Bhamini Lakshminarayan | M2015MC013 Media Studies
20th August, 2015
Capturing an Established Base: The Facist State, Propaganda, and the Media
Badgikian (2000) traces the development of the monopolistic nature of the newspaper press in the United States of America, arguing that the very nature and structure of this media has changed in the advent of mass advertising. Formerly radical or liberal newspapers genericise their content and their base once they are established, attempting to capitalise on the advertisement campaigns of large corporations, who, in turn, attempt to capture the established bases of these papers. He seems to assume an undiscerning, passive audience, in line with Adorno’s (1975) conception of mass theory, that consumes the content that is distributed to them.
McDowell (1997) reconstructs the evolution of television broadcasting in India, from the era of state- run broadcasting to the neo-liberal framework adopted in the early 90s. In this, he locates the Indian media within the nexus of national and international capital flows, and reflects upon the policy decisions made in this context. What is of particular relevance in today’s Indian state, I argue, is a particular argument – whose identity and ideals are embodied in the content developed and disseminated as a result of these flows?
Drawing on McChesney and Schiller’s (2002) argument that the free press is a myth,
Fernandes’ (2000) and Struabhaar’s (2003) arguments of the rising middle class and their particular affinity to culturally proximate content and its consequent glocalisation, Fejes’ (1981) theory of media imperialism, Sainath’s (1999) argument of a shrinking space for public discourse and dissent, and Chomsky’s (1988) propaganda model, I attempt to locate the “free” Indian media industry within the contentious space of the regulation and proporgation of a particular hegemonic discourse espoused by the state, which attempts to capture non-conformist audiences through an attempted monopolisation of the style and nature of the content distrubted within the nation state such that it reflects a certain identity and ideal of an Indian “nation” and “culture.”
Unlike the period of overt hegemony of state-run broadcasting under the Indira Gandhi government, private broadcasting is propagandised in a seemingly more nuanced fashion today. Tracing the nativity of private broadcasting in India, McDowell cites the visits made by Rupert Murdoch in the establishment of the STAR – a network that both reached out to an internationally culturally proximate audience as well as glocalised its content with the inclusion of Hindi programming. With the split of STAR into multiple channels, STAR World reached out to an even more niche audience – the rising middle class located by Fernandes (2000) which identified, or at least attempted to identify, with the Global North. This is reflected by the language, advertising, and particularly, the nature of the content aired on STAR World. The Simpsons, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Friends, Baywatch, How I Met Your Mother, Game of Thrones – these
are just a handful of the many shows which, through the years, have showcased varying degrees of varying themes, from sexuality and sexual promiscuity/positivity to identity creation to politics and political satire. The liberal nature of the content of these shows is to be noted, however, it is also of note to realise that even then particularly “explicit” scenes were censored – particularly those with implied or direct homosexuality.
However, STAR World and channels like it, have, with the addition – and consequent censorhip – of the subtitles in these programmes, adopted a problematic space that has not been discussed in the mainstream media. The ownership of the technologies of distribution of the media have enabled the state to decide upon what is deemed to be culturally acceptable. This does not seem to exclude expletives, but certain types of clothing – such as “bras” and “panties” – and certain biological functions – such as “periods.” This is just one facet, I argue, of the style of construction of the cultural identity that the state attempts to propagandise – an identity that excludes women, their necessities, and biological functions – by using the media that have captured those culturally proximate to the “West” and thrusting upon them the ideals of a hegemonic state. In the construction of this identity, it has also been argued that the state has, in partnership with international capitalist inflows, created the national ideal of consumerism (Srikandath 1991).
This draws upon Fejes’ (1981) model of media imperialism, in which the tools of the imperialist powers are reappropriated by developing nations in an attempt to define an independent identity, but, ultimately, recreates inequalities by reinforcing existing heirarchies dialetically interacting with external forces. This is also in line with Chomsky’s (1988) idea of the propaganda model – the state is using the media and its established spaces to capture and co-opt an audience’s mode of thinking.
This form of propaganda is not just located in the censorship of television content, but also, reflecting Sainath’s (1999) critique of media spaces, in the co-opting of production institutes that have already been established as centres of artistic expression and critique of the dominant discourse. IIMC, Jamia Milia, and most dramatically, FTII, are currently enmeshed in battles for autonomy against a state take-over of content creation within their formerly more liberal spaces, where they argue that the state is attempting to capture the base of aspiring artists and film-makers and to reshape them into agents of propaganda.
One way that attempts to get around this form of censorship is the use of the internet. However, the recently attempted ban of 857 websites that included, not just pornography, but also 9gag.com and CollegeHumor.com, as well as the recent bans of the AIB Roast and India’s Daughter reflect an active attempt to regulate these spaces as well. As recently as the 19th of August this year, former Managing Editor of the India Today group Dilip Chandra Mandal’s personal Facebook account was deactivated, suspectedly for expressing crticism of the current government, some of its institutions, a particularly militant-saffron political party that supports it. However, an attempt is made to circumvent the tentacles of corporate- compicit state censorship with the use of the internet in the production of internet-only television shows such as MTV India’s racy web shows and advertisements such as “The Visit,” which features a lesbian, live-in couple meeting the parents.
Badgikian fears for the future of newspapers because of the nature of advertising. However, I believe that in India, the stronger fear is that expressed in shades by McDowell, of what occurs when the afforementioned pull of corporate capital is located within a liberalising space. The corporate and the state seem to find a middle ground within which neither can function without the sanction and the support of the other, and thus conveniently propogate a particular model of identity that is of benefit to both, be it in the corporate’s profit motive or in the state’s attempts to establish itself as the ultimate gatekeeper of culture as a monopoliser of the Indian identity and its interests. It is within this space that we, as an active audience, must create content that questions and challenges the dominant discourse, and use the means that are available to us, be it by navigating through censorship, using the internet, or rising in protest, against the reappropriation of the media as a tool in the creation of the facist nation state.
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