Saturday, April 3, 2010

News is deteriorating; journalism is in collapse

We live in a media-dominated ecology. Here, representation is reality and forms are defined by images. Due to growing media groups with varying interests of their own, a single reality gets different representations in the world today. In effect, it gives the impression of having different realities.

In this context comes the need to analyse media in terms of power; the need to classify media as that of the powerful and the powerless; of the majority and the minority. For the former, media is the tool for creating stereotypes of the latter and a means to legitimise and maintain their power and authority. Meanwhile, for the latter, media provides political space for their continuous struggle and resistance against being subjugated and subordinated. In the first case, a journalist becomes a ‘media slave’ to the dominant interests. In the second, journalism itself transforms into a struggle.

Growth of media is dependent on the market economy. In other words, both media and market economy have grown in service to one another. In course of this mutual association, from little compromises in its policies, media has succumbed totally to the needs of market economy. It is no rare case today of news being sold and advertisements being disguised as editorial contents.

‘Who represents whom’ is another crucial question in journalism. The SMS votes in the TV channels are often projected as the voice of the nation. On the other hand, the fact that a majority of our society still remain without access to the world of mobile phones is brutally neclected in media. Our camera eyes continue to be shut against the rural and slum populations of the country. Media is busy covering events for sensationalism and they often forget or reject to track and contribute to the processes that bring about changes in the existing exploitative social order.

The fourth Estate of our democracy has proved at various instances the lack of control on its free rein. ‘Trial by media’, ‘paparazzi’, and ‘media syndicate’ etc were blemishes on its rich tradition. However, self regulation was the suggested measure against them from the side of the State. It assured that there wouldn’t be any external pressure on media.

The Indian media has a magnificent history of having acted as a silent soldier in the freedom struggle and served as a humble preacher in the social reforms. When its mouths were shut forcibly during the Emergency, it had dared to react even in silence through empty editorials.

Technological advancement enables media to work at individual level. Now, news is no more the flow from one end to the other. The reader or the viewer is no longer a mere subscriber of news. He/she can now actively participate and contribute to mass communication. Interactions between people may define the news today. Here, each individual has the option and opportunity to represent themselves. Now everyone has his/her own voice to be raised. In a post-modern civilization, journalism should not be just a profession, service or a hobby. It should be considered a responsibly of each citizen. There lies the solution to the current state of collapse of journalism.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Politics of Resistance and Representation

People always try to protest against and resist any kind of oppression in one way or another. This can be seen throughout history across the world. While Naxalism/Maoism and the use of violence as a means to achieve one’s political ends have once again taken up the most space on our political media, one is compelled to delve more into the politics of resistance and different kinds of protests.

Was it Engels who said it that theft is the most primitive form of protest? Marcel Proudhon, the anarchist, famously declared that “Property is theft”. Jean Genet, the renowned French playwright, was one such person who considered the act of theft to be a form of protest and a means to achieve what was denied to him. In a larger perspective, theft of something that has been denied to a class/section of people for generations becomes a political struggle. Recently, one could see this in the case of the Chengara Land Struggle in Kerala where thousands of landless families illegally encroached upon an estate demanding land to the landless.

Can we say it like this: “One man’s protest is theft in another man’s view.” Does it sound similar to what is usually said as “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”? However, it’s not the act which determines its own truth or falsehood, but essentially the context and situation of that act. Thus the question, “What do you think about suicide bombers?” often elicits a long sigh: “I’m not the one to talk about this because I haven’t ever gone through such situations where my father is being shot and my sister is being raped”.

Again it’s problematic when the resistance is not from the victim but it is represented by someone else, often for the victims or on their behalf. Nowhere else is it as visible as in the case of Muslim clerics being compelled to issue a fatwa against terrorism. The representation (if at all terrorism represents the Muslim cause) here becomes an embarrassment to the represented themselves.

The question whether Naxals represent the downtrodden people of our country thus becomes very crucial in this debate. It’s not the spontaneous violence of the victims that is being questioned here but the situation where violence is shaping an ideology and a movement. Violence of resistance is legitimate, but violence to capture State power is not, which is unfortunately what the Maoists stand for. While criticizing the Maoist violence, Nivedita Menon makes her point very clear: “I’m not arguing that violence as such is ’inherently anti-democratic’. I am not a pacifist. Spontaneous violence against the structural violence of the state and structure of private property, violence in self-defence, even pre-planned violent action designed to redress a specific situation – all of these possibilities always simmer just below the skin of normal society, and must be understood within the context of hideous, unrelenting, never-addressed injustice.”

