It is 9 pm on a weekday and the decibel levels on your television are on the verge of exploding. Coming on are two channels that will present you (in Sashi Tharoor’s famous words) an “exasperating farrago of distortions, misrepresentations, and outright lies….”
But what’s so special about journalists lying? People in the media have been colouring the truth with their personal beliefs since time began. And not just in India. So what is different this time?
Two things are different this time: One, the media-lying is part of the agenda of one political party to run down the opposition and create a narrative of hyper-nationalism. And two, the game is backed by the use of technology across multiple media.
The game itself is childishly simple. The party selects a topic for the day. This is from just two choices – some alleged scam of the opposition in the past. Or, an alleged slight to the army, flag, anthem etc. The actual topic is inconsequential. Only its potential to be twisted to suit the agenda. So much so that even the 30-year-old Bofors scandal was suddenly resurrected as a fresh, hot topic for debate.
Soon the anchor assembles a cast of dubious commentators – which includes the spokesperson of that party, who sits, trying to look innocent and also a host of unknown names who probably had to be paid to appear. They usually carry tags of some school of thought. Some like the son of a temple priest from Kerala has made himself out as a professional commentator who is there to defend “ancient” Hindu beliefs. Sometimes, the commentators are apparently from Pakistan, though why any self-respecting person from that country would come on an Indian channel to get abused is a wonder. Unless of course, it is for a fee.
Soon the “debate” starts. The anchor introduces the topic, heavily laden with his one-sided conclusions and indicating to the audience that he will not stand any opposition to his views. The party spokesperson is then given a lengthy opportunity to add further innuendos and falsehoods with the anchor goading him on. Then the “debate is thrown open”. Which is a signal to the minnows to attempt to speak before being cruelly cut down by the anchor who runs down their views, their organizations, and their personal standing. All this accompanied by the anchor waving a sheaf of papers threatening “full disclosure”.
This high decibel drama is soon accompanied by a separate exercise to trend the hashtag of the debate on Twitter. Within minutes of the debate starting the IT cell of the party assigns thousands of likes and retweets to the hashtag and trends it to the top.
It must be clarified that all self-respecting political parties and organizations have long stopped sending their representatives to these “debates”.
Interestingly these two channels are quite a contrast – one is an upstart channel just a few months old, openly funded by a leader from the party and anchored by a person whose political leanings are no secret. The other channel is from a hundred-year-old media group, that has produced some of the finest journalists in the country, but today is ruining its name just for the sake of political crumbs.
That these two have been tasked to meet the political agenda of a particular party will be obvious even to a child. Most of the damage to reputations to organizations such as the Congress, AAP, TMC, JNU and personalities such as Amartya Sen, Raghuram Rajan and assorted movie personalities have originated in their studios.
The party has replicated this across other languages, selectively backing some “favourable” channels in Hindi, Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam and Tamil. Their decibel levels may be lower but their agenda the same.
In the creation of a fascist society these “Studios of Hate” are the new channels of indoctrination.