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How is Media Effecting Political Situations in India Today?

No one politician, media person or activist is willing to accept that one can be agnostic to ideology. Its either you are with us or your anti-people/anti-democracy/anti-secular/anti-justice/anti-national. 

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Almost every publication, TV channel and online news service is partisan. There is literally nowhere to seek news and information which is unbiased. Pixabay

BY: AMIT KHANNA

With several platforms, from traditional newspaper, radio, mobile phone to social media, almost the entire adult population of the world has access to news instantly. India is no different in the always on networked world. What has changed is, unlike say a few decades ago, almost the entire media is partisan today.

It’s not that all news was always objective but most purveyors of mass communication of information did balance their socio-political bias with simple reportage of people and events.

In fact almost a century ago the high priest of modern journalism Walter Lippman put this dilemma well: “The news of the day as it reaches the newspaper office is an incredible medley of fact, propaganda, rumour, suspicion, clues, hopes, and fears, and the task of selecting and ordering that news is one of the truly sacred and priestly offices in a democracy.

“For the newspaper is in all literalness the bible of democracy, the book out of what a people determines its conduct. It is the only serious book most people read. It is the only book they read every day. Once you know the party and social affiliation of a newspaper, you can predict with considerable certainty the perspective in which the news will be displayed.”

Marshal McLuhan, another media theorist, is even more brutal: “All news is fake. It’s pseudo-event created by the medium that is employed. There is no honest reporting of any medium, it is all fake necessarily, created by the medium in question.”

Both these gentleman could be writing about news media in today’s India.

The genesis of partisan media goes far beyond personal bias. The first to use media as a tool of molding public opinion were the followers of Karl Marx. Much before Hitler and other fascists thought of controlling media on ideological lines the communists (and socialists) harnessed it to their advantage.

In Britain and America this polarization had begun even earlier thus creating two party polity in both countries. In a world beset with poverty, colonialism, industrialization and of course wars, the Left movement created a constituency of writers, thinkers, artistes and intellectuals since early 20th century in spite of the tyranny of many left-wing dictators like Lenin, Stalin and Mao.

The Right on the other hand was condemned to carry the baggage of despots like Hitler and the colonialists. With their intellectual heft the Left dominated academia, while the rise of free markets economies like US, Western Europe and Japan led to faster growth and development. Media and creativity largely hitched its wagon to the Left and the Right unfairly reduced to being synonymous with big bad businesses has unfairly redefined words like liberal and secular to their convenience.

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I have pointed out earlier that social media chatter on politics is limited to less than 1% of the population. Most of the mud slinging is confined to a couple of thousand inveterate Facebookers and tweeters. Pixabay

Non-alignment was a Fabian fantasy of fence setters (Nehru’s was one of its proponents) which was nothing more than a motley collection of the newly independent nations. The North-South divide is one of the myths of this clash of ideologies.

Indian artistes, writers and journalist too leaned towards the Left in Post Independent India. This was the beginning of partisan media in India.
Even in the 50s most political parties had their own newspapers and magazines. Unfortunately by appropriating words like ‘liberal’ and secular (incidentally both never part of the Communist manifesto.

When Mrs. Gandhi made a fundamental change in the constitution inserting “socialist, secular” something the founding fathers had never done — the first seeds of divergence were sown. Fault lines in our social fabric started emerging by the 1990s.

With rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the decline of CPI-M (CPI never mattered) there was a shift in the axis of Indian polity and, society and culture. However, the Left liberal (another oxymoron) cling onto intellectual power well into the new century helped by political patronage of Left of Centre Congress and allies. By 2004 elections arrived, media had clearly got divided on ideological lines, though still dominated by Left leaning journalists. Interestingly the liberals claim that a binary has been created by Right wingers. It may be so but then the others too, have created their own binary. Either you are with them or you are a sellout. Independence be damned either way.

TV news and online news sites have only accentuated polarization. The way every channel in India manipulates news through selective reportage, biased questions and using data which suits their slant. So, if the channel is anti-government, it will pick up known anti-BJP commentators, panelists and anchor intervention and if its pro-government, the process reverses.

Almost every publication, TV channel and online news service is partisan. There is literally nowhere to seek news and information which is unbiased. Social media only redistributes messages but has become the whipping boy for self-serving media who conveniently calls what doesn’t not suit them as “fake new”.