Many think that the Maoist line has been singularly pre-occupied with violence as the core of their philosophical understanding. They believe that the movement lacks political understanding. A statement issued by the Progressive Students Union in Jawaharlal Nehru University declared that “the Maoists have become victims/prisoners of their own limited understanding of the nature of the Indian State. This has led them to universalize their localized experiences and resort to strategies of armed struggle which may see them gaining the upper hand in isolated skirmishes but fails to hold good even ten kilometers outside the jungles.” And the same thing is asserted by KPS Gill in his interview with Ajith Sahi where he has said that “Naxals have a worldview which is at odds with reality.” State’s violence provokes Maoists often and vice versa. The common man suffers both.

On the other hand, Arundhati Roy is correct in her position that we have an oppressive-capitalist State for which poor and indigenous people are seen to be the burden of corporate men (remember the colonial motto: “Take up the white man’s burden”). According to reports from Chhatisgarh, the state sponsored Salwa Judum has displaced more than three hundred and fifty thousand adivasis in the old Bastar area. Fifty thousand have moved to neighbouring states, another fifty thousand are living under the surveillance of paramilitary forces in state-controlled camps, the remaining two hundred and fifty thousand have moved deeper into the jungle to escape the violence and pillage of Salwa Judum. And a declared Operation Green Hunt would do nothing but further alienate these people from the State.

The emergence of another voice is the need of the hour – a strong critic of the state, its violence and of its co-operation with the corporate world; a voice which no longer sounds strange to those it represents. A new movement must emerge which will formulate appropriate strategies to overthrow the existing system, without lowering its understanding of politics to mere engagement in anarchic violence. In a democracy where even the mainstream Left has abandoned the cause of the oppressed, can one hope for a “legitimate dissenting voice within the dissent from the state?”

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Afghanistan: Hubbubs on the Election Fraud

After the UN backed Electoral Complaint Commission’s findings of serious election fraud in the August 20 presidential elections, Afghanistan is now officially all set for a run-off election which is to be held on November 7. But the ludicrousness of the whole exercise can be traced to the international media’s  failure, despite its great interest in the Afghanistan 2009 elections, to see the real issues being faced by the people of Afghanistan.

The ECC found that both the top contenders for the president’s post, Hamid Karzai and Abdulla Abdulla, are guilty of fraud. The Commission’s report wiped out Karzai’s claim to have won the elections with 54% of the vote and it disqualified him from assuming the president’s post. On the other hand it also threw out 200,000 votes from Abdulla Abdulla’s account. But as the ultimate disgrace, the run-off election is to be held with the same two villains in the fray, who have shown little compunction in trying virtually to deceive a people who had even defied death to perform their primary duty of voting in the elections. Dozens of civilians were killed and several cities were battered by the Taliban during the August 20 elections. More than two cases were reported of the Taliban militants cutting off the ink-stained fingers of individuals who dared to cast their votes.

Neither NATO - the so-called saviours of Afghanistan - nor the international community has bothered to bring the culprits to book. Nobody talks about the 200 top electoral officials who have been deemed guilty. One can only expect an imperial force  or their cronies to do less than nothing for the good of a country which has for long been the target of a long term imperial agenda. And nobody addresses the actual question of the day - will Afghans, especially those in conflict areas, bother to vote again? The experts have already expressed their apprehension of a very low turnout for the November 7 run-off polls. The situation further worsens as the Taliban has issued a grave threat against the election on the very first day of the official campaign for the run-off elections.

What is not discussed in this context is the current socio-economic condition of the country. The same day on which the ECC report was released, there was another report from Afghan, which was neglected by almost everyone or dismissed as nothing new. The report said that 56 Afghanis were arrested in Indonesia while trying to migrate illegally to Australia for a better life. The recent UN report shows that there are 5 million Afghanis who still remain as refugees in the neighbouring countries. The actual figure is much higher, and the number of internally displaced persons is truly enormous. The people of Afghanistan still find it hard to live in their own country which is ruled by the coalition of Taliban, NATO soldiers, corrupt politicians, local warlords and opium lobbies.

