Media as Politics in South Asia
Sahana Udupa, Stephen McDowell
Can we imagine a society that is immune or at least less influenced by the impact of media both traditional and non-traditional?
Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad were the media of their times hymning to the war heroes. The same techniques and tactics have been used from the immemorial time by all systems whatever their nature and philosophy.
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The last decade of the twentieth century will always be remembered as a decade of the Media Surge where there was a boom in television channels and media productions.
The fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union produced relative peace and calmness in World politics. The same period also chiselled the importance of media as a political instrument both for making and destroying.
The book in the discussion analyzes the emergence and growth of media and media productions with a special focus on the region of South Asia. A region with too much diversity in all spheres and also replete with internal and bilateral tussles!
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1. The first chapter analyses media as politics removing the conjunction “and” and placing “as” in place of it to give it a more suggestive and determinative meaning. Media has become politics and politics has become media. The two chains each other closely in the present political paradigm. The reason why “publics” in media for political calculation are rampant now.
2. The second chapter is concerned with the framing of politics and events in media and how they are used to suggest some facts to their viewers while under carpeting or at least ignoring some of them for one reason or another.
The tussle between old and new, young and aged never ends. While the old guards do not allow vent to new ideas easily, fresh air is always breathed in by the new generation.
Jacques Ranciere’s anti-elitist and provocative theory of art is primordial of such values and performing.
The whole question is how media packages any event and problem in its productive frames on the screen.
3. The military rule of General Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan is marked by the emergence and growth of the private media and news channels in the country. Leading business tycoons and traditional newspapers opted for the new opportunities. Malcolm X was right when said that media is the power that makes an innocent guilty and stamps a guilty with innocence. Pakistan is no exception.
The corporate political culture and its rivalries provide opportunities for common Pakistanis to understand the political dynamics of their country from an alternative perspective. They give an Awami (public) speaking space to the unreported and unaccounted-for Pakistani masses who otherwise do not find enough openings for themselves in the traditional media.
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4. The 6 per cent Tamang ethnicity in identity politics in Nepal was sharpened by the radio transmission at Makwanpur district focusing more on women’s health and empowerment than the other traditional Nepali women. And how the other janati groups (a Hindi word meaning an ethnic group) felt about their isolation and exclusion from the Nepali media.
5. The gender-based division in Nepali politics has pitted the politicians of the country into two blocs. The first one is called pimps in the Nepali online and social media, while the second one is termed as characterless. The Maoist leaders who abrogated the Nepali monarchy and who used to take refuge in Indian soil during their guerrilla insurgency are traitors and pimps of India seeking only the national interest of New Delhi.
The women politicians in a strictly patriarchal society like Nepal are never liked by all. There is a common wrong perception that such women politicians are bent upon the destruction of society encouraging other women to follow them. Such characterless women should have no place and value in Nepali society. The political scene of the country is always smudged with such fake and immoral stories.
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6. An opposite situation of nearer to the church, further from God! It is usually common in the military and dictatorial governments to muffle media for political, economic, and stability reasons. But that was not the case in the military government of General Pervez Musharraf.
The military coup at the very beginning of the 21st century, 9/11 and the US attack on Afghanistan were some of the factors that compelled the then-military government to add some credibility to its credentials by allowing for new private media news and production houses.
The state-run television, PTV, had a very low public score for its trustworthiness. In such an atmosphere, a deliberate lesse-faire was given to the newly emerging Pakistani media to cater for the public fervour in a controlled way.
7. For almost three decades Sri Lanka was wrought with civil war that affected every sphere of life. Information and media blackouts have always been a strong tactic used by the warring sides only favouring news and information that suits them best.
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After the end of the civil war, the Sri Lankan civil society proposed a bipartisan reform agenda for the uplift and restoration of media to restore its credibility and resilience among the citizens.
The chapter focuses on the gender ratio, employment, the role of media and civil society, and what lessons could be learnt by the other countries of the region from the case of Sri Lanka.
8. In his farewell address President Eisenhower warned the Americans about the rising danger of the military-industrial complex trying to do anything to boost up their gains from their joint.
Military being an important element of a nation’s security uses the political, social, and economic support it gathers from the masses to support the industrial tycoons for the benefit of both. This common case in all countries whether they are developed or underdeveloped.
