Thursday, October 13, 2005

IIPM, BLOGGING, AND THE DEMOCRATIZATION OF THE MEDIA...

The media is undoubtedly biased. It has the interests of the government and massive corporations to protect. We don't need Noam Chomsky to tell us this basic truth, although he has succeeded better and more exhaustively in articulating this facet of the information universe than perhaps anybody else. The basic ideas are simple to understand. Take IIPM for example. If they are printing their full page advertisements on a Times of India page (just a random example of a widely read paper), they obviously would not want to have anything, any article or comment on the opposite page, that would remotely criticize their credentials and sources. The newspaper also knows this. Thus, The Corporation and The Media have a tacit agreement of watching out for each other, a boy-scout kind of pact to not turn their back on their buddy. Even though the media tries to make valiant efforts to give us an unbiased view of the world, this view is inherently constrained by the partnerships and the brotherhood that they need to foster in the natural heirarchy of society.

This makes the media coloured. Through this colour, some brave souls in the world of news who are underdoggers in the business, make attempts to show us the light, or to scatter clues here and there in the form of rhetoric, allusions and understatements, to try to tell us that there is more to reality than the literal presumptions of the words which glaze our eyes every morning. Of course, these underdoggers themselves are restricted by the need to preserve their own job and stay in the profession. Their actions are limited by their need to do a liitle good at the expense of conforming to the party line. This creates a fundamental void in the reporting of news which ebbs and tides with its own vital forces- the relative inattention to individual episodes of injustice. For decades, we have one common complaint against the media, namely that it only reports events which are considered 'unjust' by common consensus and sensibilities, and even by popular vote. The tribulations of minorities and non-conformists are frequently either never heard by the media barons, or are cast aside into the morass of miscellaneous grievances of the world. To be fair, over the past few decades, information technology has given the world a powerful tool to make the voice of the lonely sufferer heard, and news corporations have been trying to use it to try to give us a more objective view of the world. But still, we keep on asking, is it enough?

The case of IIPM has brought to light the remarkable contributions which all of us, ordinary citizens of the world, can make to the possible democratization of the media through our voices in cyberspace. It has showed us how, once and for all, we can resurrect all those issues which the mainstream media was bound to regard as mundane and cleverly dodged happenings until now. For one thing, we are not dependent on the media for biasing our views about news and individuals. We don't need the media to tell us that Gaurav Sabnis maintains an excellent blog. We can read it consistently and make up our own mind. Under other circumstances, in another age, the case of Gaurav being dished out a legal summons by some corporation would probably have never made it over the seven seas, and probably would at most have created a minor stir among people who knew him. Freedom of speech would have been yet again casually stifled, and the case would have been drowned in thousands of other cases.

But not today. Today, we care, and we can show that we care, and make others care...and make others pay at least in some way. We can rise up as one, and drive home the real point. We can make it clear in a week that the issue is not about Gaurav or the legal summons, but that it is about freedom of speech. We can lay open the underhanded and purely rhetoric and slander filled, or innocently ignorant, statements that IIPM associated officials and students (or at least those who claim to be these) are making as replies to criticism, that don't have any objective, fact based refutations in them. In a week, we can largely lift the drapes of smooth talk and flashy advertising and try to uncover IIPM's true existence from beneath them. For the first time, as a collective community, we can actually reiterate what freedom of speech is. We can burn the cobwebs of triviality and cliche from this much abused phrase, and unearth the raw and unchanging diamond beneath, that has always engendered and exhorted the simple right to voice our opinions, which has been remarkably shackled until now.
Freedom of speech actually is a simple concept, involving the right of anyone to say anything he or she wants, and to be criticized in any way by any other person, in any way that that other person wants. The reason it is has become such an exalted notion is precisely because it has been trampled beneath the feet of totalitarians and bigots through the ages. This suppression has been official as well as informal and casual. In so called free countries like the US (which are exceptionally free to a large extent), it has taken the form of 'manufacture of consent'. In other countries, it has disguised itself as servile flattery and magic mumbo-jumbo, or downright bullying, imprisonment, arrests, and even mass killings. In any case, the media has not always been completely transparent in citing such acts of suppression. Their excuse, sometimes real and many times concocted, frequently has been the lack of 'credible' sources, and the protection of 'national and/or corporate interests'.