Peace, reconstruction and stability are the vital necessities that the people of Afganistan are looking for. The US is trying to fish in the troubled waters of Afghanistan. It seems to be so generous of the US to deploy 40,000 additional troops in that troubled country. The time is right for an international debate on the additional military deployment which the US quietly got away with in the hubbub surrounding the election fraud. And the need of the hour is to make sure that promises of international aid to Afghanistan are fulfilled so that the new government can actually work towards a better future for the country. The US still owes half of the promised amount of $25 billion, which is yet to be delivered. Also both men in the electoral fray need to realize that this is not the time for political differences; they need to put aside their respective political ambitions and work together for a secure and stable future for their country.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Operation Green Hunt: Killing the Poor, Not Poverty?

With the arrest of the two senior politburo members of CPI (Maoist) Amitab Bagchi and Kobad Gandhi in August and September this year, Naxal movements in India have once again become the hottest topic in the Indian media. As the Government of India announced its plan to thrash the Naxals using paramilitary forces, the question once again comes to the fore: which type of solution must the State pursue – military or political?

Naxals mainly operate in the tribal areas of the eastern region of the country. Ever since the movement started in 1967 under the leadership of Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal, it has been supposedly working for the progress of the region and welfare of the people. During the 1970s and 80s, it did enjoy wide support among middle class youth and the student community. But after the formation of CPI (Maoist) in 2004, the movement started losing its support even among their own people. The main reason for this loss of support was that the Naxals, in different instances, had targeted and attacked innocent people, a change from its normal strategy of attacking only the State machinery and its agents. The increased media coverage and Naxalism being compared to terrorism also caused a decline in popular support for the movement.

However, nobody denies that the root causes for the emergence and continued existence of Naxalism in India are nothing but conditions of extreme poverty and widespread inequality in the affected areas. In general, people never question the underlying rationale of Naxal movements, but only the ways and means employed by them to achieve their political ends. For the same reason, tackling Naxalism is a very complex issue for the State. Also, Naxalism in different parts of the country is not a homogeneous movement and hence there can be no uniform solution to the problem. Any steps taken by the State against Naxalism should be prudent. Creation of Salwa Judum (literally, peace march) in Chattisgarh was one such imprudent move on the government’s part. It caused deep divisions among the people in those regions, goading them to start attacking each other. (It has been exposed by the mainstream media that the Salwa Judum is a state-sponsored army of vigilantes, though the state constantly denies its role.)

Operation Green Hunt has so far been characterized by many eminent intellectuals and academicians as an extremely myopic and immature decision by the central government. Many experts believe that such a move will considerably worsen the situation since innocent tribal people will be the main sufferers. What happened recently in Sri Lanka is going to be repeated in India. A section of the people of India is going to confront a war waged by their own government. In Sri Lanka, the missiles and rockets couldn’t distinguish an LTTE fighter from a common civilian. No such operation is capable of doing that. It is already feared that Operation Green Hunt would employ an inhumane, “take-nor-prisoners” approach. On the post-war situation in Sri Lanka, everybody including the Indian government and the media seem to be happy because they believe that the rehabilitation centres have all the necessary facilities and the arrangements work very well. Nobody is concerned about the hundreds of innocent people who died during the war, children who have been orphaned and wives who have been widowed; and finally, nobody at all cares about the enormously traumatic period of war which was forced on those people. Post-war rehabilitation is all that matters for the government and the mainstream media. That the Indian government cannot even assure that is truly astounding. We have 50 million people, three times the population of Australia, who have been displaced between 1947 and 2004 and not rehabilitated properly.

In that sense, Operation Green Hunt would further deepen anti-State feelings among the people in the affected regions. Already, there is a widespread belief that the State (read: mainstream politicians) is eyeing the vast natural resources – minerals, forest wealth, biodiversity and water resources – of the region, which have been the target of systematic appropriation by a host of Indian and multinational corporates.

Naxalism is without doubt a great menace to our country. But there are different ways in which it can be tackled and defeated. Welfare and socio-economic equality are the most powerful weapons against this menace. Now is not the time for waging a war on our own people. The State must realise that sharpening the swords of NREGA, ICDS, etc. is the best way to keep Naxals from thriving in our country. There are certain matters that cannot be treated as law and order issues but must be addressed as political issues. On the other hand, the people who are engaged in a political struggle must not forget that it is their responsibility to give up any violent means to achieve their ends. Violence, either from the State or perpetrated by Naxals, would only result in harm and hardship to the general population, especially in the affected areas.