Every human society is bearer of certain ideologies, worldviews, discourses and narratives that symbolise and signify its very existence. The members of society in their demeanour and conduct, reflect that society’s political, social, and cultural values; thus construction of any normative values that prevail in societies always is a mutual endeavour of its members.
However, this does not suggest that normative ground of ideologies and their amplification in the larger society is acceptable to all its members. Contesting the societal norms and values is a sign that human societies are evolutionary, dynamic and profoundly cognitive. And, certainly, it is this element of contestation that makes matters collective and political in human societies.
In essence, politics, and being political, is about critiquing, questioning, and contestation of the social construction of ideas and narratives that prevail in societies. Being political means that we the people question the prevalent narratives that seem to define what our society is and ought to be; challenging the status quo actually is the one crucial definition of politics.
Indeed, there are certain aspects relating to the design and regulation of societal rules that has to be the specialised task of only few members of the society. Conceded that in the contemporary world of politics, the making of societal rules and norms are delegated by the members of society onto the politicians. Political elite are the representatives that are elected by members of a larger society. But to say that democratic politics is the rule of politicians is a disgrace to the ideal of democracy.
The issue, however, is that in matters of political governance, how can a layperson make sense of construction of values, their meaning, and most crucially the making of rules in society. What communication flow enables a layperson to understand the politicking and rulemaking? Furthermore, how should the communicative interchange should flow — from citizenry to the ruling elite; or from elite to the citizenry? Are there any mediators, conveyors, messengers or catalysts that make this communicative flow possible?
Indeed, the centre of the political system consists of all too familiar institutions of the state: parliament, legislature, courts, administrative agencies, military, and the government. These institutions are formal in a sense that they are specialised forums where experts with technical knowledge perform their duties in service of the society. These formal institutions, however, do need to connect with the society. In the context of contemporary world of complex globalised politics, media organisation is an interface that affects the conditions of political discussion, persuasion, and communication. Furthermore, in any democratic system of governance, there is a constant interaction between media as an institution, formal political institutions and the public.
The specialised task of media is to ask questions; be critical of prevalent norms and values in society; raise awareness among the citizenry on state’s laws; inform the political elite on what citizenry demands; and thus mediate political communication in the public sphere. Media institutions provide platform for experts and laypersons to come together to make sense of the construction of societal norms.
Those who work in the relevant sectors of the media system (i.e., reporters, columnists, editors, directors, producers, and publishers) select and process politically relevant content. In order to mediate the communication between experts and citizenry, media institutions break down the esoteric, specialised, technical knowledge to make it intelligible and accessible to the layperson. Thus, by mediating political communication, media not only shapes the public opinions, it also becomes the distributor of influential interests. But this does not mean that media must take the role of setting the social and political inquiry based on the functional logic of state’s agencies.
While communication experts argue, a self-regulating media system maintains its independence vis-à-vis its political and social environment. However, it is not necessary that media organisations exhibit professional approach in reporting, and critiquing its environment.
Against the backdrop of regional security tensions between India and Pakistan, it can be seen that (in)dependent media institutions have indulged in a kind of paternalism that reflects their inept and biased attitude. Both in India and Pakistan, the so called free and independent media outlets still play on the tune and tenor set by their respective state’s official discourses.
Though, the media institutions in India and Pakistan claim neutrality, impartiality and objectivity to their style of news reporting and analyses; however, media institutions in both countries lack professional will to be critical of what they are fed to report and analyse.
India believes the ensuing unrest in Jammu and Kashmir is fomented under the aegis of Pakistan’s support to separatists whom the Indian state and media call terrorists. Pakistan, on the other hand, deny such charges, insisting that allegations levelled by the Indian state lack evidence.
But no one is asking any critical questions on respective media systems that why is it that allegations by both states against each other have surfaced time and again? Why do state narrative(s) on separatist movement in Kashmir have never been debated on media platforms across the two countries? Why is it that in Pakistan we cannot talk on Balochistan? Why is that debate on Kashmir is considered unpatriotic in India? And, why is it that demanding evidence for “surgical strikes” in India is considered to be anti-Indian?
The state of India believes it has generated an effective counter-narrative on Balochistan to withstand Pakistan state’s narrative on Kashmir. The media institutions of India assert their state’s generated counter-narrative disgrace and isolate Pakistan internationally. While the remorseless government of Modi in India persists in its flagitious project against the uprising in Jammu and Kashmir; no one raise objection to Indian forces’ led atrocities in Jammu and Kashmir. Inquiring about state’s use of brutal force is of course anti-India and pro-Pakistan!
The media institutions in Pakistan at their end have not been able to generate an opposing, but critically strong counter-narrative to India’s discourse on Balochistan. Instead, the media institutions in Pakistan, generate counter responses to the Indian claim of “surgical strikes” in Pakistan; and ousting of Pakistani artists from India. One wonders, should the media institutions in Pakistan not have initiated a counter-debate on why the issue of Balochistan is not parallel to the Kashmir question? Certainly, if counteractive discourse on Balochistan was formulated, media institutions would have been raising questions that might have challenged the state!
Media institutions, in both countries avoid asking critical questions.
In India and Pakistan, though the state monopoly over public broadcasting had loosened in last few decades; the media institutions, however (in both countries still) have not been able to break with the past. In this very time of heightened security situation, media plays exactly according to the state’s defined narratives; while rekindling narcissistic and jingoistic appeal among the public in the name of nationalist vainglory.