Social scientists and experts have recognised media’s role in a functional democracy and the relationships between media structures, the modern state and democratic values. Monroe E Price, a communication expert observes that a society seeking to achieve substantial degree of democratic participation will integrate the structure of communication systems with the functioning of the political system. This is imperative for a meaningful debate on the health of any democratic order.
In some sense, there is a need to construct a “public sphere” as a way to evaluate or measure progress made towards a meaningful democratic society. According to Jürgen Habermas, a German philosopher, the “public sphere” is “a zone for discourse which serves as a locus for the exploration of ideas and the crystallization of a public view.”
His idea of the “public sphere” consists of a wide array of institutions like the parliament, clubs, public assemblies and vehicles of information and debate, like newspapers and journals. It is within this sphere, where people began to weave their imaginations of what is or what is not part of the national consciousness.
However, the dominant debate and discourse may not constitute an inclusive vision. In this context, a question that needs to be raised is how culture, ethnic background and socialisation in a media environment influence content of such debate in a “public sphere”. If the media is a public sphere, then is its coverage dependent on one’s perception of who is affected or interested? What is beneath the increasing commonplace usage of words like ‘us’ and ‘them’ or ‘the other’ that feature so prominently in content discourses including news?
Here, it would be worthwhile to note that bias in the news discourses seems to have been institutionalised as a result of internalising certain dominant and repressive ideology. More often than not, the ritual of newsroom discussions has neglected many areas of people’s existence.
This is so because most of the news practitioners continue to remain glued to certain values primarily forced and shaped by the values of the state. A media person’s understanding of his/her location in the given socio-cultural-political environment is crucial to understanding media practices. This sense is produced or constructed; it is not given and is casually linked to the process of nationalising all local discourses. As a result, the nation-state, wittingly or unwittingly produces the binary of ‘us’ and ‘them’ thereby creating the idea of the mainstream and the non-mainstream.
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In multicultural societies, the dominant values of the majority become the mainstream. Now, what have these dominant values got to do with the larger question of consensus as one of the foundations of a democratic order? In consensual politics, it is the mutual acceptance of each other’s positions despite the existence of a dominant and subservient equation.
The passive acceptance of the banalities has only helped the active reinforcement of an asymmetrical relationship. This has become more pronounced with the subtle imposition of grand schemes to universalize the singular idea of nationalism. The banal acceptance of just one narrative as given by the state has been propelled by political machinations of the majority. This indeed has become the fuel for increasing reluctance of the media to examine the ‘self’ and of course state the obvious truth.