I am not defending or condoning any particular ideology here. My only objection is feeling free to express your opinion but don’t call yourself independent or liberal just because you dislike a particular ideology or party. By all means criticize and condemn it but do not assume a holier than thou attitude.

However, under pressures of the “breaking news” syndrome and reportage based on leaks from political parties, corporates and other interest groups most of today’s media specially in democracies is slanted and loaded with bias. Partisan media is here to stay.

A study on media bias, by Tim Groseclose and Jeffrey Milyo, talking about the US media, says “an unbiased media outlet would cite material equally from sources favoured by legislators in each party and from each ideological perspective”. They found that most media outlets disproportionately cited sources favoured by Democratic and more liberal members. Their measure of media bias allowed them to compare media outlets with members of Congress on the same ideological dimension and the result was startling-lack of independence in media.

But another study by them using another methodology did not produce stable results. All outlets they studied appeared to be more moderate or conservative in later years.

Media scholar Brendan Nyhan on the other hand observed: “Technocratic centrist to liberal organizations like Brookings and the Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities tend to have more credentialed experts with peer-reviewed publications than their conservative counterparts”.

Matt Grossman summing up both reports said: “Conservatives tend to doubt the ability of academic experts to maintain neutrality for the same reason that they are skeptical of the media; academics are also disproportionately Democrats and liberals. So the media bias debate reflects a broader conflict over whether technocratic expertise can be seen as neutral.”

I have pointed out earlier that social media chatter on politics is limited to less than 1% of the population. Most of the mud slinging is confined to a couple of thousand inveterate Facebookers and tweeters.

In no other countries planted messages of different ideologies keep going around WhatsApp that it is almost farcical. If someone does offer an independent analysis, he/she is trolled by either sides. No one politician, media person or activist is willing to accept that one can be agnostic to ideology. Its either you are with us or your anti-people/anti-democracy/anti-secular/anti-justice/anti-national.

social media
Media and creativity largely hitched its wagon to the Left and the Right unfairly reduced to being synonymous with big bad businesses has unfairly redefined words like liberal and secular to their convenience. Pixabay

Unfortunately, just because institutions have people supporting a particular ideology (when was it not so) they are supposed to be destroyed. If a court judgement is not to your liking then the judge(es) are corrupt or influenced. If 60 or 600 bureaucrats/artistes/writer oppose a party they represent civil society but if 600 or 6,000 support another then they a bunch of puppets. This is what I oppose.

By all means support or criticize or support what you believe in but don’t write off others. The axis of political and economic thought has moved right of centre after decades. Obviously, the apple cart has been upset. But that’s life.

Also Read: Taking Short Breaks in Between May Help You Grasp New Skills Better

A small minority of people can never discount what a larger section of people wants. Our Constitution has mandated a first past the post system of election. You can’t claim the percentage of votes polled by the winner in not the majority. This is how 18 elections have been held so far.

Media, thinkers and intellectuals should not make it a partisan debate because life is impartial. (IANS)

Next Story

Health Workers Have Something New To Offer For Ebola: A Vaccine

Does the vaccine work?

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Family and friends comfort Irene Mboyo Mola, 30, whose husband died in May from Ebola and whose six children have been vaccinated but she refused, saying she doesn't believe he died from the disease, in her house in the town of Mbandaka, Congo, June 1, 2018.
Family and friends comfort Irene Mboyo Mola, 30, whose husband died in May from Ebola and whose six children have been vaccinated but she refused, saying she doesn't believe he died from the disease, in her house in the town of Mbandaka, Congo, June 1, 2018. VOA

Irene Mboyo Mola spent 11 days caring for her husband as he died of Ebola in a hospital where she said nurses were too scared to get close. She helped him to the bathroom, picked up his feverish body when he lost his balance, and reinserted an IV that fell out of his bleeding arm.

“He told me all he could see was death,” recalls Mola, a 30-year-old mother of six, as she sat slumped on the floor in her small hut.

That close contact put Mola at high risk of getting a disease that has no cure and kills about half of those infected. But now, as Congo battles the most serious Ebola outbreak since the devastating 2014 epidemic in West Africa, health workers have something new to offer: a vaccine.

