Media, IPL, Shiv Sena, and Shah Rukh Khan

BY Sanjay Ranade| IN Media Practice | 13/02/2010
The IPL auction, itself a pseudo event, spawned off other pseudo news events that appear to be in the domain of media, politics, films and cricket.
SANJAY RANADE says it demonstrates a pseudo event’s virtual capture of the media space.

The media phenomenon involving the IPL, the Shiv Sena and Shah Rukh Khan is an important one for media researchers to study. It involves some very interesting situations that have been theorized by Ben Bagdikian and Daniel Boorstin and seen from these two perspectives; the phenomenon needs to be investigated very carefully.

This is what the Indian Premier League is all about according to its website  "In late June 2007, two men met in an English house, not far from the rain-drenched Wimbledon Championships, to discuss a very different sporting event. Lalit Modi, Vice-President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) brainstormed with Andrew Wildblood of the International Management Group (IMG), the sports management giants. In April 2008, the maiden IPL tournament that Mr. Modi had conceived and developed was underway. February 2008 saw the frantic player auction that created a media frenzy. Among the bidders were some of India’s richest and most powerful names, from industrialists to film stars, adding to the event’s lustre. As the sums on offer began to emerge $1.5m for Mahendra Singh Dhoni, $1.35m for Andrew Symonds, $950,000 for the inexperienced Ishant Sharma cricket raised its eyebrows, held its breath and braced itself for a new era."  

Boorstin, in his 1961 book The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America described aspects of American life that were later termed hyperreality and postmodernity. In The Image, Boorstin described shifts in American culture mainly due to advertising where the reproduction or simulation of an event became more important or "real" than the event itself. He coined the term pseudo-event to describe events or activities that serve little or no purpose other than to be reproduced through advertisements or other forms of publicity. The IPL is very clearly a made up event for the purpose of making money for all the stakeholders, and the media is an important player in this business. It is a pseudo news event meant for consumption by the news media, advertisers, audiences and corporates.

The practical constraints of the newsgathering process, the collective norms of the newsroom and manipulation by external pressure groups all affect the news value given to an event by the journalist and the way it is reported. The news value given to the story by the audience, its impact or interest, is determined by the degree of change it contains and the relevance of that change to the physical and social security of the individual or group. Driven by the basic news value that the sensational makes news, the media chose to report on the fact that Pakistani cricketers found no takers during the recent IPL auction. This was the sensational, the unusual in the IPL pseudo event and the media made headline news out of it. This phenomenon of more and more pseudo events making news is driven by the rise in cost of news gathering and dissemination and the inability of news media organisations to think of an avenue for revenue generation other than advertising. The media no longer wants to spend on 'looking for news'. The IPL story should have ended there - a little flutter among Pakistan haters and lovers, a little among cricket lovers, a little among cricket players, commentators and critiques and some analysis from media researchers.

Instead, politicians at all levels seem to have taken the story forward and continue to live on it. What could be the likely reason why politicians in Maharashtra , India and Pakistan are thriving on a pseudo news event? It is because the political class has lost both the creativity and the strategic ability to face real issues and deal with them. Hence we find politicians increasingly depending on media pseudo events to stay in the media and the so-called 'public eye'. It is also important to understand that ditto the media, politicians too face a serious problem with revenue to run their show and are depending on corporates for the money.

We have entered a worrisome phase in the incestuous relationship between news media and politicians. News organisations feed upon pseudo news; politicians then feed on the same news and create their own news around such pseudo events that is fed back into the media space leading to a mushrooming of pseudo news and a virtual capture of the mediascape.

What is also worrying is that this entire news chain is controlled throughout by corporates with a very clear profit motive. Bagdikian had pointed out that the corporate groups' power to penetrate the social world is becoming unmatched. In the last five years, said Bagdikian writing in 1997, a small number of America’s largest industrial corporations have acquired more public communications power-including ownership of the news-than any private businesses have ever before possessed in world history.

"Aided by the digital revolution and the acquisition of subsidiaries that operate at every step in the mass communications process, from the creation of content to its delivery into the home, the communications cartel has exercised stunning influence over US national legislation and government agencies, an influence whose scope and power would have been considered scandalous or illegal twenty years ago. This new communications cartel has been made possible by the withdrawal of earlier government intervention that once aspired to protect consumers and move toward the ideal of diversity of content and ownership in the mass media. Government's passivity has emboldened the new giants to boast openly of monopoly and their ability to project news, commercial messages, and graphic images into the consciousness and subconscious of almost every American," Bagdikian pointed out.

Replace the ‘American’ with the ‘Indian’ and a new media phenomenon appears. Cricket, politics and films are a heady mix necessary for the construction of India ’s mediascape. The term mediascape may have been coined by Arjun Appadurai and is used to offer a way to describe and situate the role of electronic and print media in global cultural flows that are fluid and irregular as they cross global and local boundaries. For Appadurai, mediascape indexes the electronic capabilities of production and dissemination, as well as "the images of the world created by these media". Without cricket, politics and films the manufacture of pseudo events and their projection into the Indian mediascape would be very difficult as difficult as constructing a high rise without reinforced concrete cement. So far, the corporates have not overtly formed into a business cartel in India but they do have stakes in each other and seldom cut into each other’s business space. Politics, governance and democracy have been confused with each other and the politician has become co-opted into the corporates’ business goals while the corporates have become major players in politics as well as governance. It is the increased role of corporates in governance and policy making that is worrying; the former being inevitable.

What is also significant is the emergence of and role of an ambiguous fifth estate in these events. The rise of the press, radio, television, public relations and other mass media has enabled the development of this fifth estate. This rise on the one hand is central to pluralist democratic processes. The growing use of the Internet and related digital technologies can help create a space for networking individuals in ways that could enable a new source of accountability in government, politics and other sectors.

However, the dominance of public relations processes in the fifth estate has caused a distortion. All media technology is being focused on creation and fragmentation of audiences and attraction of revenues through commercialization and made subservient to larger democratic, pluralistic and social goals.

The media phenomenon that began with the IPL auction is interesting because it offers the opportunity to study this entire process. The IPL auction, itself a pseudo event, spawned off other pseudo news events that appear to be in the domain of media, politics, films and cricket and each stakeholder, whether it is the media, the politicians, cricketers, film stars or the audience has milked it as much as possible for varied uses and gratifications.

This should worry two stakeholders in this business journalists and consumers of media because as the spin on news blurs it, journalists will find it increasingly difficult to perform their social responsibility function even as consumers’ sense of their reality gets sharply distorted.


Sanjay Ranade is Reader at the Department of Communication and Journalism at the University of Mumbai.

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