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Media & The State

Media HousesBengal is the center of attraction yet again. Unnecessary to say for the wrong reasons again. A recent circular from the Ministry of Libraries caused a furore on mainstream and social media. The government has decided that it will not stock any “politically funded” newspaper in libraries funded by the state.

The decision has been widely criticised across newspapers which did not make it to the select few papers that will be kept at public libraries. Leading the ranks were Anandabazar Patrika and Bartaman. The latter even ran a headline openly threatening the present government of “showing its might”. ABP on the other hand has been in its usual propagandist form.

The national media as usual woke up late to the story and started running headlines which were miles apart from fact and bordered on shoddy fiction. Some papers even ran headlines that the government had banned English dailies. How they come to such conclusions is best known to them. But time has come we take a stock of the situation at hand. Has the fourth pillar of Indian democracy turned itself into Demi God?

It is the duty of the media to present news to the people. “Report not Support” is the motto they should go by. Sadly in India, and specially in Bengal, it is just the opposite. Not only are most newspapers in the state run my people with political affiliations, but some media houses are famous for their ties with certain colours.

Among the reputed dailies which have been kept out of the list of permitted newspapers, inlcude Aajkal (with soft spot for the Left), Bartaman (anti establishment, will go to any length to defame party in power), Anandabazar (have agenda of their own, will support anyone who supports them), Telegraph (product of ABP group), and several other English dailies.

A state government, which runs the libraries, has the prerogative to choose which papers it wants to house in its libraries. Like a school principal has the onus to decide the text book for the school, it is up to the govt to decide what comes into the govt libraries. However inclusion of a newspaper run by a TMC MP shows the initiative by the government in bad light.

The way media has played out this story is really shameful. It has become a free for all, every channel giving their own version of the circular. Some have even gone to the extent of saying circular banned some newspapers from circulation. Is spreading misinfomation the aim of free press?

governmentThe reputation of ABP is quite well known. The same paper which had virtually campaigned for Buddha in 2006, became Mamata’s ally in 2011. A media house deserted by reputed names like Suman Chatterjee, Arkaprava Sarkar. This is the same media house which stooped to lowest levels of propaganda against those who did not conform to the paper’s agenda during Singur agitation, and then made heroes of same person after fall of left regime.

Some people are comparing this act with the ban on several plays against Left Front govt during Singur-Nandigram revolutions. Their basic premise is wrong. In a state enforced ban, that happened in Buddha Babu’s regime, people were forcefully kept away from plays of Kaushik Sen or Saoli Mitra. We did not have any access to those acts. In this case, people are free to read a paper of their choice, albeit outside the state libraries. As “owners” of libraries, it is absolutely justified if a govt has a wishlist of books and papers. Even i would. Or for that matter, my readers.

A large number of people have voiced their angst against the government stepping into their personal freedom. I wonder if the same people ever complain (let alone protest) when the companies they serve unilaterally block websites and social networking platforms in their offices. Just like it is the prerogative of a company to decide what will be available in its office, it is for the state government to decide what it will put up in its libraries. Outside office we are free to access any website we want, similarly beyond the realms of the library, everyone is free to read anything they want.

While we may keep discussing about the government and it trying to impose views on people, is it justified for press to carry stories (with very little base in truth) to form public opinion against a particular government? Is it justified for a media house to stoop to propaganda against a party because they fell out with the media house concerned on a policy decision? Is it right for the fourth estate of democracy to poison people with opinions, knowing very well that they have power without accountability?

What is the role of media in a democracy, i am forced to ask? Has the media become just another manifestation of political class? What should the general public do when a media house wages war threatening of “annihilition” against an elected govt because they do not see eye to eye on an issue of land policy?

My answer would be to boycott those media houses. What about you?

Anna Tum aaGAY Badho…..

Baburao

Courtesy srai dot org

For the last few months, one man has ruled our television sets and reached out to people across cities in India. Baburao Hazare popularly known as Anna has changed the course of political protests in modern Indian history. Suddenly, the urban youth, perceived as selfish and indifferent, came out to support this phenomenon. We can always debate the merits of the movement led by Mr Hazare, but we cannot take away from him the credit of revolutionizing the concept of protests.

As a member of the LGBT community, I was rather amused at the events that unfolded throughout August. Keeping aside political beliefs and the cause for which Anna stood, I definitely salute him for the mass frenzy that he created. Also, it intrigued me, could we as a community not emulate Hazare to dispel the social ostracization that we face? To this effect I jotted down the following lessons we could learn from the massive outpouring of emotions in favor of Anna Hazare:

Media

Undoubtedly, media played the most important role in creating brand Anna. With 24X7 electronic media virtually filling in for a PR medium and the constant updates on social media Team Anna made sure people are kept abreast about their actions whether or not they wanted to.