A health care worker from the World Health Organization, left, gives an Ebola vaccination to a front line aid worker who will then vaccinate people who might potentially have the virus, in Mbandaka, Congo, May 30, 2018.
A health care worker from the World Health Organization, left, gives an Ebola vaccination to a front line aid worker who will then vaccinate people who might potentially have the virus, in Mbandaka, Congo, May 30, 2018.
VOA

Promising vaccine

With thousands of doses dispatched to front-line health workers, the world is watching to see if a promising but still experimental vaccine might help stop this terrifying disease faster than traditional measures doctors have tried since Ebola was identified 40 years ago.

Even if the vaccine helps, there are serious hurdles. The shots must be transported deep into forests with few paved roads without it spoiling in the heat. Health workers have to identify and track down anyone who’s had contact with a sick person. Hardest of all, they must persuade a scared and wary population that shots pushed by foreigners could save their lives.

“Communities themselves must be at the center of the response if the activities are going to be effective,” said Jonathan Polonsky of the World Health Organization, a surveillance coordinator in Mbandaka, a city of more than 1 million in northwestern Congo.

Mola’s six children have all been vaccinated. But she refused, telling government social workers and WHO workers that she didn’t believe her husband died from Ebola. She said the hospital never showed her records confirming he’d tested positive for the virus.

A World Health Organization (WHO) worker administers a vaccination during the launch of a campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 21, 2018.
A World Health Organization (WHO) worker administers a vaccination during the launch of a campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 21, 2018. VOA

Fear and opportunity

There’s no guarantee the long-sought vaccine will help stop the outbreak. But Congo’s health ministry and the WHO rushed in 7,500 doses, created by the Public Health Agency of Canada and owned by Merck.

It was deemed the best option because the vaccine was found highly promising in testing a few years ago, when the epidemic in West Africa, which killed more than 11,000 people between 2014 and 2016, was starting to wane.

The plan is called “ring vaccination,” to find and vaccinate everyone who’s had direct contact with a sick person — the first “ring” — and then the contacts of those people, too, to break the chain of infection.

Last month, 11-year-old German Umba and her 6-year-old brother lost their father to Ebola. Both were vaccinated. But a shot alone doesn’t end the worry. U.N. workers monitor the children several times a day for fevers, an early symptom, until the incubation period passes.

Standing in the yard outside her classroom at school the young girl suddenly bursts into tears. Surrounded by aid workers, classmates and teachers who are unable to touch and console her, she buries her face in her shirt.

“I just miss my father,” she said.

Little 11-year-old German Umba, whose father died in May of Ebola and who is being monitored by the U.N. for potential signs of infection along with her 6-year-old brother, hides her face in her shirt, sobbing, outside her classroom in Mbandaka, Congo.
Little 11-year-old German Umba, whose father died in May of Ebola and who is being monitored by the U.N. for potential signs of infection along with her 6-year-old brother, hides her face in her shirt, sobbing, outside her classroom in Mbandaka, Congo. VOA

Crucial window

Success with the vaccination strategy hinges on the speed at which health workers can identify people at risk.

“If you detect cases late, you’re missing the opportunity to protect people,” said Dr. Iza Ciglenecki, who is working on the vaccination campaign with Doctors Without Borders.

Congo’s current outbreak has killed 14 people so far, according to the country’s Ministry of Health. There have been 38 confirmed infections.

Friday, WHO emergency response chief Peter Salama said many people vaccinated in Mbandaka received the shots more than 10 days ago, meaning they’re now protected — the vaccine has had time to kick in.

Finding people who need vaccination is much harder in the remote area of Iboko, where a new case was just reported. Shoddy infrastructure adds to the challenge.

A family sits outside in a neighborhood where three people died of Ebola last month, in Mbandaka, Congo, June 1, 2018. For the first time since the Ebola virus was identified more than 40 years ago, a vaccine has been dispatched to front line health workers.
A family sits outside in a neighborhood where three people died of Ebola last month, in Mbandaka, Congo, June 1, 2018. For the first time since the Ebola virus was identified more than 40 years ago, a vaccine has been dispatched to front line health workers.
VOA

“The roads are so bad that even if a person gets vaccinated it can be too late and they can still die,” said Rosy Boyekwa Yamba, a regional representative for the Ministry of Health in Mbandaka.

