‘Our big papers don’t use their power properly’

Reviewing Martha Nussbaum‘s new book The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India’s Future in the New York Review of Books, the author Pankaj Mishra argues that the Indian media have “concocted a world —all statistical evidence to the contrary—which have helped India’s elite to withdraw from the social and political complications of the country they live in.

“Affluent Indians are helped in this relocation—as much psychological as geographical—by the English-language press and television, which, as a report in the International Herald Tribune put it, “has concocted a world —all statistical evidence to the contrary—in which you are a minority if not fabulously rich.”

“Nussbaum is right to say that the “level of debate and reporting in the major newspapers and at least some of the television networks is impressively high.” In fact, India is one of the few countries where print newspapers and magazines, especially in regional languages, continue to flourish.

But the most influential part of the Indian press not only makes little use of its freedom; it helps diminish the space for public discussion, which partly accounts for what the philosopher Pratap Bhanu Mehta calls the “extraordinary non-deliberative nature of Indian politics.”

“On any given day, the front pages of such mainstream Indian newspapers as The Hindustan Times and the Times of India veer between celebrity-mongering—Britney Spears‘s new hair-style—and what appears to be “consumer nationalism”—reports on Indian tycoons, beauty queens, fashion designers, filmmakers, and other achievers in the West.

“Excited accounts of Tata, India’s biggest private-sector company, buying the Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus make it seem that something like what The Economic Times, India’s leading business paper, calls “The Global Indian Take-over” is underway.

“Largely reduced to an echo chamber, where an elite minority seems increasingly to hear mainly its own voice, the urban press is partly responsible for a new privileged generation of Indians lacking, as Nussbaum points out, any “identification with the poor.”

Read the full review here: Impasse in India

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