Increasing impact of social media in India


In the eighties when the Bofors scam hit the headlines everyone was eager to read ” The Hindu” newspaper, where it was exposed by Chitra Subramanian and N Ram – of The Hindu. It was print media which was the torch bearers. But by the beginning of this century TV has overtaken print media in terms of ” Breaking News” whether it is of Adarsh scam or that of CWG and 2G. TV as medium has become The MSM or Main Stream Media. Actually print media world over is struggling to function as a pure news media since TV has pre- empted it the previous night.

Hence slowly printed news papers are focussing on analysis and back ground to stories. TV is more focussing on combining views and news bundled into one.

But the advent of Twitter and Face- Book is changing all these. Broadly classified as Social Media ( SM) – it has captured the imagination of, particularly youngsters since it is fully democratic without the control of owners of media or editors. To publish in a print MSM one needs to be vetted by the editor and the editor is vetted by the owner of the media house. So is the case in TV. But in the social media everybody has equal chance and all are kings and the speed is unbelievable. It is not constrained by sense of partisanship or agenda driven since for every one view point there are hundred counter view points.

In India generally it is perceived that the print media is by and large liberal and supporter of ruling group and TV media is left and liberal and so agenda driven. So to that extent the rightist elements both the religious type and other right elements have found the social media to be an effective tool to counter the perceived left liberal TV MSM. To an interesting extent they seems to have succeeded since they are not governed by traditional norms of being an ” insider” or ” consensus” builders.

For instance when the Abhishek Manu Singhvi- AMS- tapes hit the social media they circulated it far and wide and in the jargon of Twitter he was trending for many days. This made his case very difficult. The issue was his alleged sexual dalliance with a middle aged lawyer in his chambers during day time and the insinuation is that he promised to make her a judge. The said video was supposed to be done by his driver who was unhappy of the treatment/ salary meted out to him by his boss. It was removed from some locations in U tube but enterprising persons managed to put it in several different locations, some which can be censored and some which cannot be easily amenable for technological reasons. Even though the Delhi High Court has given an injunction based on his petition, neither the court nor Government had full wherewithal to prevent the tapes being distributed globally.

At the same time the TV MSM was conspicuous by its silence and by doing that they actually worsened the situation for him. It was perceived that the MSM protects the high and mighty particularly if they belong to the ” narrow elite” of Delhi compared to say small town leaders. The print media was more circumspect and both TV and print media were suddenly talking about privacy and consenting adults. Social media then questioned MSM about Nithyananda case and argued that you cannot have different yard sticks to different individuals.

It also forcefully reasoned that Nityananda was a private individual while AMS is not. Actually AMS is – he has resigned since then as Chairman of the standing committee of Parliament and a top legal counsel. The MSM had egg in its face when it published his denials and part of the story and increased the curiosity of average reader/ viewer. The advantage of SM is it has million editors and million writers unlike MSM where there are bunch of editors trying to decide what is good for their reader/ viewers.

Another major case is that of the ” land grab” done in Pune by the present President in constructing a palatial palace for her to be occupied post- retirement.

The said land was meant to be used by army personnel and she being the Supreme Commander of Armed Forces was perceived to misuse her position.

This was first exposed by Money Life ( a financial journal from Mumbai) staff Vinita Deshmukh and soon it spread in the twitter far and wide. It appears that the President tried to influence the army person at Pune through some Governor etc but even that was highlighted by the SM. In this entire episode MSM was a passive observer rather one can say circumspect as in the case of AMS tapes except for publishing the denials from her office. In the process MSM has become just an outpost of Governments Press Information Bureau and publishes / presents what is handed out.

For instance majority of newspapers or TV channels did not vigorously debate the appropriateness and legality etc of the actions of the incumbent President either due to deference to the post or due to lack of investigation into the issue. Then we heard the news that the President has given up her idea of a new home in Pune and in a sense bowed to the pressure of SM. It seems that from print era to TV era we are moving into SM era. SM may not be powerful in influencing voters as of now but it is becoming powerful to take on the high and mighty. It is the most democratic medium to a large extent self regulated. Actually it is interesting to observe that the participants in SM always ask about sources and verification before jumping to conclusions.

They are not controlled by business houses or by political parties. In other words we are entering an interesting era of millions of editors in the cyber sphere, unpaid and not driven by any agenda other than social good. These SM participants are actually unpaid guardians of our republic.

It is fun to hear old media types talking of regulating it or controlling it.

They know not what they are talking both from technological point of view and from intellectual evolution point of view. It is actually real power in the hands of middle class captured from the narrow ownership driven/ agenda driven elite. SM may begin to get their own feeds using RTE instead of depending on the MSM. Have a keyboard will go places. This is the real citizen journalism unpaid/ without agenda and motives. We eagerly await the next scam to be exposed by the Social Media with bated breath.


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