It can take days to travel just 100 miles (160 kilometers) to reach remote areas where Ebola still is spreading. The vaccine must be kept at a temperature of minus 76 to minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 60 to minus 80 degrees Celsius), and can only be kept in mobile freezers for up to seven days.

Yamba also worries that potentially infected people aren’t being found. Five such people came forward last week in Mbandaka after he pleaded with community members to “be honest with him” about whether they’d been in contact with someone who had the disease.

So far more than 2,000 people, including front-line health workers, have been vaccinated in Mbandaka and the rural villages of Bikoro and Iboko where confirmed cases have been found, says the Congo’s Ministry of Health.

Distrust in the community

Mola’s refusal to believe that Ebola killed her husband is a common reaction in the region. While many in Mbandaka have taken to washing hands and avoiding physical contact amid the outbreak, many also remain skeptical. They often don’t trust a government they say is corrupt. Of the dozens of people The Associated Press spoke to on a recent visit, nearly all said they don’t believe Ebola exists and referred to it as witchcraft.

This is Congo’s ninth outbreak, but illnesses are usually in remote areas, not cities.

“Ebola is not here,” said local resident Aziza Monzu. “It’s a disease created by organizations to get money.”

Dr. Pierre Rollin, an Ebola expert with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, understands.

“People die every day and everywhere but nobody’s interested. Suddenly because of Ebola people are interested and that makes you suspicious,” he said. “Why would they trust us?”

Mola seems to have escaped infection. The incubation period for Ebola is up to 21 days and her husband died three weeks ago.

“I’m still here,” she said.

Still, WHO officials say three-quarters of those who have been approached have agreed to a shot since the campaign started two weeks ago.

Once you’ve got people on board “you’ve tackled 90 percent of the problem,” said Dr. Alhassane Touré, the WHO coordinator for ring vaccination in Congo and Guinea.

Dr. Oly Ilunga Kalenga, minister of health of the Democratic Republic of Congo, addresses residents at the town all of Mbandaka, May 21, 2018, during the launch of the Ebola vaccination campaign.
Dr. Oly Ilunga Kalenga, minister of health of the Democratic Republic of Congo, addresses residents at the town all of Mbandaka, May 21, 2018, during the launch of the Ebola vaccination campaign. VOA

Does the vaccine work?

Health experts say the next two weeks will be critical in determining whether the outbreak will be brought under control. The WHO is now shifting efforts to more remote areas to contain the outbreak. The organization has predicted there could be up to 300 cases of Ebola in the coming months.

“We could see is another introduction of someone that comes from Itipo (a village in Iboko) or somewhere else to see family (in Mbandaka),” said CDC’s Rollin. In the last few days there’s been a big push in Itipo, the epicenter of the outbreak with 24 confirmed cases, to retrace people and vaccinate contacts as well as health workers, he said.

No matter how the outbreak unfolds, Rollin says it will be nearly impossible to say whether the vaccine worked to stop the disease’s spread.

“We can say the vaccine plus all the other measures work, but you can’t say the vaccine by itself works,” he said. In order to do that a controlled test would have to be run where in one place only the vaccine is being used and in another it’s not being used at all.

Next year, Merck plans to seek approval of the vaccine from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, based on previous studies of the shots. While the vaccine isn’t being formally studied in the current Congo outbreak, regulatory authorities would want to know if unforeseen side effects crop up.

“If it’s fully approved, then in each outbreak it’ll be the first measure and could be used all over the region,” Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, director general of the National Institute for Biomedical Research in Kinshasa told the AP.

In West Africa, a large study is underway that compares the Merck shot and a second vaccine candidate made by Janssen Pharmaceuticals to determine the best vaccination strategies and track how long protection lasts.

In the meantime, some recipients say the shot provided peace of mind.

Seated in a yard in the center of town, Mbandaka resident Marie Louise proudly slaps her vaccination papers on the table. She had cradled her grandson in her arms as he vomited blood on the hospital floor, and he later died. His case wasn’t officially confirmed as Ebola, but she knew she needed to get vaccinated. Tapping her arm where she was given the needle, the 68-year-old beams.

Also read: Vaccination campaign against Ebola in Congo

“Give me the vaccine,” she said. “I get life with the vaccine.” (VOA)