The ongoing trivialisation and removal of seriousness from news media across the globe needs to be seen in its proper historical, political and social contexts if they are to be understood, Leftist thinker and writer Tariq Ali said on Tuesday. He said the trend had led to a transition to diminutives over the years, which was striking out at the very role, responsibility and power that new media have exercised in society over the centuries.
Ali’s comments came as part of a wide-ranging and freewheeling speech which was the inaugural lecture to the most recent batch of students at the Chennai-based Asian College of Journalism. He delivered his speech on ‘The State of Journalism in the 21st Century: Celebrities, Trivia and Whistleblowers’ to a packed house at the Sivagami Pethachi Auditorium. Not only there were students but also writers, journalists, jurists, filmmakers and academics among others.
Ali dwelt at length over the seriousness in tone and intent of covering news stories and issues and its decline over the years as increasing media influences were merged on to the pages of news papers and television screens. “There have been great instances of war reporting over the years that were serious in nature. This was especially true of the Cold War era. At that time, there were also separate media offerings for segments like entertainment and sports, which were fine, and those who were interested could go buy them. But newspapers and television news have seen a decline ever since these influences started making their way into the mainstream news media,” said Ali.
“This is a process that has accelerated after the Cold War. There are very few serious newspapers left in the world today,” he added. Ali also said the corporatisation of news media had led to various sorts of sectional interests, a vast majority of which oriented themselves with changes in western interests, thought and policies.
He also warned of grave developments that cast doubts over the future of democracy, and how the diminishing relevance of non-serious news media was being demonstrated in a number of countries in South America. “The Western media targeted (former Venezuelan President Hugo) Chavez, because of he said he would use oil money to build better healthcare, education and infrastructure. This created a fear among the West because of the repercussions it faced. When the Venezuelan model spread to other countries in South America, it faced strong opposition from a vast majority of news media. But the people backed these movements. That’s what I say to those who take the power of the media too seriously. Popular movements can simply ignore the media,” said Ali.
He also said that a growing trend in an increasing number of countries where democracy put in place leaders whom one couldn’t differentiate from the other is leading to an exclusion of citizens, and spelt grave consequences for the future of democracy itself. “Just because the people have not reacted, politicians think the people are not thinking about it. But it is brewing at a very deep level. This is only a part of the decay of democracy,” Ali said.