Technology, Ideology and Content: Redefining TV News

Dr. Sujata Mukhopadhyay*

As developing economies are increasingly entering the LPG or liberalization, privatization, globalization era, these societies are being exposed to a tremendous surge of technology. Technology has revolutionized the way information exchanges are taking place, especially in India, where most of the people are still grappling to come to terms with the old uses of the internet, like sending emails and searching for websites. This too is limited to only about 7% of the people. India is still 75% agricultural area where internet technology has not yet entered. There is a contradiction between two India’s-one where technology rules the day and another where there technological advance is zero. The opening up of the economy, new forms of ownership, the instant exchange of information and a host of new devices in the internet have made connectivity incessant and irrevocable. The late 2000s have seen new terminologies like Facebook, Orkut, Twitter, blogs, personalized web pages and apps like whatsapp, WeChat, instagrams and photobucket etc. Every other day there is a new technological kid on the block, promoting fun ways and innovative methods of connectivity. No wonder the appendage New Media has become a misnomer, because what is new today becomes old tomorrow.

The media is the first to open up to this onslaught. Traditional modes of reporting are on the wane and media conglomerates have emerged. They have access to the most advanced gadget. Thus the older methods of news coverage, news beats, primary sources, the entire mode of reporting has changed. News has been distorted, framed, morphed, as the backgrounds have been filtered and compositions changed. Objectivity in journalism is now only a passing phase. The recent incidents of violence and communal rioting in Muzaffar nagar in UP is the result of the unscrupulous uploading of an incident of lynching of two brothers by a mob in Sialkot, Pakistan. This video clip was uploaded by a BJP leader, which went viral in a short span of time.

Paparazzi Journalism

Apart from this, journalists have increasingly faced threats from the Twitter excerpts by various celebrities, as it has opened up a particularly newer dimension in news reporting. The recent Shashi Tharoor “love triangle”, as inferred by many journalists, has in fact given a new twist and flavor to paparazzi journalism in India, where from reporters to citizens, everybody has a chance to snoop on the private world of celebrities and regale in public over their marriage spats, lies and extramarital relationships. This resulted in the death of Tharoor’s wife Sunanda Pushkar under very tragic circumstances. Her death was preceded by a series of Twitter expose-a bitter spat between Sunanda and the Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar, who was said to be in a relationship with Shashi Tharoor.

 In fact, news reportage gained new momentum as journos had to keep abreast of the latest tweet, the latest information before the competing news channels got air of it. The private domain of individuals has entered the public domain, with film stars holding press conferences about their separation, being together, deaths and births of their children. Press and media has had a hard time covering these wonders of technology, where there is feed up of information across the globe, whether it is a selfie of President Barack Obama with a dignitary at an international conference that enraged the First lady, to the instant uploading and millions of “likes” of the new baby born to Prince William and Kate Middleton. Speculations regarding these uploads have also created furore in the communication world, as a ‘ virtual community’ keeps tabs on each and every movement of rockstars, singers, actors and even aging presidents and prime ministers.

Marshall McLuhan is known to be one of the most vehement technological determinist. He forwarded his ideas, linking the different phases of communication to technological development. He said that the nature of technology at a given point of time greatly influences how the members of that society will think and behave. Carey elaborated McLuhan’s thoughts saying, “Media of communication are vast metaphors that not only transmit information but determine what is knowledge-that not only orient us to the world but tell us what kind of world exists, that not only excite and delight our senses but by altering the ratio of sensory equipment that we use, actually change our character.”

McLuhan and Inn is believed in the theory “medium is the message”, but critics say that the powerful symbols rise from the content of the message by the interaction between the characteristics of the content and audience perceptions. Therefore, the message is more important than the medium in producing and propagating the dominant ideology and consciousness. Findings reveal that the symbols of the dominant ideology are more likely to affect from “variability within media than variability between media.”

Technology for Mass Participation

For example, if we take the case of news media content along with technology it has played a great role in the formation of audience or mass consciousness. Taking the example from contemporary politics, both the BJP and the Aam Aadmi Party resorted to technological gadgets to ensure greater mass participation in the decision making process. The campaign of Narendra Modi, known as NaMo, started with an aggressive SMS campaign to collect money for the Uttarakhand disaster.

