Aakar Patel | If Indians focus on trivia, ignore harsh reality, the future is bleak


On all significant measures, the lives of Indians compare poorly to those of other democracies

The big story in India last week was about what an actress said about the independence movement. She felt that something like India’s struggle for freedom was akin to begging, and that “real” freedom did not come until after 2014. For four days, this was the topic that was discussed. dominated social media and all other media.

Earlier this month, the main news here concerned the son of a movie star jailed by the Union government’s narcotics agency with no drugs on him. This story was the main one for over three weeks. This means that it was the main story of televised debates throughout this period. For my new book, I did some research on the media coverage patterns of the two largest English news networks. In August 2020, Republic TV, out of its 45 talk shows and specials, broadcast 38 on the suicide of Sushant Singh Rajput. Times Now ran 35 on the actor and his girlfriend.

A similar study by Vihang Jumle and Christophe Jaffrelot analyzed the content of Republic TV from May 2017 to April 2020. Of the 1,779 debates in total, half were critical of the opposition and none criticized the government. The point I’m trying to make here is not about political bias, but about the nature of the content of our larger media outlets.

The content is fluffy, which means trivial and superficial. This is obvious even for the press houses themselves, which move from one story to another and do not return to the previous ones which so recently fascinated them. How many stories have we seen recently about the “murder” of Sushant Singh Rajput or the “murder” of Shashi Tharoor’s wife? Nothing. The media went to Aryan Khan and then to Kangana Ranaut, and tomorrow it will be someone else. They do it strategically and deliberately. It is their audience (i.e. the rest of us) whose interests they serve.

In nations where the fundamentals are sorted, this is not a problem and one can laugh at the absurd media content. In countries with high life expectancy, low infant mortality, high employment rate, high wages, high education levels, low crime, high gender equality, strong individual freedoms and a system functional judiciary, it is normal for the media to tell nonsense. The lives of people, and especially those of the poor and weak, are unaffected by what the media choose to show.

India is 136th in the world in terms of life expectancy (behind Iraq and Nepal), our infant mortality rate in states like Madhya Pradesh is worse than Yemen and Sudan, unemployment has reached a record since independence since 2018. Five crore fewer Indians are working today at the end of 2021 than in 2013. Our workforce has shrunk by an additional 13 million people who have become working age during this period.

On all significant measures, the lives of Indians compare poorly to those of other democracies. But this is not reflected in our media. This is not the subject that most of us are interested in. The question to consider here is why. In my opinion, we cannot blame the media for this. There’s no point going into their motives because it doesn’t matter. They have the freedom to decide what they think is of interest. We have the freedom to determine what news we want them to show. If most of us thought what they were showing was nonsense that wasn’t worth our time, we wouldn’t watch it.

But that is not what is happening in India. It’s the trivial and the unimportant and even the ridiculous (as is this week’s story about an actress’ take on the freedom fight) that seems to matter. And what is trivial, meaningless, and ridiculous is not important because there is a dearth of other news.

Ministers said the six kilograms of free grain and dal that had been given to 60 percent of the population (80 croremals in total) since last year would be phased out at the end of November. The government’s own surveys have shown that child malnutrition, stunting and wasting have increased in many states, with some declining for 15 years. However, that doesn’t concern us as much and isn’t as important as the stuff that aired on TV last week that will air this week.

It amazes me that although we are told that we are going through a phase of nationalism, there has not been much anger or outrage that our GDP per capita has fallen behind that. from Bangladesh. Equally surprising is that the news that China was building and populating villages in what we call Arunachal Pradesh and calling it southern Tibet received less coverage than a 30-second clip of Kangana. Ranaut.

What is the fate of such a nation? It’s hard to be optimistic about such a place. And the events of the past few years show that the pessimism about where we are and where we are going is well and truly justified.

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