Thursday, September 16, 2010

In Response to Bhagwad's contention that Media Cannot be Manipulated on Large Scale

The original post is here - “Bias” in Indian Media – an Insider’s view (click).

My response, which I have compiled in parts is as follows.



Thanks for the heads up and responding to my post! I would not go into the reliability of your friend's testimony. Because you know him personally, and you must have reasons to lay as much faith in his testimony as you deem appropriate.

While I cannot and must not comment on how much one ought to trust one's friend, I can certainly examine the arguments he and you have made.

By the way, the crux of my post was that the anti-Hindu bias that is apparent is not actually against Hindus, but is only incidentally so. So the first point does not apply to me, at least. I consider media houses mature enough and profit-driven enough to not be directed by ideological zeal, but most likely, money and other favors. Moreover, I have been very specific in my conspiracy theory that the media works for the Nehru-Gandhi family, and not other politicians of the UPA/Congress. So, even if other ministers are criticized, that might actually serve to strengthen the two Gandhis position within the party.

You have given four points in rejection of the argument that media can be influenced to the degree I suspect it is influenced, because your basic premise is that meeting so many conditions is very difficult/impossible, as the media and the Nehru Gandhi family would be deterred from trying anything like this. Am I right in understanding you? Let, me present to you two almost exactly parallel situations:

a. Gujarat riots conspiracy theory:

a.1 It will have to be a massive conspiracy on an impressive scale covering all the police personnel, Rapid Action Force jawaans, Army personnel, fire fighters, hospital employees (who would maintain the records about injured and conduct autopsy, etc.)
a.2. It has to be so well concealed that no one gets any proof whatsoever
a.3. I find it impossible to believe that other well funded parties like the Congress, NCP, BSP would not have exposed such a conspiracy by now if there was any truth in it
a.4. It means that all constables, sub-inspectors, inspectors, DSP, SP, jawaans, firefighters were involved. Meaning that every single police personnel and paramilitary and military personnel (including, at least 3 to 5% Muslims in these forces) was cruel and without conscience and did not try to defy the diktats of Narendra Modi.

Now one might point out that Narendra Modi stands exposed, and some police personnel have started singing, etc. I might return to those arguments later, but for the time-being it suffices to say that all the above check points did not deter Narendra Modi from trying to do what he has been alleged to have done.



Many would not even consider Narendra Modi's active involvement in killings of Muslim a conspiracy theory as they already consider that to be the truth (an example would be your friend, and perhaps even you, going by what you had stated in the blog post exposing the fallacy of Narendra Modi-development argument), so let me come to a much more widely held conspiracy theory.

b. Massive corruption in government conspiracy-theory:

b.1. It will have to be a massive conspiracy on an impressive scale covering all the politicians, IAS officers, accountants, clerks, peons, party workers, etc. Perhaps, even investigative agencies like the CBI, CVC, and in many cases even the members of the Judiciary. [If anyone in the hierarchy or other agencies reveals anything, the entire chain of corruption would be broken and so many careers would be spoilt]
b.2. It has to be so well concealed that no one gets any proof whatsoever
b.3. I find it impossible to believe that other well funded opposition parties (whichever they be) or the media would not have exposed such a conspiracy by now if there was any truth in it
b.4. It means that all the politicians, IAS officers, accountants, clerks, peons, party workers, CBI, CVC, and even members of Judiciary are involved. Meaning that every single of the persons named here is dishonest.

Simply because the above points of deterrence exist, I am not the one to believe that there is no corruption or little corruption in Indian governance, and nor that it is one-off occurrence. Perhaps, the scale of corruption could be mind-boggling if ever the real figures to come out and also that it is quite systematic as well as systematized.



But why corruptions still persists (if one acknowledges that it persists):

1. Corruption benefits everyone in the 'food chain'. In fact, if not for this 'fringe' benefits, there would be little incentive for most to join politics/administration.
2. Those who enter politics or administration have an inkling that their jobs would entail corruption. I might go as far as to say that many who aspire to enter politics/administration do so only because of the lure of the money and power.
3. Those who do not fall in line (are honest/conscientious) are taken care of - not given party ticket/dismissed/(bureaucrats) are transferred. And sometimes, killed. Yes, of course, there must be few who are not prepared for this kind of immorality that politics and administration might require. So, either they quietly leave upon becoming wiser, or because they would have sacrificed too much to enter the field, fearing they cannot do anything else in terms of source of income, they 'compromise' (human mind is great at rationalizing things). After all, everyone wants bread-butter and few material comforts.
4. Even if caught, Indian judiciary is too lax to act on most occasions, so the *risk-benefit ratio* is too much skewed in favor of being corrupt. Remember, not everyone in India is a person of impeccable integrity. In fact, many would like the money/power that politicians/criminals/bureaucrats enjoy, but they do not have the courage to get dirty and caught. So, entering politics/crime, requires a certain kind of *disposition*.

