Symbiotic Relation between Mainstream Media and Social Media
By MD Rehaan Danish
Every time an incident like 26/11 or Pulwama happens and before the government can respond or the military can take any action, the media immediately jumps the gun, asking for war. There is two part of it first is the anger which is justified but then the narrative then evolves into a call for the war against Pakistan.
There is no denying where the demand for justice comes from. On 14th February an SUV packed with explosives rammed into a convoy carrying Indian soldiers and detonated it. It was the deadliest attack since India won its independence in 1947. The coverage on 24x7 news channel has been wall to wall and is editorially defensible but it often descends into un-journalistic ranting especially during prime time.
There are anchors calling for war. Studios populated with army generals talking tactics to wage war. Because for Indian media this story ticks so many boxes … Kashmir, Pakistan, the army and the attack came just as campaigning begins for a national election that’s a month away.
The attack has provoked a national outpouring of grief on mainstream media and spewing lots of venom against various targets particularly against Pakistan but also against Kashmir’s. There has been a jump to assume who is responsible to make people collectively responsible and this is the case on many news English channels and vernacular channels as well.
With the exception of few sane voices what we have is completely absurd and very dangerous comparative jingoism that is perennially on display on news channel. The anchors play a very important role in shaping people opinion an in the present case the reaction is all the more dangerous.
What makes the Indian news channel unique?
It's unique because there are so many, far more than any other country. India's boom began in 1988 and news channels have since then grown exponentially. Indians can watch English news channels, vernacular news channels, a regional news channel in various languages – more than 400 in all pumping out coverage 24x7. The competition for viewers has an intensity like nowhere else. Many anchors feel the need to shout louder, more radically just to be heard, seen and clicked upon. And as the political debate has grown more polarized often over prime minister brand of Hindu nationalism. Tv output has grown more debased.
When that kind of coverage is fed in the Indian social media messaging machine the effect can be dangerous. There are 200 million users in India on WhatsApp alone making the country apps largest domestic market. And when WhatsApp changed its rule recently placing new limits on forwarding of group messages, it did so after field testing those changes in India, an implicit admission of social and political problem WhatsApp has exacerbated there.
With the election coming and the BJP leading the way, all parties now want to make the most of the apps at their disposal and they are doing so without voters necessarily realizing they are being played whose messages they are reading.
But with two big national parties, the Congress and BJP have both very actively made efforts to try and grow their base on WhatsApp. Whatsapp has become really crucial. But its crucial in a particular context and that’s context is mainstream media which does not always do the job it should be doing, partly through fear, partly through pressure and partly through political allegiance. And so, if it had fewer fake stories making it through mainstream media then the role WhatsApp play would be far less. It’s a symbiotic relationship.