Monday, March 28, 2011

When Ads lie...

 Kerala has been a land of paradoxes. From zero infant mortality to surging suicides and co-operative enterprises, to global investors’ meet, or from secular festivals to political carnages, paradoxes have proved to be part and parcel of this land. The newest paradox you find here is the media itself. For example, the Marxists here have travelled a long distance from the underground litho press to a digital television channel. The Marxists can reason it out as an initiative to give real meaning to "mass" in "mass media", and as part of a new strategy "to socialise the means of production", at a time when "revolution" has become obsolete and a word of the past century. This leads to some basic questions beginning from the 5Ws of news­ writing to broader issues like ethics and social responsibility. In Marxist theory, the mode of production and the social relations that express it, are mutually embedded-that is, one brings about the other. How can a new economic equation characterised by a shift from the tiny contributions of the proletarian class, to a rolling capital contributed by multinational advertisers, serve the causes of the working class?The Malayala Manorama daily gives you the right answer but in a different way. Recently the newspaper has been advertising itself in major business dailies and magazines. The campaign that appeared in the Economic Times speaks of a different Manorama, which is all set to change the world. The baseline of the campaign says, ”you needn’t read us to understand us”. One of the advertisements portray an aged man from the under privileged Pulaya community. The ads speak about the historical wonders that the newspaper has carried out to elevate the Pulaya community to literacy. Another ad highlights the story of Reena and Meena, two orphans brought up in Germany, who came to Kerala to trace their parents. Another is that of Anitha, a nine-year old girl, who was able to build a home with the help offered by Manorama’s readers. The newspaper seems to have discovered that the cause of the depressed, oppressed and the minorities can be a wonderful marketing mix, while also giving the paper a noble veneer even if the actual content of it does not at all disturb the elite social order. Manorama's campaigns cannot be ignored as mere advertisements. It is a deliberate attempt at misleading the minorities about the sources that voice their concerns and is also a calculated step in writing a new history of journalism whereby alternative voices are devoured not only of their skeletons and fossils, but also of their commitments and responsibilities. It is here that we find the greatest paradox; when the principal voice of the mainstream media climbs down to the poor and the oppressed to market themselves, the alternative proletarian voice climbs up to the elite. Naturally, one question arises: who is more responsible and reliable? The recent advertisement of The Times of India gives the game  away: "As a newspaper we usually record history, Sometimes, we go ahead and create it." Yes, that's what many of the media outfits are doing - writing their own histories.

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