Now I think it is possible to draw the quite similar parallels with people who enter media.



Now returning to the points your raised to reject the idea that the Nehru-Gandhi family influences the media houses to their advantage:

1. "It will have to be a massive conspiracy on an impressive scale covering all the big media houses"

It will have to be a massive conspiracy, no doubt. But the mere scale of the conspiracy would deter people from trying it is not a very valid argument. The most important point here is that there is little deterrence simply because even if something gets detected about one media house, and if another media house tries to expose it, there would would be a 'war of revelations' - every single media house coming up with revelations about each other.

2. "It has to be so well concealed that no one gets any proof whatsoever"

Hypothetically, if some reporter of media house is sued for libel or misinformation, how is anyone of us going to come to know?! Say, someone reveals it through twitter or blog, such information would anyway be dismissed as "unreliable testimony" as they would not be originating from the 'verifiable', 'trusted' sources like any of the media houses.

3. "I find it impossible to believe that other well funded parties like the BJP would not have exposed such a conspiracy by now if there was any truth in it"

The fact is even BJP must be paying to get the news influenced. Some of the articles praising Narendra Modi's efforts seem to be sourced in such payments/favors. But comparing the time for which the two rival parties (i.e., the Nehru-Gandhi family) got to serve the country, it should come as no surprise that the resources at their disposal are vastly disparate.

4. "It means that all editors, associated bloggers and correspondents are involved. Meaning that every single reporter and writer is dishonest"

No, of course, not all the media employees are dishonest. E.g, as I said (in one of my comments on my post) that the print media is much less monolithic than the visual media. There are some people who put up relatively sensible arguments, which are contrarian in tone to the that of better known bloggers (I say this in context of the Narendra Modi-Gujarat riots issue). An example of what I consider a much more logical analysis of the Ehsaan Jafri case than what I usually get to see is this - Unchoose this man (click) by Ashok Malik. But how much prominence do articles like these get? I have unfortunately never heard these kinds of arguments in any of the news debates they show on the TV. Of course, do let me know if you find what he writes insensible.



Now, assume for the time being that one of the bigger parties like the BJP actually files a case amounting to libel, misinformation, etc, what is the worst that will happen for that media house? I leave that question for you to answer. And no, this is not at all a rhetorical question. But while answering, do keep in mind what happened to people like Laloo Prasad Yadav or J. Jayalalitha or Sharad Pawar, who many people believe (sorry for weasel wording) to have amassed lot of money through corruption?

In fact, if you might have checked the links I provided in the article, would have noticed that P. Sainath has quite irrefutably exposed the phenomenon of paid news in at least one news. Perhaps, no action has been taken against those media houses/politician concerned, and even if someone would have demanded compensation for (electoral) damages caused, no one has heard about it. Just in case if you have not gone through it, it is here - Mass media: masses of money? (click).

Now, examining a few of the arguments your friend made:

1. "big media houses like Times dont need money from parties and would in fact run away from any such offers for the strings that would come attached"

Let's examine the word "need" here.

1.a. Narendra Modi did not need to indulge in any of the siding with the Hindu fundamentalists as he had just won an election with impressive majority, and also because he would run away from any such idea because of the political difficulties and criminal liabilities that might come attached.

1.b. Politicians and bureaucrats do not need to be corrupt (they already have sufficient money & financial backup to last for at least one more generation). In fact they would run away from any such opportunities because of the electoral setbacks and legal liabilities that would come attached.

1.c. In response to something Indian Pundit has repeatedly said: Owners of big corporates corporates like Tata and Reliance do not need to indulge in crony capitalism as they have much more money than they might also require and they would run away from any such ideas because of (various kinds of) liabilities involved.