LGBT community (or the “elite” section of it) has an effective presence on social media. From groups on Facebook to accounts on Twitter, almost every NGO working for the queer can be found on the web world. India already has several online magazines with a massive reader base. Social media platforms are well used by the community. But the target audience is rather limited. Except for community members, hardly anyone is deeply involved with these pages (unless they are connected to the movement). For that matter, for many community members, online media begins and ends with socializing and dating sites.

A few days back I was watching this video on YouTube where employees at

Media support for IAC

Courtesy Wikimedia

Pixar were telling their coming out stories. Why can our community not promote more such videos and views in the mainstream? If the people are unwilling to lend an ear, why can’t we scream them out of slumber?

The engagement of the queer community with mainstream electronic media is also limited to specific days like July 2. If a public opinion has to be built up, media has to be used to its optimum. I feel we are lacking to that effect.

Unity in Diversity

The divisions within the LGBT community are not unknown to any. The “manly” guys look down upon the pansies, transgenders and bisexuals are untouchables, like the mainstream society lesbian females are neglected in the queer society! Lest we forget, “Voices against 377” brought together over thirty NGOs under one umbrella. Such a unity is normally hard to come by. Here too, we have a lot to learn from Team Anna.

India Against Corruption was a motley of several NGOs bordering from the ultra left to the reactionary right. Ideological differences forgotten, they came together to fight a cause which they thought was necessary – Jan Lokpal Bill. Even in the core group, there were elements that were allegedly close to the government and some who were explicitly unwavering to any proposal that came from the enemy ranks. Maintaining such a coalition is a arduous task, which was well supported by the image that Brand Anna enjoyed among the public.

MP Nepal

Courtesy Gaysifamily

Does the battle for social and legal equality of gays have a face? Think of Nepal – Sunil Pant, who also happens to be a member of parliament – represents the queer community. In India, we lack that. Instead we have a health minister who compares homosexuality to a disease bred from foreign shores. Even if we can come up with a face, can we make a show of our strength and unity?

Political & Celebrity Support

A huge cause of the apparent success of Team Anna was the constant support it received from a large section of the Bollywood celebrities, Page 3 socialites, and of course a section of the anti ruling party politicians. That immensely helped in mobilizing the campaign for the JLP. Anupam Kher, Chetan Bhagat, Arindam Chowdhury, Shekhar Kapoor had virtually become the spokespersons of the “Democratic Party of Anna”. The Ram Leela stage was used by and large by almost anyone who had a mission to fulfill – whether it was Amir Khan or Ashoke Pandit.

The queer community does enjoy the backing of several social icons. Filmmaker Onir is himself a part of the community and has been rather active on the social sphere to promote the cause we wish to champion. That apart, celebrities like Celina Jaitley have always rendered their support whenever necessary. People like Rituporno Ghosh who enjoy a cult status in Bengal have risen over salacious gossip and inane criticism for sexuality and shown the world that he stands for what he is.

But sadly on the political front, the gay community lags far behind the Anna phenomenon. Although the last Bangalore Pride Celebrations had the blessings of Janata Dal (S), and the Left parties have always “spoken” of their support to the cause of LGBT (more from their theoretical and ideological point of view and less in practicality), most national or regional political parties go tightlipped on the issue of a legal sanction of same sex marriages. In this era of vote bank politics, hope a feeling of “Sadbhavana” brings together right thinking people together to deliver justice to the community.

Obstinacy

The Team Anna has been (and quite fairly) accused of obstinacy from many quarters. Refusing to budge from their position, they harped on passing the Jan Lokpal Bill (although several flaws in the legislation had been pointed out by many noted lawyers and constitutional experts; but that can be settled in some other article). And even after the temporary truce with the unanimous resolution passed by Indian parliament, Anna has queered the pitch for passage of ONLY his team’s version of the Bill sans amendments. His no show at Mumbai triggered a retreat, but he has again started hogging limelight with this letter to the PM and vow to campaign against Congress in states going to polls.

Rainbow Pride

Courtesy demotix dot com

Should the queer community emulate him? Should we hold the whole system at ransom to get our demands passed? A legislation decriminalizing article 377 and guaranteeing legal status to same sex marriages is long pending. Is the community’s patience not thinning away? After all, United Nations has recognized LGBT rights as human rights and India is a signatory nation.

Shall Ramleela witness more leela after the highest court of the nation passes its verdict on the judgment delivered by Justice A P Shah on July 2, 2009? Time will tell.

P.S. – If nothing works, we can slap and flog people into accepting us as parts of mainstream. 🙂

Disclaimer – This article was written and published in Gaylaxy magazine.

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