Dialogue  October - December 2005 , Volume 7  No. 2

Left-Liberal Media Bias

Udayan Namboodiri

A pronounced media bias against projecting news and reflecting opinions unpalatable to the left-liberal intellectual elite has been quite apparent to consumers of current affairs products, both in print and audio-visual, for some years now. This is not a phenomenon restricted to India. Indeed, the free Press of all democracies has manifested this tendency in varied forms since the late 1990s. The ceaseless caricature of George W. Bush as a war-mongering demagogue, the doctoring of “opinion polls” against him ahead of the 2004 Presidential elections and the unidimensional projection of the American Army in Iraq as modern-day versions of the Scutz Staffel ( Nazi SS) are part of a strategy articulated by the entrenched media elite of the United States to demonize the Right Wing. In Britain too this game is played out by routinely parodying Prime Minister Tony Blair for committing his country to the Iraq war. His pursuance of Margaret Thatcher’s economic reforms programme is blasted as “more right wing than the right” and so on. The most ironic among the many vehicles used this assault is the willful promotion of the theory of “root cause” behind the scourge of terrorism, holding, in its undercarriage,  the sickening innuendo that those who go about killing and maiming innocent women and children need a “grievance” as provocation.  
    I will not go into the myriad examples of this distortion that has crept into the media establishment of large democracies. In our everyday exposure to the information explosion which is everywhere round us, the trajectory of almost every journalistic inquiry – or attack – is well understood as singularly focused on discrediting the non-Left segment of the polity and society. Those of us who are keen to preserve our 9,000-year-old traditions with a view to adapting them to our daily lives have not only a social agenda but a distinctive political platform as well. Which is our entitlement. Like all other sections of society, this one too is justified in nursing some aspirations of using political power to transform national life. But the Left-liberal elite which controls the decision making levers of most media in democracies would like to deny even minimum space and time to publicize or defend our position. The characteristics of this craft are too well known for repeating here. But, if it is of any consolation, the Indian “Right-Winger”, or “Hindutvavadi” or downright “BJP supporter” is not alone. I myself would not have come to learn of this veritable “world war” against the forces of nationalism, family values, patriotism and the general spirit of traditionalism had I not read a book called “Bias” which was published in the United States in 2002.
    “Bias” (Time Warner publishers) and its sequel, “Arrogance”, were hugely successful books. Its author, Bernard Goldberg, who was a CBS journalist for more than 35 years, revealed at the end of his long career how the masses of media consumers in America are short-changed by a culture of blanking out news and events which are uncomfortable to the Left-Liberal establishment. He makes no secret of the fact that the majority of big papers and channels in the US have a pronounced Leftist bias. These journalists or broadcasters perpetuate their almost tyrannical hold over their media by not only short-changing their customers but also ensuring that the newsrooms are always filled with their fellow travellers. Recruitment, even at the entrant level, is carefully monitored so that young men and women found not to be conforming with views governing not only politics but also sundry issues like abortion, Church affairs, gun possession, death penalty, etc. are kept out. The construction of certain shibboleths thus ensues which proves too formidable for future generations of journalists to question.
    We noticed the intolerance, or “illiberality”, of the self professedly Liberal intellectual elite when the RSS spokesman, Ram Madhav, went to deliver lectures are some renowned American institutions earlier this year. Giant placards denouncing him and the views he represents greeted him wherever he went. He was booed, heckled, verbally abused and humiliated with interruptions and catcalls whenever he got the chance to deliver his addresses. The very typical Left-Liberal principle of blocking dissent at source, that is, preventing a perceived “enemy” from even making a point, was at play in Ram Madhav’s case. What is most shocking is the manner in which the Indian media covered the whole affair. Outlook magazine’s America correspondent gave lavish space in her dispatch to how “intellectuals” were “scandalised” at the very concept of a “reputed” institution like the John Hopkins Centre even inviting Ram Madhav to walk through its hallowed portals. The article, which was spread over two pages, went to the extent of attacking the RSS spokesman personally. One attendee to an event was quoted as saying: “It was a blessing that he (Ram Madhav) was unimpressive. Imagine the damage he could have caused if he was slick and sophisticated?”  
    We saw a desi version of this in November 2005 when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was greeted with catcalls and slogans at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University when he went there to unveil a statue of the founder. Some students aligned to the extreme Left section, who were critical of the UPA government’s Iran policy were adamant that the Prime Minister should not even be given the chance to be heard above the din they raised. Irritated by their attitude, Dr Singh reminded them of the environment of openness to views that ought to prevail in a true university, especially one that carries the name of a true democrat like Nehru. What was significant was the RSS’s student wing, the ABVP, whose reservations with the Singh government’s foreign policy is also well known, did not only participate in the meeting to hear out the Prime Minister, but also condemned the miscreants. This bears out the axiom that it is far easier for an opponent of the Right to be heard in an assemblage of alleged “fundamentalists” than even a Left-of-centre moderate to be given the ear of avowed “liberals”. When one scans the op-ed pages of an alleged “Hindutva” paper like The Pioneer on any given day, one may find at least one article lashing out at the Right for its basic premise in national life, or, its position on a current event. However, the same is rarely true of The Indian Express or The Times of India or The Telegraph.  