2. "over 2000 muslimes [sic] died in a near-genocide where they were targeted so thats the answer"
"200 vs 2000"

I'm not sure Bhagwad whether your responding in "Hmm" amounted to your buying the argument. But please do consider the following. Do let me know the conclusions I indicate in squared brackets are biased, or if you would like to modify them in any way.

2.a. "2000 Muslims died (zero/near-zero Hindus killed)" --> [It was a systematic genocide, where Muslims were so helpless and the entire state machinery tried to kill off Muslims]
2.b. "2000 Muslims died; 200 Hindus killed" --> [Erm... looks like state government might have helped in killing of Muslims, but it did not try or could not save Hindus]
2.c. "800 Muslims died; 200 Hindus killed" (this was the official figure before 280 missing persons were declared dead 3 years back, which your friend did not quote, perhaps because he automatically assumed that Narendra Modi got thousands of Gujarat police personnel, that of other forces, doctors, clerks - all of which including a few Muslims and those of other religions, and perhaps a few conscientious Hindus - if any exist - would not contradict the figures? Or is it that he did not know of the official figures?) --> [Hindus killed Muslims, Muslims killed Hindus; the damage inflicted by both communities corresponds almost exactly with the breakup of two religions in general population. But it seems unlikely that the government actively sided with people of any of the two religions, though it is possible it might have acted passively as the toll is so high. Whether the forces actually were passive or not would depend on degree of violence showed by the people of two communities]
2.d. "800 Muslims killed; 200 Hindus killed; shoot-at-sight orders; 170 shot dead by the police (~95 Muslims; ~75 Hindus); Preventative arrests over 30,000 (~7,000 Muslims; ~25,000 Hindus)" --> [Looks like the police and other forces did a god job in trying to prevent the riots. At least the allegation that they stood mute seems untenable].



There is a reason I have underlined the figures of number of Muslims and Hindus killed by the police. For in my analysis that is the only piece of statistic that points at a partisan attitude. Why it would seem so is obvious - that there were more Hindus indulging in violence, so obviously more Hindus should have got killed by the police. There was an explanation for that also, but I am not going into it. It ought to suffice that I am skeptical of that explanation.

You have mentioned above that your friend is knowledgeable and intelligent. It must surely have not escaped his mind that different aspects of statistic give rise to drastically different inferences? Moreover, he is in the business of media and by extension an insider. If the figures he knows deviate so drastically from the official figures, what is expected of the laypersons? Then it needs to be asked how did he reach a figure of 2000 dead Hindus? He might also, like many, argue on the lines of it being a huge conspiracy theory and that obviously Gujarat government would release wrong figures! Now, if we turn this argument on its head and claim that obviously, your friend has to survive in the media industry, he cannot speak a word against the media in general (lest he meet that fate where employees are fired and would be seen as a liability by any other media house and would thus become unemployable)?

Around more than a year back I had gone through many links that had confirmed for me that the above figures were true, but I have noticed that since 2002 riots a lot that I had read in newspapers (especially, ToI) has been mysteriously disappearing from the servers or that google is not returning them as search results. Though, this might sound like another huge insane conspiracy theory, coincidentally at least, in one instance the ToI did not cover its tracks properly. It is mind boggling why a news piece with heading like this - More fall prey to police firings in Gujarat (click) should return an empty page, and that too something that had been dated 28th April (Godhra had happened on 27th February)! But any way, just so that the figure of 170 shot dead by police does not seem inordinately high, here is an article from 'The Hindu', which states that police firing had caused 47 deaths in just one single day (i.e., 3rd March). Till that point the total official death toll was 290 (and unconfirmed figure was around 350). Which implies of all those who had died in the violence, ~15% had died in police action in just one day. On 3rd March, totally 86 people had died, so that means at least on that day, more than 50% people who had died were because of police action. That link is here - 86 killed in fresh incidents in Gujarat (click). In wake of these facts how can this theory (let alone perception) be ever sustained the the Gujarat police was passive?



In your argument with Abhilash, you have dismissed Gujarat riots reporting as one off case. But I am afraid, I do not look at it that way. If you take a look at Gujarat riots reporting, I doubt if any other incident in last two decades must have received as much coverage. Moreover, in terms of what it means to the urban electorate, there is very little that separates the two major parties if one removes the Gujarat riots factor.

