A media creation
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A media creation

No matter how fiercely independent-minded we strive to be, we've all been influenced, indeed in some cases conditioned, by the media. Karan Thapar writes.

india Updated: Sep 18, 2011 01:20 IST
Karan Thapar
Karan Thapar
Hindustan Times

I wonder if we realise how powerful the media are? Do we realise that so much of what we think, feel, believe or how we anticipate and then react to events is conditioned by the television channels we see and the newspapers we read? They convey images, paint portraits, pronounce judgements and, unless we're on our guard, we accept them or, at least, make them part of our thinking.

No matter how fiercely independent-minded we strive to be, we've all been influenced, indeed in some cases conditioned, by the media. If they're not careful some could end up creatures of the box or some broadsheet.

All of this flashed through my mind when Pertie telephoned with another of his damnable questions. "Is Kapil Sibal really much a dreadful person? Or Chidambaram, for that matter? And is Advani, at 84, actually hankering to be PM?"

"Why do you ask?" The truth is I was flummoxed. Pertie has no interest in politicians and, usually, he's dismissive of them. Yet here he was questioning the popular impression of three of them.

"Because suddenly the two have become hate figures and one is perceived as an octogenarian opportunist, desperate for a last chance. Yet I can remember a time when Sibal and Chidambaram were heroes of the media and Advani was considered wise."

There's no doubt this was once the case. Equally, it's indisputably not so any longer. But all I could say was "The media's changed its mind."

"I know but what I can't understand is why?" Pertie was in a reflective mood. "Once the media praised Sibal's repartee, now they think it's glib. Once they complimented Chidambaram's intelligence, now they call him cocky. When Advani called Jinnah secular the media was supportive, now that he wants to campaign against corruption it's critical. How do you explain this?"

"Surely it's because circumstances have changed. In different situations those men were viewed differently." But I felt this wouldn't satisfy Pertie. I wasn't mistaken.

"But the three men remain the same. They haven't changed. How can the media so completely alter the image it portrays of them? Did it misunderstand them earlier or is it failing to comprehend them now?"

It took me a while to think of a suitable answer but then it occurred to me. "It's like Indira Gandhi. Her strength was viewed very differently during the Bangladesh War and during the Emergency. Circumstances changed the way the media saw her."

Pertie wasn't impressed. "That's not a fair comparison. 1971 and 1975 were two extremes. Nothing similar has happened to Sibal, Chidambaram or Advani. Yet the media have done a U-turn."

Not knowing what to say I decided it was time to ask a few questions of my own. "Why has this got you so worked up? How come you're so concerned?"

"Because rather than question people's prejudices the media are giving them credence and passing them on." Pertie paused but I knew he wasn't finished. "And, remember, hate figures are like heroes. Just as you guys used Anna Hazare to sell your channels or papers you're now using Sibal, Chidambaram and Advani. In each case, you swim with the popular tide because you think it will increase the audience."

"And…?" I knew the conclusion was still to come.

"And people like me, who don't follow politics, get taken in. Instead of enlightening us, you blind us with passing prejudice. Ultimately, I don't care about Sibal, Chidambaram and Advani but is this fair to me?"

The views expressed by the author are personal.

First Published: Sep 17, 2011 22:44 IST