More or less the same technique is used in all other industries all over the world. Bangladeshi media is also controlled by the very nexus of politics and commercialism. All licensing of television channels in the country is motivated by a hidden interest of political leverage for one party or another.
These channels in a sense become sloganeers and pamphlet writers for these political parties.
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The Community Radio Policy of 2008 allowed for the establishment of community-based radios throughout the country for educating and highlighting issues of different marginalized communities in Bangladeshi society.
The 2014 Broadcasting Policy was criticized by all opposition parties for muffling freedom of speech. This policy prohibits the dissemination of any news which is considered anti-state and dangerous for the national security and interest of the country by the authorities.
9. People’s integration into any political system is the backbone of any system. The more people included, the more they felt about themselves and their country.
The chapter tells how the Delhi welfare system replaced the traditional paper cards for food rationing with digital plastic cards of food national security (NFS). This product marked the start of media strength for the common men who see all things on their smartphones now.
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10. In 2008 Sri Lanka as a state was passing through a crucial stage when the Sri Lankan military and LTTE fighters were fighting their last battle in the northern part of the country.
To pull out any news or information which is not liked by the government, stringent censorship was imposed on the media. Many journalists were killed mainly for their work among whom Lasantha Wickrematunge was also included bringing an international uproar and censure for the Sir Lankan government.
In such political and economic straits, alternate media, or social media, emerged rapidly a little bit with digital political activism. The strength of the media was also revealed in the presidential election of 2015 when the then-president, Rajapaksa, reluctantly decided to cede his office after defeat in the presidential election. Thus, the Sri Lankan media acted in two ways.
First, repressed by the government to dispense only favourable, second, the 26-year-long civil war between the Tamil minority and the Sinhala majority rifted the whole fabric of society.
In such circumstances, the media’s role was germinal in the transition of power after the 2015 presidential election from one Sinhalese president, Rajapaksa, to another Sinhalese president, Sirisena.
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11. Cambridge Analytica’s use of social media for political campaigning was the first and expert use opened a gateway for online political manoeuvring and targeting. Countries with fragile political and economic infrastructures are more susceptible to such manoeuvres.
But at the same time, such online political activism and campaigns were very beneficial for the candidates and activists who could not openly operate or campaign for themselves due to security and law and order situations.
This chapter discusses three countries, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and the Maldives, to elaborate on how social media political campaigning saw a surge in them and how the common voters were affected by them.
Political parties across the spectrum use social media for their cause forming their social media cells for this.
12. Though Nepal was declared a secular state in 2015, it’s Hindu and Buddhist ethnicity does not swallow it so easily. The Hindu majority want to make it again a Hindu monarchy while the Nepali Buddhists claim proudly that the Enlightened Buddha born in Nepal is giving another astounding grandeur to their land.
This prestigious uniqueness sharpens the identity politics of Nepal and gives a unique religious-turned-political value to both countries. The Nepali social media users pride themselves on this identity politics.
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13. On 11 August 2012, the Azad Maidan protest rally organized by the Mumbai Muslims turned out to be a riot resulting in killing and material destruction in the city.
The reason was the reported atrocities committed against Muslims in the Indian state of Assam and the Rakhine state of Myanmar by the Bodo and Buddhists respectively. As is common in all rallies when agitating against some sensitive issue, the emotionally charged masses become out of control, the same happened on 11 August 2012.
This rioting not only caused a law and order situation both for the political a local administration, but it also was condemned for desecrating the War Memorial of 1857. The chapter analyses that situation from two points, first, the revamping and rehashing of trust by media in the overall structure of society. Second, its ability to surpass national boundaries when linked to religious or political claims.
14. The last chapter is an epilogue finalizing some themes that occurred in the earlier chapters.
Politics in general but South Asia in particular has become Mediated Politics in which two sides, common men and the state act and intermingle with each other through media which acts as a mediator or referee between them.
It is now up to this mediator or referee how justly or unjustly it performs its duties!!!
Murtaza Kaleem an educator, freelance writer, movie-watcher, melodious music listener and an avid reader about International Relations and World Politics with a decade long experience of education and teaching to students of different sociological and economic backgrounds. My social links are;