But, it must be noted that the students who participated in the perfidy were not even disciplined by the academic staff of the university. This was very much within their rights. The fact that they did not only goes to prove that the teachers of India’s premier central university are themselves involved in nurturing a state-funded institution as a nursery for Left-Liberal illiberalism. In January 2004, when I went to Mumbai to cover the World Social Forum, a congress of Left-Liberal ideologues and activists, I was surprised to see a teacher of Jawaharlal Nehru University leading a group of students that he shepherded from Delhi down the venue. They were shouting slogans against Atal Bihari Vajpayee. What right did he have to spend public resources on trucking students over 1,400 km to stage a demonstration against the elected Prime Minister of the country?  Even if it is argued that the teacher and his charges paid their passage, how can they explain the loss of academic hours which too carries a cost that is subsidized by the state?
    The media, of course, will not ask such uncomfortable questions. Jawaharlal Nehru University is one of those intellectual reservoirs which the Left-Liberals and Centrists avail with impunity for their political end of stamping out dissent from the land. The media, particularly the media of Delhi (which also arrogates it itself the label “national”) also sources its raw material from there. The cold chain that nurtures the drug of Left-Liberalism into the mainstream of national life begins there.
    It is, therefore, not surprising that the products of such centres, when entering the media, show uncanny promptness in blanking out news and opinions which show broad sections of the Left polity in bad light. If, sometimes, it is impossible to downplay the evil face of Naxalism or Islamic fundamentalism, recourse is taken to highlighting the “root causes” that promote their terror. In the long run, a notion is sought to be instilled in impressionable minds, that “militancy” ( notice how selectively this word is used ) is the byproduct of the flawed economic system practiced in this country (read non-communist) and that the “provocation” came from the evil state which tries to uphold the rule of law. Leftist poets and other hacks move swiftly to compose verse and drama glorifying anti-establishment views and practices. Surprisingly, the same creative artists remain silent when Leftist political regimes promote “root causes” behind agitation directed at them. In this context, I want to point out that not a single work of prose, poetry or drama has been produced in Bengal over the 28 years of Left Front rule depicting the terrorization of villagers there through the Panchayati Raj system which the Communist regime has perfected as its tool of domination. I have written at length on this phenomenon – a most curious one considering Bengal’s rich literary heritage of over two centuries – in my book, “Bengal’s Night Without End” (India First Foundation, 2005) and it includes interviews with some leading Bengali intellectuals who have tried to disseminate the origins of this chicanery.
    The sum total of this is the total absence of ethics in journalism. The time has come to look at the origins of this crisis plaguing our fourth estate. I think the recently published chapter on India in the controversial book, Mitrokhin Archives II, throws a lot of light on the history of the hypocritical order which we, the present generation, have inherited. In the 1960s, the KGB’s Residency in New Delhi used to have an officer posted for no other work than planting stories favourable to the socialist block and editorials showing the Americans in poor light. In one place, there is a mention of more than 5,000 such pieces being successfully carried – a tribute to the efficiency of the officer of the time. That only implies how the editors and owners of those papers subverted national interest by playing toady to the communists. In the autobiography of the famous communist, Mohit Sen, there is a revelation that at the height of Nehruvian and Indira Gandhi rule, hundreds of people used to be sent on paid holidays to the Soviet Union. Not only Communist Party functionaries, but even their “recommended” people – and this class included the top editors of the day – went with their families to enjoy the paradise of the working class. Doubtless, they returned with fixated ideas which they promoted through their newspapers. With time, they went on to develop subsequent generations of such editors by following a singularly focused policy of recruitment.
    It is the same everywhere. An MA student of History or Political Science in any of our leading universities would find it impossible to get a recommendation from a professor for admission to a foreign university unless he or she falls in line with the “prevailing wisdom” (read Leftist) governing Indian historiography. Nobody would be willing to oversee his or her doctoral thesis. Such a pernicious system ensures the continuance of the abuse of Indian history and the social sciences.
    How does one end this corruption? Well, it is a chicken and egg situation. We need to engender true professionalism. But before that we need the right people at the right places to execute that.  The landscape, put simply, is quite empty of nationalism insofar as the Indian press is concerned. Only a culture of true nationalism can promote institution building.

Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

Astha Bharati