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City of Brass

City of Brass

Pakistan’s identity: Media Matters

This is a guest post by Manas Shaikh.

One of the major factors leading to the collapse of the Soviets was their bad handling of the media. Few are worse off than those whose minds are images of others- even where they are distinct in their needs. The Americans have mastered the art of engaging in media wars.They can convince you to walk over the cliff.

Like it or not, every form of media has a message. Starting from entertainment to op-eds. It is often the message contained in the entertainment sector that’s more honest, revealing and also powerful (in gaining followers) than dry opinion pieces such as this one.

In spite of their political rhetoric, the Russians were (and still are) dependent on outsiders for entertainment. That meant that their identities will be formed by media that originates elsewhere. It gave others immense power over what they will want and what they will aspire to be. What they will think is noble and what is not.

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There is another example in the present. Pakistan and India. Pakistani identity is doomed to fail unless they can fix the void of their entertainment business, where they are utterly and completely dependent on Indian media. And needless to say Bollywood is a load of communalism, racism, nationalism, sexism and all other good things in life. Rumors say that Pakistan used to have a media of it’s own, but perhaps a good telescope can find the rubbles.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying- boycott Bollywood, or Hollywood, or any such thing. I am saying both sides should talk. That makes a conversation.

Point being, in this context, that Pakistan has to have it’s own entertainment sector that can cater to the taste and indeed (more importantly) the needs of the Pakistani society. Without it, the Pakistani society is headed for troubled identities. And identities are half of everything human. Dawn has it’s place, but the power of images is unparalleled. The publication of an alternative point of view through popular media (movies etc.) can actually defuse tension between India and Pakistan rather than building it as the news outlets often end up doing.

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A significant occupation of my early blogging life was to deconstruct the news articles from what I used to call “media” and show how unreal, agenda driven they are. It is still an educating excercise, but it only barely mitigates the damage that they do. Worse, such analyses makes them the status quo, the standard- therefore the legitimate. No matter how much we hate to admit it, we humans like to get along with the status quo. Many of us wish that the powerful is the one that’s just, because otherwise it becomes our moral obligation to oppose it, which is risky.

In spite of knowing it’s untrue, people will believe in the false story for the want of an alternative. Sounds funny, but that’s what happens. (Human) nature abhors vacuum. We’ll rather be wrong than confused. That’s why merely deconstructing news does not help. The truth has to come out.

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Also because in starting to write, I become part of the media- albeit irrelevant one. Nevertheless, my job should be to promote the real story, not so much trying to deconstruct the accepted version. That makes me a reactionary. With nothing to offer.

So the quest for alternative news led me to various sources- the CounterCurrents (CC), the CounterPunch (CP), Democracy Now (DN, I became disenchanted with it soon but can’t remember very well why) and then later to Al-Jazeera English (AJE, which even now many a ignorant folks believe is bin-Laden’s channel. The reactionary (not so much as the previous BJP one, but still) government of India still has it banned). In our (Indian Muslims’) context, there’s a TwoCircles.net which is run by brother Kashif. It doesn’t look very good, nor is it very mature yet. But it is important as it provides the place for the voice that has no place in the mainstream media.

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But that is not of much use unless the mass media is representative of different classes of Indian society. At the moment, the decisionmakers of Bollywood, and all major news outlets, TV channels and so on come from one background- Hindu Brahmin. And that really distorts reality beyond recognition. Even if somebody were drop dead honest (rare as a unicorn) in his/her professsion, it’s impossible to walk into the skin of another and tell their story.

Guess what, mass media won’t represent the underrepresented unless they have a share in business. Participation in business will invariably lead to greater participation in politics. Education is an important factor- as it demarcates what’s important and what’s not.

Let’s pray for a better future by working on it.

Manas Shaikh blogs at Reflections, an Indian Muslim’s Perspective., and is a contributing editor to Ijtema.net, a congregation of muslim bloggers.

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