Published: Thursday, May 16, 2013

Power of the Press

Page_301There’s an underground world called Lobbying, Media Management and PR, and as most underground things go, we don’t really know a lot about it. Here creatures of the shadow pull whatever strings they must without creating the slightest disturbance on the surface of our complacent waters. Wars are custom-made, printing presses guzzle down what disinformation, sensationalism and political fuel they’re fed, and disperse it as the convenient truth. This hardly comes as a surprise in this age of capitalism, where news is a product, news agencies are multi-billion dollar corporations, and everyone has a price.

So is the media no longer the bane of existence of the government and the elite? Is it yet another tool at the beck and call of anyone with the right combination of wealth and influence? Leading conglomerates own brand-spanking new television channels SA-TV and G-TV, much like their veteran counterpart Channel I. You’d find exactly the same if you go knocking at the gates of their contemporaries, the glitzy high-tech breed of news stations that’s been spreading like wildfire. These firms got their fingers in everything, including places you don’t want to know. But hey, at least we’ve got diversity. In the States, the same six companies run 95% of all media outlets.

Wherever you go (except for hard-to-imagine non-democratic places), newspapers fight the good fight everyday for the most enticing headlines. In reality, we’re sitting ducks waiting to be seduced and fed a big warm slice of “psychological warfare”. And the media nearly always delivers, never disappoints. Only trouble is that it exploits our confirmation biases on the way.

We get the paper in the morning and hear the caster read off the day’s script. We don’t necessarily have names or faces to associate with the people who own the daily news. When we find out, it’s because of incidences like Murdochgate or the Amar Desh controversy. Where Rupert Murdoch is a phone-hacking Zionist media tycoon tinkering with the British elections, Mahmudur Rahman is an opposition bigwig who’s hit the half-century in defamation charges. And it’s really just karma coming to bite him in the tail – in 2005, Rahman sued a private think tank for fabrication. So ever since AL took up the reins, he’s been going in and out of jail for the exact same reason. The highlight of his journalistic career came last December when Amar Desh publicized Skype conversations between the ICT chairman and an international criminal law expert.

Absolute suppression of information is déclassé and barbaric. Who does that? Not the media manipulation expert USA, who is so good at its game that by 1980, it’d managed to put an entire nation in a “historical amnesia” – a third of Americans couldn’t tell which side they’d supported in the Vietnam war.

You can’t blame them either because it’s a trick question. The US had its way with both ends of the nation, regardless of the “official” word on it.  What never made the news is that Roosevelt rejected Vietnam’s first twelve separate pleas for help, the NLF actually sought a non-communist regime, and the Napalm Girl photo only got wired to New York by chance. Makes you wonder what wasn’t so lucky.

US is a real Rumpelstiltskin when it comes to making things up, but Basherkella definitely comes a close second. It’s the go-to place for “news that the mainstream media won’t bring”. What they probably mean is that if you want news that’s distorted beyond imagination, this is where you’ll get it. No sane person should believe its claims (like 2,500 Hefajatis were slaughtered at Motijheel) but the comments and number of shares suggest otherwise.

People who don’t know better do end up getting brainwashed by Basherkella and its equally blasphemous cousin, Orna Porun, as was the case when somebody decided to photoshop Sayeedi’s face on the moon. But when the government starts shutting down papers and TV channels like Diganta, it’s like we’re back in the ’70s when there were only four newspapers in circulation. It’s great that AL’s trying to get a handle on things, but does this make us trust them more? Meet propaganda with real news, but can anybody remember what that is anymore?

History more or less repeats itself – phone-hackings go back to the Nixon era; you’re invasion material if you’ve got any oil on you; and countries under martial law like Nigeria might downplay military damages from 2000 houses destroyed to 30. The media has never been the self-righteous nonpartisan entity we’d like to think it is. It’s a revelation that, for a heartbeat, makes you want to renounce your last bit of faith in the world, and lead the life of a shut-in.

So it’s time for a wakeup call. When they said, “Don’t believe everything you read in the papers”, they meant to add, “Because there might be more to it.” (Don’t settle for this, too. There might be more we’re not letting on) Be it the ultra-censorship of omnipotent party leaders or the more common case of politically (mis) aligned news, there’s always someone hounding the free word. But when the consequence is a quiet erosion of our memory and a new height of oppression, we question the so-called democracy we’ve settled for. When the brave new world bares its ugly head, we have to find the courage to ask the tough questions and set the picture straight while it can still make a difference.

  • Julfiqar

    Fabulous write up Amiya. Keep up doing this great work. Cheers.