Democracy: A hostage to jingoistic media
MEDIA continues to be the most popular means of communication.In the age of technology explosion, mass media has become an inseparable part of modern society.
From entertainment to politics, television to internet, its purpose has evolved to be more than just the dissemination of information amongst the masses.
It is part of the social framework of modern society, dictating and establishing norms, and presenting the general character of society and politics.
Role of media within society, particularly the impact on how we interact with one another as individuals and as nations, has continued to have a significant part in our daily life and especially in our perceptions of others.
Although mass media is a powerful means of disseminating information, yet it is also true that media continues to have a definitive effect on the political thinking and perception not only on internal politics of a nation but also on its foreign policy and strategic thinking.
As the fourth pillar of democracy, the media has an active role to play in nation building processes.
Media should not only present facts but also interpret facts to formulate public opinion and propagate new ideas and opinions.
Free flow of information is an important prerequisite of democracy and smooth functioning of state and society and stable maintenance of peace and development of relations among states.
With power and reach to mould public opinion, the media can support developments and that mitigate conflict and promote peace and not encourage negative forces that lead to conflict and anarchy.
In contemporary times social media has granted the audience a sense of ownership over news, allowing them to have a real and lasting effect on economic, political and strategic issues.
It allows for the audience to engage and even change narrative, essentially forever altering the relationship between the audience and media in general.
Media has the ability to take a group of people and place them in the role of the ‘other’; the other against which their own ideal is established, and a common enemy is created against which they have to unite.
Media particularly, visual entertainment and news media- have become our main points of reference for establishing and disseminating social norms, moral codes and political beliefs and orientations, regardless of whether or not those are just or reflect the truth.
In Pakistan some political parties and groups have fully grasped the impact of the media on the thinking of masses and opinion makers.
They have ensured an iron hold on some major media houses and have set up a huge network of social media community that they control both inside and abroad to propagate their narrow hate infused ideology, particularly their abusive and divisive rhetoric.
It is not uncommon in the media to portray opponents and those not in favour of your viewpoint with derogatory and inimical representations.
They are often represented only in narrowly stereotyped ways and depicted negatively as problematic “other”.
Media, television news in particular, bay for conflict even if it escalates into chaos and anarchy destabilizing the country and jeopardizing its security.
They spew up fictitious stories to whip up jingoistic frenzy to keep the flame of hate burning.
This contributes to the nurturing of both subtle and explicit forms of fear and hatred amongst masses.
All aspects of the media hold a responsibility for misrepresentation and widespread prejudice towards those people who do not fit their political ambition.
This is because the more a stereotype is repeated in media content, the more it becomes naturalized and can influence the ways individuals talk about different pillars of state and different political institutions.
Current stabilization of democracy in Pakistan with three consecutive general elections in last 14 years, has coincided with exponential rise in use of social media, a medium that some governments have exploited to target critics, mobilize public opinion, and use tags like “anti-national,” to discredit anyone showing a hint of circumspection with their narrative.
The audience assumes that information being presented is objective fact with no social, political, or cultural biases, which we know not to be true.
Media is increasingly portraying conflict perspective, which focuses on how media portrays, reflects, and maybe even exacerbates divisions within society.
Objective of the media it seems is no longer dissemination of information but rather, social coercion, control; and conflict.
Contingent on who guides public opinion, the media can lead to a tradition of sensationalism. In Pakistan we see the crystallization and mainstreaming of sensationalism.
Media is increasingly appealing to a particular style and rhetoric for the sole purpose of provoking public sentiment against others, regardless of the accuracy of its content.
They pay little heed to the fact that it is dangerous to privilege rhetoric over fact.
Some blatant lies the media is churning out have left them red-faced during live coverage, providing much-needed comic relief to their audience.
By funnelling one piece of negative information after another about opponents, people do not retain much, and fall into a cycle of instant gratification.
Rootless, when new information comes in, old is forgotten. Rate at which the media spews out untrue information, viewers have no time to analyze or reflect on it, making them subject to suggestion and potentially devastating conclusions.
Media is moving from being an advocate of democracy to being its greatest threat; a tyranny of extremists narratives fuelled by negative public opinion and stark binaries.
Building up of nationalist hysteria is not merely a cynical business-oriented tactic but is in tandem with a wider strategy in which not just television channels, but social media troll battalions and fake news factories are involved.
Jingoistic eruptions distract from the crux of the issue. Consume enough talk shows about disaster and gloom and the prospect for real conflict seems increasingly palatable.
When nationalism is the need of the hour, very little is said about real horrors of anarchy. But the public in Pakistan needs to know what they’re asking for when they clamour for hysteria and conflict.
Media outlets should be wary of creating such hype that reality is forced to live up to the fiction, and politicians compelled to make rash, uninformed decisions. Unlike a television, you can’t turn off the momentum of anarchy once it is set in motion.
—The writer is former Ambassador, based in Islamabad.