I next examine two things that your friend said and juxtapose them:

"in streets where some muslims had houses and shops; only those were targeted – based on electoral rolls supplied by the admin – this has been proven in courts" AND "many muslims do not ‘integrate’ into the larger mainstream across the world; even in India 14"

1. The immediate corollary of "do not integrate" is that Muslims are conspicuous. A few bloggers had argued that to know that certain residence is of Muslim or a shop is owned by person belonging to which community does not "need" any documentary support. Many Muslims live in almost 'Muslim-only' residences (e.g., the 'Gulbarg sociecty'; "Gul" means 'flower' in Persian/Urdu). Moreover, in a mob of 50, even if one says that "I had seen the shop owner with skull cap, or seen him do 'namaaz' or had seen a picture of some verses in the shop", it is sufficient to convince the rest that the person would be a Muslim. So, I personally don't see the need for electoral rolls or any such list to spot persons of any religious community. Counter question: Many Hindus were killed by Muslims in the same riots; who supplied them with electoral rolls or whatever it required to identify Hindus and their property?



2. Is a state government supposed to have access to electoral rolls?! Remember, we are talking here electoral rolls, which is something very different from the census data. Though, I am not sure, I think such data would be available only with the election commission (which is independent of the state government). Anyway, what I had instead read/heard was that phone bills/electricity bill records (which are indeed within the ready and legal access of the state government) were used. No, whether electricity or phone bills or alternatively, electoral rolls were used, does not make significant difference to the nature of accusation, but why I pointed this out is because, your friend also claimed that this has been "proved in the court", which happens to be my next point.

3. What is the meaning of "proved in the court"? Have the court hearings in Gujarat riots been finished? Did any judge categorically rule that "it is proved that electoral rolls were used to locate Muslims in post-Godhra riots"? I am not stating that any of this might have not happened. But to the best of my knowledge, an allegation that electoral rolls were supplied by the Gujarat government, if "proved" would have resulted in instant indictment of the government and the ministers (including Narendra Modi). But again to the best of my knowledge, the role of the government is under investigation and in this respect perhaps, the judgment would be announced on 30th of this month. So, the use of the word "proved" in this context comes off as odd to me.

Also, simply saying that 'one must not point out one-off events' is not sufficient. In each case one also has to try to explain why such a lapse occurred? E.g., non-reporting or little reporting of Bareilly riots. I think I had made a strong case as to why I would expect them to be reported prominently (14 days curfew, which is a long period by any standards used in India; in an electoral 'hot bed' - Bareilly; perhaps, around 10 people had died), but the fact is they were hardly mentioned.



You have explicitly stated that you trust your friend's view as he is an insider, moreover, because of your acquaintance with him. But I do not believe that the points I raised in response to his arguments could not have been thought by you. If you did think (and if you find my arguments as valid), would you still trust your friend's opinion more than the logic and stats that lead us to certain kinds of arguments presented here?

Lastly, as I mentioned in the beginning of my comments, it is entirely up to you as to who you believe in, to what degree, and on what bases. I have argued with lot of people on the Gujarat riots issue. I just about bring in the testimony of my relatives (all of who had lived in Ahmedabad and areas surrounding Godhra at that time). Their version totally contradicts what the media portrays. According to them, the police had tried their best to protect the Muslims to escape the label of being anti-Muslim. One of my cousins had told me that a police station had been torched by the Muslim mobs using women as shield. Anyway, many more such things were told, but there are two points I am trying to make with this point. First, for me my relatives are "insiders" (just like your friend is to media), yet that is not the sole reason I believe their version. Though I must confess here that having read about Kausar Bano case and other things, my feelings about Narendra Modi's role were exactly as that of many others, so what my cousin told me had shocked me, but most important sensitized me for the very first time, that media (including prominent houses like 'The Bennett and Coleman') could lie. But the second point is that despite what my relatives told me, I never took them on mere faith - I examined the merits in their statements and tried to correlate them with available data as well as how I understood the world to be. As you might acknowledge, if you do, that is, that though Gujarat riots have been always in so much discussion in the media, any kind of exact figures are so difficult to find! Why is it so, despite the fact that they could be readily known?

I repeat, one might dismiss media's handling of the Gujarat riots as one-off case, but to be honest, it reeks of a huge orchestrated conspiracy, considering how much has been spoken on the issue. In fact, as I explained earlier, had it not been for the partisan and what I consider devious manner of presenting the Gujarat riots, I might have never looked carefully into the sloppiness, lack of reliability and biases of the media.


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