The AAP resorted to the same tactic to feel the popular pulse regarding government formation at the centre. Political leaders and celebrities have taken help of the technology from time to time to send across their information to the public. Therefore, it will be apt to conclude that media technology has created a kind of political consciousness among the people who are both ideologically and technologically richer than before.  The very fact that they are using the gadget has made them more conscious. The content, however, which they post is backed by ideology-which is a social by-product.

However, media technology, the information superhighway, convergence of media, new multimedia platforms, instant upload of photographs, morphing and face blurring technologies have lead to tremendous advancement in the world of communication. Journalists have faced the greatest challenge due to this. The very structure and content of news reporting has created media patriarchs, who own media conglomerates and have made their presence felt in both horizontal, vertical and cross media ownership. In this way they have a greater control on various types of media and thus of course, their content. Thus, we get to understand that media technology facilitates the propagation of the dominant ideology and is also itself structured by ideology itself. This is known as the social construction of technology.

Ideology as said by various scholars is a macro level concept. Technology, as said before cannot exist in isolation. It is constructed to advocate select channels of thought-a construct by the power holders of society to cultivate their world view to the mass audience. They do this through imagery and culture. These power holders may have political power or economic power at their disposal. In order to further their interests they try to manipulate media technology in their favor. Having electronic power, they alone are able to control a considerable part of technological knowhow. They try to use these technologies to distribute information regarding their own interests. Thus, technology and especially media technology becomes an instrument to propagate the business and ideological viewpoints of a handful of persons who hold the baton of disseminative class based information to the masses. This ideology is not essentially a mass concept, but it is a microcosm of people who are in possession of technology, known as the “information elite”.

“PARIBARTON”

The intellectual seed of this paper is the culmination of various political incidents that have taken place in India and more so in Bengal, after there was a massive change in the governance, the end of the 34 years of the CPM rule and its fall from grace by a massive peoples verdict. TV news, as we all know, played a very significant role during the pre- and post-Bidhan Sabha polls in West Bengal in 201, and now again in 2016, when the state is gearing up for Bidhan Sabha Polls. First, it gave vent to the rising discontent of the populace regarding the ruling Left Front, and brought about a new trend, aptly termed as “PARIBARTON” or change. What is interesting here is not the ideological differences of the respective parties, but the sudden tsunami of news and views in different news with illustrations and graphics, using different market research methods to give different versions on exit polls, each vying to give its own interpretation of WHAT IS NEWS, and trying to get a portion of the profit pie. All nuances of objectivity and fairness were thrown into the air, whereas the different news channels, driven by their own political backings and allegiances, delved into a quagmire of over reporting, repeated reporting of isolated cases to charge up emotions.

If we take into consideration the theory of media dependency, we can easily infer that in order to have a better understanding of the state’s situation, we are utterly and thoroughly dependent on TV news reporting. However, the rising pressures of competition and political backings have often persuaded the media to “frame” political news stories, especially if the state is undergoing a political change, as was in the case in Bengal.

What happens due to this difference in thematic reporting styles is that viewers do not understand the “context” in which political incidents take place. They know of things in a fragmented, unstructured manner. It prevents them from understanding the progress of events in a logical way, simplifies complex issues, and encourages “reasoning by resemblance.” Two recent incidents that grabbed headlines on TV news recently will help to illustrate the facts further. First, the news of the increasing numbers of women being molested/ raped every day, and secondly, the question of industrialization in Bengal.

Both the above mentioned news made headlines in recent times, with full coverage on prime time news channels. However, the question of rape, corruption, violence, riots and separatism are subjects that need to be handled with a lot of sensitivity, especially from scholars who have understanding of the subject. It has roots in sociology, psychology, economic condition of a social system, its beliefs, thoughts and values. However, the way the news of rape is covered daily in the news channels often show a total lack of concern, keeping in mind the sensitivity of the issue. A social bane such as rape/ molestation should be reported free from any political overtones.

