With a deeply motivated media, fake news, and social media warriors, the presence of an honest filter is the need of the hour
As the saying goes: if you do not read the newspapers, you are uninformed and if you do read them, you are misinformed. This quote is supposedly attributable to Mark Twain, but it looks increasingly as if a truer word was never spoken. At least, in the present times, it is the word that has a credible weight. Television news is actually a lot of personal opinions masquerading as news of the day. It only seeks to affirm one's biases or acquire new ones. Save Cyrus Broacha who tells you upfront that his weekly show is what it says: 'The news that wasn't'. Full marks for stating the truth.
Noam Chomsky is precision excellence in saying, "The smart way to keep people passive is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable public opinion, but allow a very lively debate within that spectrum". Political establishments, the world over, are seriously engaged in the business of perception management. Governments of the day have benign and malignant approaches to guide public opinion to believe what is sympathetic to their leadership while the opposition does, what else, but the opposite. Given this binary, the media, as the fourth estate in vibrant democracies, navigate through the noise to present reasonable perspectives. To (re)educate the masses about the good and the bad men and women in politics and society is indeed their noble mission.
Media, somehow, by compulsions of its business was until now an (im)partial player to choose the truth that you should or can know. In reality, its choices are instead driven by the owners, often called barons, and sometimes more truthfully, media-barons, in hushed whispers but never in print. The barons' choices of the truth to be told, keeps varying from time to time, depending upon the colour of the politics they like to see in power. Often, the bigger barons or a syndicate of them, seek to promote the political colours of their liking and curiously enough, do succeed. The hapless voters are hit with partisan views, and even biased surveys to ensure the dominance of perceptions among the public that favour the media's choice of political groups. The fiction of democracy triumphs, once more, in our land of plenty of people. The nightmare of struggle for the basics of living continues for the common man and woman, while the elected fortunate engage with the perks of power to payback the select managers of public perception.
As we have descended into a post-truth world, media actually led the way there. Beginning with paid news, particularly in mofussil towns, we have now moved on to fake news and settling down to 'creative news', which, in the currency of today's political idiom, is a 'new normal'. The Cobra Post recently broke the story of news manipulations and if even a small part of it is true, as people who seek access to ease of living, ease of doing business, and equal opportunity, have no real future. Governance as a political goal loses all meaning and celebrations of anniversaries are an illusion, primed to condition the public for the next set of elections.
The danger of creative news assumes big proportions when the issues involve personal reputations. Celebrity names when caught on the wrong side of the law come in for a biased trial by media. Always guilty by virtue of their fame is the often taken line and convincing too. There isn't a TV channel that does not add a couple of layers to an event, either to degrade it or enhance its significance for their political biases. A private dinner becomes a source of conspiracy to topple the duly elected government of the day because of the presence of a remote past foreign affairs minister of our enemy of all seasons, Pakistan and for all reasons. The whole country is convinced that every one of our problems is rooted in their black hearts. The best part is that an increasing number of literate members of our population believe it.
And, as for social media, less said the better. No rules of conduct apply here and nor is there a compulsion to be loyal to facts. All kinds of narratives are created here. A twitter handle reputedly shared a Mahatma Gandhi quote purporting to exhort Hindus to not resist rape during the partition violence. Such misquotes are running wild only to raise emotive temperatures in our country. Another one, earlier this year, informed that the vice-president's travels abroad cost the exchequer, six times the President's budget. All false, of course. The political groups of all hues have acquired social media managers and obviously are busy pouring scorn on their opponents and poison into the vitals of the body-politic. Way to win friends and influence, voters and facts be damned. This platform has no space for moderates, nor for a voice of reason.
The whole phenomenon of 'fake news' is leading to a fear psychosis among people, to quote Prateek Sinha, who is a founder of Altnews, a web platform dedicated to verifying and debunking the scourge of fake news. Another platform creator, (SM Hoaxslayer), is also combating the same, but one wonders if those who catch fakes are not tempted to spread their own brand. Internet takes you into the world wide web, but one who can navigate the explorer with safety is yet to be created. In a real world, our lives are being wrecked by fakes. We are surrounded by expert fakes and fake experts. From products to human beings to news and opinion pieces. Jose Ortega y Gasset, the Spanish philosopher, said, thus, "In intellectual life, which of its essence requires and presupposes qualification, one can note the progressive triumph of the pseudo-intellectual, unqualified, unqualifiable, and, by their very texture, disqualified." Where are we headed, can be anybody's guess. For sure, we need the much revered AI (artificial intelligence) to give us apps that will distinguish the genuine from the fake. It is the need of the hour.
We have to realise that our democracy is in serious crisis. Politicians are naturally inclined to play with facts and seek emotional connect with the voters, but the fourth estate is the only guarantor of ethical discourse in public space. When their biases become so transparent as now, then we the people, have no choice but to rely on the 'Sixth Sense' instead of the Fourth Estate.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)
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