Covering the motormen’s strike

BY Sanjay Ranade| IN Opinion | 05/05/2010
Letter to the Hoot: The mass news media was clearly used by the politicians to convey messages.
They only listened to the loudest voices, says SANJAY RANADE.

The news coverage of the motormen's strike has underlined the imminent danger in letting the news media become a player in civil and political strife. It became very clear that the extreme stand of the motormens' unions was as much political as it was about their rights and that the stand of the political community was only focussed on political power and one-upmanship with complete disregard for the  duties and responsibilities of the State. The news media was partisan taking the side of the so-called 'common man'. Was this essentially hogwash that media used to justify its own moral prejudices?


The motormen’s strike was never a conflict between the commuters and the motormen or the commuters and the State. It was always a conflict between the motormen and the State agencies. The media, by invoking the 'people', pitched the commuters and the State against the people while the media took upon itself the job of a mediator. This completely obfuscated the debate. This is dangerous at a time when State agencies are in conflict with each other and that conflict is affecting the 'people' as in this case. The situation for the media is precarious. Social inquiry is an important element in democracy and the nature of such inquiry and results thereof are disseminated largely through and in the mass media. However, when the media itself becomes the tool by which such inquiry is made, there is every likelihood that the media is manipulated by the players using the masses to their advantage.


The mass news media was clearly used by the politicians to convey messages. The motormen were ineffective in this because the news media had already decided they were the villains in the piece. It was only much later in the conflict that the media began to realise that the motormen also had a point of view that was valid but by then the masses had been lost to reasoning. This, newsmen will argue, is a 'normal' situation in a developing news cycle. However, it is time that the 'elders' in the media realise that the political class are communicators first and foremost. It is their job to create messages and manipulate masses. They get on to the job faster than the media. They have no deadlines or financial margins to worry about. It is the deadlines of the media that they manipulate. On the other hand, civil society has always lagged behind in creating and disseminating messages. It is a 'natural' handicap because of the way civil society is shaped.


The pressure on journalists to deliver stories is increasing and journalists, the way they are, are turning more often to so-called 'people' and politicians for that emotionally loaded sound bite or quote to get copy out. Journalists know that neither of these, in a civil strife that is as complex as it was in the case of the motormen, are trustworthy. If journalists fail to analyse why they chose to send a voice out and scuttled the other, they are leaving ground for the fifth estate, the Public Relations people, to take over a journalistic job. The media is only listening to the loudest voice and blaming the politicians for doing the same. That is unfair. It also threatens a mature civil inquiry and democracy at large.



Sanjay Ranade


Department of Communication and Journalism

University of Mumbai





Subscribe To The Newsletter
The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

View More