Man’s Media Miseries

Whenever a full-spread cover advertisement appears in his favourite newspapers, an online friend of mine posts a picture of it on his Facebook wall and laments the squalor and commercial motive of mainstream newspapers.  But most readers of the conventional dailies including him do not consider unsubscribing such dailies though they are terribly annoyed at it.

Indeed I had stopped reading the said daily nearly ten years ago for some pertinent reasons including its high density of advertisements. So I took courage to frankly suggest him to unsubscribe the daily on his Facebook timeline. My comment precipitated an online discussion with several opinions supporting and opposing me. A couple of comments toned: ‘read only what interests you; ignore others including the ads; do not brag!’ In a similar discussion a year ago, another friend went verbose about the benefits of advertisements. He said ads are informative and it makes the media attractive!!

Media Literacy

We live in a period where a significant number of people overtly think that our democracy is apparently supported by the fourth pillar – the press. Nonetheless, they are unaware or unconcerned about the dynamics of news and ads work in tandem in an extremely profit-driven media world. Those who simply trash the daily after reading “what interested” them, are often oblivious about what they have consumed is the faeces of a deal between the media house and their commercial supporters.

Many are not mindful of these advertisers who control society’s behaviour through specially designed ads which apparently have significant influence on the news contents. More tragic is what we have learned from the greatest democracy of the world – America – that they can sway the mind of the electorate through surveys and other media strategies in deciding whom they should vote to power. It is alarming to learn that we are sitting on a ticking bomb that is conveniently manoeuvred by corporates and media.

Such corporate invasions and attacks should be resisted by viewers/readers’ collectives. As isolated resistance may not yield much productive results, groups and communities have to come together protesting over the density of ads and news bias in media. Citizens and groups should exercise their ideological stamina to fight undesirable contents by resisting or rejecting particular media houses and their products for which they pay every day.

Power of People

Developed countries have made great advances in this regard as a number of media watchdogs as well as whistle blower groups operate for people’s welfare. They keep an eye on media biases – religious, racial, gender, social and cultural – and document them properly. In the past their advocacy has compelled many multinational companies to revoke their ad for the biases.

Hundreds of cases have been reported every year where the ads are withdrawn from being circulated or the authors have made an apology because of popular resentment. One infamous case is Pepsi’s #BlackLivesMatter ad in 2017. The commercial thrived on an ongoing protest against the violence and systemic racism toward black people, but was trivialised by Pepsi in their attempt to make it a commercial opportunity to sell their drink. Pepsi fell flat on its face at the widespread uproar in social media which accused it of appropriating a serious political movement in order to sell a fizzy drink. Pepsi had to revoke the commercial. A number of other brands such as Nivea, Sony, Starbucks, Amazon.com, Coopers (beverage) had withdrawn their ads for hurting public sentiments in the past.

Indians have not shown such passionate resistance to media content except for occasional sexual obscenity or hurting religious sentiments often exasperated by groups with political agenda. Many of these ads do contain stereotypes but the Indian audience either is unable to pick the subtexts or is complacent with these images. Ad campaigns explicitly belittling certain gender, castes, and human rights do not often gain much public concern in India because of its patriarchal and casteist mindset. Popular indifference has catalysed campaigner’s imaginations go wild enough to encroach our ideological and existential space.

Bigotry For Sale

Corporates who support media with commercials also play an important role disturbing the social balance. Much alarming was a recent conversation between a client and Airtel, the telecommunication giant. It all started when Pooja Singh tweeted Airtel DTH Customer Care requesting to replace a man namely Shohaib with a Hindu customer service officer just because she did not want the service from a Muslim. Airtel immediately scheduled another staffer named Gaganjot for the woman. Surprising, isn’t it? But the vigilant Twitterati woke up to it and accused Airtel for “pandering to bigotry.” Smelling foul, the company issued another response to the woman, saying they “do not differentiate between customers, employees and partners on the basis of caste or religion” and urged her to do the same.

The conversation should caution us primarily because it reveals that our neighbours are prejudiced about you and me for our religious, gender or other identities and they refuse to avail a service from you and me for the same reason. This is a great social index we should be proud of! Secondly many of our corporate service providers are ready to take a communal role or secular position depending on what their clients want. They even go to the extent of calling you a ‘bigot’ (as was in the case of Pooja Singh) if the company senses a threat to its larger clientele. The corporates are equipped to instantly change their customer prejudices, you know, just for a deal.

Ultimately we realise that in their desperate race to make profit corporates are ready to compromise any human values for communal or other prejudices. People’s aversions and prejudices are encouraged and reinforced by the corporates  as much as they get paid for their service. What we think news is the rubbish of the deals between media houses and corporates. Imagining that media promotes the democratic process is only a hallucination. But for the readers and viewers that is a predicament worth fighting for.

This article is published in INDIAN CURRENTS 25th June 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 26)