Agenda Setting

Agenda setting function of media houses alter the priorities associated with the relative importance of political events taking place in a day. Editorial policies, political affiliations go a long way in representing political news. For example, in a day if there are X Y Z political news, like unemployment, separatism making headway in some states, or the rise of Maoist forces, depending on the political allegiance as well as TRP rates and sponsorship patterns, news channels often lead with to one of the above mentioned incidents knowing fully well that people’s concern with it is the least. Operating in a free market economy, the media houses are not free from the forces of competition, cheque-book journalism, sensationalism, over repeating and over exposure of news. In their book “Emergence of American political Issues”, Shaw and Mc Combs, the proponents of the Agenda Setting theory, infer, “The most important effect of mass media was its ability to mentally order and organize our world for us.” They don’t tell us WHAT to think, but stunningly tell us WHAT TO THINK ABOUT.

Structuring the voter’s perception of political reality is another issue that has developed as a direct outcome of framing political news. The people who vote have typical outlook towards political incidents taking place just before the state goes to poll. During the 2011 elections in West Bengal, expectations were running in possibly all public meeting, in trains, stations, schools and colleges about the trend of popular aspirations. Different people had different perceptions during the last few days leading to the elections. The pro-communist enthusiasts tried all possible methods to cling on to their lost grounds, whereas the rival party was optimistic about a huge win. If we analyse what led to this polarization of perceptions, it was this ‘structuration’ of perceptions that led to it. People having different ideological leanings perceived television news according to their priorities. This process is called Selective Perception. The turn of events just before the polls further structured their thought processes as a result of which they set their own political agenda just before casting their ballot. This ‘structuration’ is done very intelligently by the TV channels by prioritizing particular issues to create vote banks. Theodore White, in his book “Making of An American President” says, “The power of the press in the US is a primordial one. It sets the agenda of public discussion, and this sweeping political power is unrestrained by any law. It determines what the people will talk and think about, an authority that is reserved for tyrants, priestly parties and mandarins.”

Subjective and Objective News

This paper is a tacit reflection, an overview about the framing effects of political news coverage on television, and to an extent the consumption patterns of audience, their evaluation of political conflicts as depicted in a packaged format. Several angles about the framing effects of political news was discussed-hinging on four basic concepts: how political conflicts are perceived in the real world and in the world of television news, what are the differences between subjective and objective representation of political news in terms of complexity, intensity and solvability. Secondly, whether people can differentially perceive political conflicts in the realm of TV news within the context of social reality. This question was based on the assumption that all media contents are the results of the complementary processes of selection and composition so that the presentation of political conflict on TV news cannot be identical with real political conflicts. Apart from that, peoples’ experiences with the mass media have conditioned them to notice the discrepancies between the real and the symbolic world.  This is directly opposite to the cultivation analysis theory and more in line with the concept of mainstreaming that was later propounded by Gerbner, Gross, Morgan and Signiorelli in 1980.The world of media, electronic and print, are being bombarded from all quarters-where the dominant ideology of the ruling elite has somewhat structured the non elite cultural forms. Raymond Williams, many years ago termed ideology as “the set of ideas which arises from a given set of material interest or more broadly from a definite class or group.” Political leaders, businessmen and entrepreneurs, anybody wielding power wants to exploit technology to control the masses, and the most potent medium is television. No wonder, journalism is under great turbulence as news persons have a harrowing time keeping tab on technology. This was as true during the US attack on Vietnam during the 1960s, till the Gulf War in the mid 1990s.

When the Lok Sabha elections were looming large on the Indian horizon, the journalists were at their wits’ end– how to cover the elections, how to do unbiased and objective reporting as far as possible, and how to mobilize public opinion without being branded as a stooge. Journalists were threatened to be jailed by Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal for giving more coverage to Narendra Modi than the AAP during the on-going Lok Sabha election campaign. Not only this, journalists also had to deal with the war of words that emerge from the quagmire of regional politics.

Thus, the journalist can nurture his sources sitting at any remote corner of the world by the use of technology. Multitasking is the call of the day, so a journo who was good at getting crime news also has to have equal flare in analyzing elections. Then there is citizen journalism that has reached its height in India especially in the last five years. The huge popularity of smart phones and android phones are a case in point. Instant uploading of pictures and videos has created a situation where news is no longer vague or inaccurate; it is backed up by pictures. The negative area in all this though is that two persons who want to give different versions of the same news can also back it up with two different images. In this situation, it is difficult to understand exactly what had happened.

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