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  • Writer's pictureAnilesh Kumar

Indian Media and The Mean Opposition Syndrome

(Image courtesy: The emotion machine)

In order to understand what I call ‘the mean opposition syndrome’, let us look at some of the debate topics on the YouTube page of Indian news channels. These are from the top two private news broadcasters in the country.

1- “Will Congress apologise for betraying our braves?”

2- “Hathras Tapes Out: Congress' Conspiracy & Vulturism Exposed?”

3- “'Unarmed' With Facts, Congress Insults Army”

4- “Congress wants great power but no responsibility?”

5- “Piyush Goyal fact checks Rahul Gandhi, Why is Cong misleading to malign?”

Take a closer look at the words attributed in describing the party’s actions. ‘Betrayal’, ‘Vulturism’, ‘Insult’, ‘Malign’, ‘Misleading’, ‘Conspiracy’ and so on. Now ask yourself, what have you learnt about the above-mentioned political party from those headlines? Assuming you are living in a representative democracy, would you condone a party like that to ever represent you? For the record, I am not suggesting that everything is perfectly alright with the party but using it as an example. With a change in circumstances, it could well be any other party in those headlines.

These headlines represent the opposition as a vile entity that could never have a positive contribution in politics. Even without watching those programmes, one could reach a conclusion with a simple lexical analysis that the party should never be voted to power for its nature and practises. In a world of 24*7 news cycle, imagine the effect of those headlines on a news consumer. Watching news can affect us in many ways hence it has been a matter of great interest for researchers. One such scholar attempted to bring our attention to the possible negative effects of watching tv news. His name was George Gerbner.

Gerbner was an American scholar who coined the term – ‘mean world syndrome’. It was a part of the theory he developed called ‘Cultivation theory’. In simple words, he argued that people who are heavy tv watchers tend to overestimate the amount of violence in society. His theory asks whether news consumers reflect the views of what and/or who they watch and claims that one of effects of tv is - it has the potential to alter how we conceptualize social realities. In short, Gerbner says tv has a slow and a long-term effect on its viewers.

You might say that this study was done in the 60s and it may not be relevant today. I would argue that while a lot has changed indeed in terms of the ways we access news, a little has changed with regards to the dominance of conventional media at least in the Indian context. Through his research, Gerbner showed how people thought the world was mean because of watching tv which would have violence/violence related stuff in abundance.

In a world where sitting in front of a tv set is no longer required for receiving information, thanks to the proliferation of internet, apply what Gerbner said in the context of the headlines above. What we understand is the news organisations are attempting to create a ‘mean opposition syndrome’ where you would start building conceptions about a political party without knowing much about it. The tendency is so heavily influenced that after a point you tend to ignore anything positive about that party. This phenomenon is not just restricted to the issue of a political party but a similar tendency of fear and disapproval could be found in other contexts too. Anyone with a counter narrative or argument would come across as a threat to the viewer and the general consensus over dealing with a threat is – eliminate it.

Imagine the consequence of eliminating an opposition in a representative democracy. If you can’t imagine, you are under the influence of what I call the mean opposition syndrome!

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