We live in an era dominated by new technological advancements and an overwhelming flux of information. It makes the role of journalism more vital than ever. The media serves as a mediator for conveying news, information, and opinions to the public, shaping perceptions, and influencing public discourse. However, whether or not news coverage is considered propaganda in modern times is a point of contention. In my opinion, news coverage is definitely treated like propaganda in today’s time. Propaganda involves a systematic method of convincing the public to believe something that is not necessarily true but benefits in achieving the goals or implementing the ideologies of the government.
The most important part of propaganda is having the element of dishonesty, which could also include concealing and distorting facts from the public. While most people believe that propaganda has only become popular recently, research proves otherwise. For example, in World War 1, Germany tried to convince Indian soldiers fighting in Europe through Urdu pamphlets to turn against India. Society has always used the existence of common knowledge and common interests to spread propaganda. Before the rise of media, the Greeks, for example, used games, theatrical drama, religious festivals, etc., to communicate their "political, social, and moral teachings." Propaganda is the most effortless way to reach the masses through media, so much so that there is even a term for it called the Dune effect.
Propaganda is most effective when it is subtly able to either convince or confuse the public's opinion, allowing the government to go ahead with its debatable agendas with no consequences. Propaganda is very successful today because of the popularity of social media. The best example of this is the BJP's Instagram handle. They are highly propaganda-driven and influence people's decisions through memes and messages. The Instagram handle @bjp4india has about 6 million followers who are victims of the influence of propaganda through social media.
In an ideal world, the media should function without interference from outside influences. It is possible only if these media companies are private entities operating without formal censorship. Moreover, when the government is called out or spoken against, they take whatever required measures to subdue their voices. Ironically, the founder of India's first newspaper, the Bengal Gazette, James Augustus Hickey, was put behind bars for "defamation" since he called out the corruption and other vices of the East India Company, just within a year of starting the newspaper in 1780. After his second prosecution in 1782, his press was seized.
Today, some 250 years later, the situation in India has not altered a bit. Modi's ascension to national power in 2014 led to the taming of India's media. His rise coincided with reorganizing the editorial authority of some of India's most significant news institutions, particularly national television networks. However, on the other hand, the term Godi Media has become popular too. This term refers to the section of the media that is broadcasting the news in favor of the current Modi government. It has been modified to be a Godi as Modi sentiment. Since then, #Godimedia has been widely used in India to describe news channels perceived to be biased in favor of the BJP. These channels are often accused of selling fake news, spreading misinformation, and being used as a propaganda tool by the BJP.
One of the best examples of this is the coverage of the farmer protests. In 2020 and 2021, many farmers protested against three agricultural laws that the Indian government had passed. The BJP government claimed that the laws were necessary to modernize the agricultural sector, but the farmers argued that the laws would hurt their livelihoods. The coverage of the protests was highly polarized, with many news outlets like Zee News and Times now supporting the government. However, once the union made it aware that protests would not end until there was a change, the laws were repealed in November 2021. One thing to note here is that we call ourselves a democracy, but everything is done according to the government.
Another telling example is the media's coverage of the 2019 Indian general election, marked by an intense rivalry between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress Party. Regrettably, much of the media landscape exhibited bias, with most news channels favoring the BJP.
One of the challenges facing contemporary journalism is the rise of sensationalism. Certain media outlets prioritise sensational stories above informative ones in order to increase viewership and reading. This shift can distort the news and blur the lines between journalism and propaganda. The best example of this is the wrestler's protest that happened recently. There was barely any coverage on major news channels about the incident. However, all news channels covered the story when BJP MP Brij Bhushan, the main perpetrator in this case, was given bail. PM Modi commented on such a concerning issue with a couple of tweets, which shows how much value the government gives people who make the country proud.
Another thing to consider is that we live in an era where print media has almost disappeared, and the only way people are aware of everything around them is through news channels and social media. The rise of social media has made it easier for people to consume news from sources that confirm their beliefs. This has led to the creation of algorithms, where people are exposed only to information that supports their views. It makes it difficult for people to get a balanced view of the news and makes them more likely to believe that news coverage is biased or propaganda. Moreover, if the only information individuals consume is biased, it unconsciously influences them to make decisions that social media encourages. It is the strategy that the BJP often uses to get their way through almost every national crisis.
Rural communities, often detached from urban life, rely heavily on radio and news channels for information. When these channels incessantly promote the BJP and its ideologies, residents of these communities are more likely to perceive the government as their savior, influencing their voting choices. With 70% of India belonging to the rural communities, BJP gets most of its votes from here.
Additionally, propaganda and bias often increase when influential people own the media houses. The ownership of media houses by influential figures, such as Mukesh Ambani's ownership of Network 18, further complicates the quest for unbiased journalism. Ambani's substantial stake in multiple news agencies, including NDTV, News 24, India TV, and News Nation, raises concerns about journalistic independence. With rich people buying media houses, unbiased and honest journalism is something India, under BJP's rule, is far from.
A great example of anchors promoting propaganda is the coverage of the 2020 Delhi riots. The 2020 Delhi riots were a series of violent clashes that took place in Delhi between Hindu and Muslim groups. The riots coverage by the media was highly biased, with more than half the channels blaming the riots on Muslims. Almost all channels invited BJP spokespersons during debates to comment on the riots.
Another example of this is on 25th November 2018, Amar Ujala published an article regarding the Ayodhya issue that was titled (translated) - "We swear on God, Mandir will be built there: Muslim women come forward, men's stance unclear." It also had a picture attached to it, which showed supposedly Muslim women (understood by their headscarves) holding up posters saying that they believed a temple should rightfully be built there. Something that was "missed out" by the said media agency is that this particular campaign being referred to was being led by Shaheen Parvez of 'Muslim Rashtriya Manch.' Muslim Rashtriya Manch declares itself as a party representing the Muslim community. With very little research done, it is understood that the group is directly affiliated with BJP.
The transformation of news coverage into propaganda in contemporary times is evident in the Indian media landscape. The rise of social media, declining trust in traditional media, and the prevalence of biased journalism have all contributed to this shift. We must recognize and critically assess the presence of propaganda in news coverage, for only through such awareness can we safeguard the integrity of journalism and ensure that it serves its fundamental purpose: to provide an informed and impartial view of the world.
Edited by: Soumya Parija
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