I believe that this new phenomenon of 'bloggertarianism- blogger libertarianism' may ultimately lead to a paradigm shift in the way that the mainstream media reports news, and finally bring about its democratization that was supposed to be 'self-evident' in its original establishment in the constitution of every progressive country in the world. A whole new genre of information dissemination may finally end the hegemony of biased media. The reason looks simple. The sheer number of voices calling out about the matter should force the media to take cognizance. Not that sheer numbers have caused anybody to take cognizance about anything until now, otherwise many of the world's problems would have been solved. But at no other time did an act of bullying by a goverment or corporation on a microscale, no matter how small, hold the potential to spread to such a diverse community, in such a short period of time, and to elicit such a varied smattering of strong opinions from every corner of the world. After such a comprehensive and obviously concerned reaction, newspapers and other forms of media will have to take notice, or else at the very least be ready to be severely criticized for not keeping up with the times and being unprofessional. It is simply physically impossible for anyone to subdue each and every source mirroring the issue. When the issue is bursting out through its seams from so many corners of the world, forcefully argued and emphasized by such a diverse community of hundreds of citizens, it would be foolhardy for the media to not give it attention. Even if they don't pay any attention, that lack of attention itself will be touted as indifference and rapidly relayed around the globe; this call for arms, this time against the lack of attention by the apathetic mediamen, will again spread through blogs and the internet. The point is, one way or the other, there is going to be tremendous pressure, and almost an obligation, on the media to publish events that the blogsphere is buzzing with. If they do, the cause is served. If they don't, that action will still be noticed and will be castigated by the blogging community. In the end, it would not matter what the source of the piece of news is. If it is around on such a scale, it needs to be heard. Period. In fact, that is simply and precisely what the word 'news' is; things that are happening around you.

This is an expression of libertarianism on a scale and in a style like no other. People are concerned about why the IIPM case is not being given the attention in the media it deserves. My guess is, in a few days it will be, because it will be impossible for the media to neglect the profusion of opinion about it (hoping that the opinion increases at the rate at which it has until now), and it is very likely that it will be news in at least a few major papers (The trend has alread started, with Hindustan Times and the Indian Express publishing small snippets on it). Ignoring such a widespread and widely talked about issue will very easily be seen as blatant indifference, or at the least, extremely bad reporting by the newspapers. Blogging may be the engine that finally puts the rampant media into a moral straitjacket. Ironically, bloggers may finally restrict the media to report news- the same media that until now has been 'free' to bully, to embellish, to ignore, and to get away with things.

Of course, turning this issue on its head, blogging may also encourage the spread of rumours and purposeful attempts to vilify individuals and organizations. But then, that is the nature of every powerful medium of change, and it's upto us to use it responsibly. Happily, in this particularly case, we have a clear instance of a corporation threatening an individual who voiced his opinions. It's not important who the individual is, who the corporation is, or whether their or his views are impeccably justified, or baseless. No amount of debate about the details can fudge the fact that a transgression of the freedom of speech of a citizen of a free, democratic country has been committed. Given the ideals which we always talk about, see and hear everyday, this is a more than sufficient reason, irrespective of the details of the case, for this event to be highlighted. GIven the fact that millions of such transgressions happen and are quietly subdued everyday by the media, this small victory is nevertheless a major triumph of our basic rights. I believe that not only have IIPM shattered their public image and have possibly dug a grave for themselves, but have also dug graves for future erstwhile slanderers and suppressors of basic freedoms. Let us hope that the ghosts of repressive government, media, and corporations are also finally laid to rest in these graves. Let us hope that this also is part of a change, no matter if gradual, that signals a march towards the democratization of the media, turning a manufactured necessary illusion into the palpable reality of our times, and those of our future generations.

More than two hundred hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote from France in a time of turmoil on the American continent, that "The tree of liberty must be constantly watered by the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure". Today and tomorrow, I see the quote being read as, "The tree of liberty must be constantly watered by the bloodless contributions of bloggers and corporations"!

2 Comments:

Blogger Hirak said...

I think the danger of rumours spreading through blogs is a little unfounded because like I said, a thing will survive on its merit, and blogs being a free medium will soon have others publishing the truth.

Case in point: IIPM put up a number of websites to support their shameless cause. Who takes them seriously?
Desi-pundit is overflowing with posts in support.

In fact, if it had not been for the internet I would have not known Chomsky.

Sic temper tyrannis
Followed by gunshots..

11:35 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Yes, mostly the dangers won't arise, but consider this; tomorrow, what would happen if IIPM claimed that all the commentators writing slander on blogs, as well as the original writers of the summons mail, are false? And what if, after investigation, they DO turn out to be false. Now in this particular case, it does not matter, because the reputation of IIPM has been exposed anyway, and it has been proven that they have fabricated info in their advertisements, which is an issue independent of the summons and comments.
However, it is not impossible to think about how someone can try to malign the reputation of someone else using cleverly concocted data and an authentic sounding scare. If the target is a company, the reputation of which depends so much on brand image, it is likely that its reputation, and possibly stock, will be affected at least for a while, before it sets the record straight.

4:26 AM  

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