy and religion to introduce role of a woman as an equal partner. That has no relevance in India because a woman is already an equal partner in religion. This topic has to be dealt exactly opposite if it has to be applied in India. One has to challenge the existing socio-political structure while celebrating the sacred woman already depicted in Indian Scriptures.

Our media is immature too. Just to create news, so that they can ape the West, CNN-IBN unnecessarily rakes up Sabirmala issue. When all temples do not allow women, it is a case of discrimination, but when only one temple does not allow women then it is a special case. So, why even rile against it?


  1. Sujai,
    You have written 50-100 articles about weaknesses of Indian system and threats to India. India has not reached the level of certain African countries and failed in all counts. There should be some strengths and opportunities which must be preventing from reaching such failed state. According to you, You are wired differently. I suggest you to use those wires to spot strengths and opportunites. If you start thinking in that direction it may even give new perspective to your views on other subjects.

  2. I think there are enough people covering our strengths(both real and imagined)......

    What we need is a knock in the head to drive some sense into everyone in this country.

    Criticism is always welcome...

  3. Different civilizations on this planet are exposed to the same media content but in reality each of these civilizations hasn’t matured along the same lines

    This is the manuwadi view of different people being wired differently and thus some are brahmins and some are shudras. Mr. SuSuJai looks like you are the most mature because you spent 7 years in "the West".

  4. 1. The Danish cartoons of Muhammad and the resulting oppositions were not a mere matter of cartoons and freedom of expression. That would be rather naive. I think there was a political statement made through those cartoons which was correctly perceived by the muslim world and agitated against.

    2. In my opinion, Americans are probably equally immature in that they actually consider Fox news to be a credible news source. Their analysis of the rest of the world is steeped in ignorance and breeds an ignorant outlook in the American viewers

    3. The decline of religious sentiments need not necessarily be a sign of maturity in a civilization.

    ~ Vinod

  5. Damn !!!

    I completely agree with you

    Indian mentality sucks !!!!

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Another good article, Sujai.
    I just wanted to mention about the film which I saw yerterday, I can't stop sharing asking people to watch it. It is SO mature(intellectual content) in its content. The entire cast consists of 7 people. The entire movie takes place in single room.
    Just becoz it was a low budget movie, it was not advertised so much, i think.
    The Content is SO MATURE. You should see it sujai:
    'The Man from Earth'

    It has relevancy to whatever subject you are speaking in this blog.

  8. ok, media is baised. but telling it how to cover a news so that it wont be interpreted wrongly is solving the wrong problem. and i think it infringes freedom of speech.
    people are going to read into and reinterpret however the media covers a news. the actual problems are illiteracy, superstition and the maturity of the people.
    and i totally agree abt the apeing west and the idiocy with which the media covers any news.

  9. Good post and I agree with everything.

  10. Different civilizations on this planet are exposed to the same media content but in reality each of these civilizations hasn’t matured along the same lines and hence we see different reactions to the same news from different parts of the world.

    I didn't know that Muslim societies were collectively considered a "civilization."

  11. The populations in the West do not go to streets the minute they see an American flag being burnt in a remote town in Palestine.

    True. But that doesn't mean clashes over religious-inspired (Christian, usually) stupidity doesn't exist here in the US.

    Those battles may not be fought in the streets, but rather are fought in the Congress and the law courts where congress people try to pass a law that outlaws flag-burning, or try to teach Intelligent Design theory (another name for Christian genesis) under science, or fight in court regarding displaying Ten Commandments in public institutions, or using "under God" in school prayers, or defining marriage to exclude gays and lesbians. Killing of abortion providers in the US was done by Christian religious extremists.

    And protests (usually peaceful) happen here too whenever there is a "controversial" art exhibit, almost always something to do with Christianity. Case in point: Piss Christ, Dung-covered Madonna.

  12. I doubt that any aspect of our culture has given equal status to women, inlcuding theology/religion.

    Sabarimala is a case in point, where women are not allowed. Also we do not allow women as priests in any temples, nor does any other other religion. Exceptions are not considered.

    Socio-cultural progress has a heavy dependence on liberation of women, which is only namesake in India.
    The mass opinion towards socio-cultural events/aspects are still male oriented. A change towards this can only be affected with the liberation of women to make them loud enough to affect mass opinion, which contribute to change and hence progress.

  13. Nalan:

    I doubt that any aspect of our culture has given equal status to women, inlcuding theology/religion.

    I think I didn't do a good job in explaining this. What I meant was - our scriptures (as against scriptures of Abrahamic Religions) have always given equal status - so as far theology was concerned, women were given much better status. [May not be in practice]

  14. Smitha:
    ok, media is baised. but telling it how to cover a news so that it wont be interpreted wrongly is solving the wrong problem.

    Some mature democracies see media as another pillar of democracy - along with executive, legislature and judiciary. If we go by that belief, it means there should checks and balances to media as well.

    However, we don't ask of the same degree of accountability from the media (so it is not the same critical pillar).

    Its up to the media to assume responsibility or forgo it. There are no obligations. I am not imposing them on to the media either.

    The way I would want a citizen to pick up the trash and put it in the right place on their own, I would like to media to act responsibly, on their own. Its like a wish list, not a diktat.

    I am NOT asking for INTERPRETING the news for the audience. A premise or a background sometimes helps in putting the context. In absence of the context, some of the news items can be easily misinterpreted. Role of media if ever is to also provide the context to make sure the audience can decide for himself.

    Removing the context and then adding their own color to it actually tends to INTERPRETING the news. And also deliberately avoiding the context can also lead to INTERPRETING the news.

  15. check out the below link to study gullibility of indian media ;-)

  16. This is not a spam comment or irrelevant comment (it may seem though)
    Update to my previous comment:
    I had read somewhere that the director and producers of this movie were actually encouraging people to download the movie to spread the word. So I did. The only thing they ask is that if you like the film, tell others and visit their official web site. I’m sorry I can’t provide the link of where I originally read this, but there are some posts in the IMDb discussion board about it and while I’m not comfotable providing links to .torrent sites or illegal downloading(rapidshare,megaupload etc) sites, I highly encourage you to check this film out by any means possible.


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