Friday, June 07, 2013

Of rut, rot and media meddlers

by Maqsoodul Haque   

"The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike, than those who think differently."  Friedrich Nietzsche  

A CLASSIC day of our life in recent times is a firm indicator of the rut that has set in to our living. As we switch on the television ritualistically early in the morning, all we get to see is the repeat of high-voltage talk shows of the previous evening.   

The hosts/hostesses or participants not only speak to each other in very high pitch, but also scream when discussing some political issue of the day or other. To put down an ‘opponent’ not with contents but with polemics and illogical partisan views carry marks for the panel. They could well be termed verbal wrestling matches.  As far as the tone, tune and thrust of these talk shows, the unrestrained yet antiquated excitement equates the voices of football or cricket commentators of yore: yet here we are using the same focused energy in discussing issues like murder, corruption, death, tragedies and whatever else we have.  

Sobriety in our psyche has now taken a permanent holiday as we go marching into the ‘civilised world’, digital or analogue is a separate issue here.  What are the content and composition of these talk shows and how much do they really add up to our practice of free speech, and are these really democratic? 

Look at the panel discussants and the hosts/hostesses and we have some ready answers. They are specifically filled with politicians and journalist, or an occasional ‘expert’.   Very rarely will one come across average level-headed citizens who are offered the opportunity to speak their mind.  

It is also not uncommon to see the same stale faces of participants on multiple channels all around the week. As if this nation is devoid of any talent, talk shows are therefore nothing more than the domain of the derelict select or elect few — not by the people but by the media meddlers and the various vested stakeholders they represent.   

And why is that so?  

Simply because our media while masquerading as the fourth estate is an inherent part of the vicious and exploitative status quo they say they resist. 

Thus, they have decided uncompromisingly that this fraud on the people and at the expense of the people must continue on ‘known’ and identifiable turfs.   There can be no uncertain or unfamiliar faces on offer, when matters are debated on live TV; so, it has all got to be within theamar loke, tomar loke (my men, your men), scratch each other’s back parameter of judgement. 

Therefore, very predictably, it has got to be only grey-haired intellectuals and journalists who seem to have the brain/brawn and oratory skills and the necessary credentials to rescue us from our plight.   

On the other hand, journalists who have spent the better part of a day writing for or against the same politicians, end up face to face in the evening for sipping cups of tea, and in the end game leave us all the more hapless and dejected. 

What happens among these elements before the cameras starts whirring, or during commercial breaks is best not discussed in public, but there is no denying that these staged games have started to lose all its appeal.   Among talk-show host and guests, it is the cult the ‘all knowing’ that has laid siege to our imagination, but where they fail bitterly is to deliver the goods, for quite simply they have arrived at the scene not as any saviours of the nation but as unsolicited ‘advice givers’ — read entertainers.   

Sadly there are no takers, so all we get is a classic dose of Bengali ‘time pass’. What we call ‘talk shows’ today is no more than engaged debates that our forefathers would indulge in the past. Those were ‘adda’ or gossip sessions, and the ever-argumentative Bengali race perhaps leads the world in, you guessed right, ‘gossiping’!   

Devoid of anything worthwhile or of intrinsic value, thanks to our ever sliding sense of aesthetics proportions, politics for now is the only entertainment that is beamed directly to our living or bedrooms, yet how these bruising battles, blatant lies, slanders, character assassination and unadulterated bad behaviours, coupled with extremely poor taste, are shaping the psyche of the nation is not being talked about, at least not on talk shows.  

Take for example; the ‘very serious issue’ being discussed at the moment concerns one Mr Tarique Rahman. Everybody’s attention seems to be riveted on how ‘honest’ or ‘corrupt’ this individual is/was. There are also endless write-ups and debates raging in newspapers. 

What got the ball rolling is the shock when the government decided to ask the Interpol to bring him back to Bangladesh to face graft charges, which is the ‘on-surface’ issue.   

Yet, as the screaming pitches nauseously, the ‘underlying issue’ apparently works out to his writing a ‘muchleka’ or an undertaking bond never to indulge in ‘politics’ for an unspecified period. This undertaking, which is not even worth the paper it was signed on, was extracted out of him subsequent to his release from military bash up — towards the fag end of the ‘caretaker’ government’s tenure.   

So, all we know about this gentleman is: he has been recovering in London for nearly five years and maintaining a rather low profile, for clearly his health doesn’t seem to permit him much movement.   The above is all that can be assessed as far as the treatment meted to him by the then government at a period in our history when all politicians were bearing the brunt of military boots, and were on the run, abandoning the same people that had voted them to power.   

The ruling Awami League government, since it was swept to power in 2009, has done well in cleansing the word ‘corrupt’ that was ‘tarnished’ on their names by the military. Effectively it ‘varnished’ in ‘honesty’, through court actions, yet did nothing to those of its ‘enemy’, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, who we may note were equally, if not more, corrupt.   

Therefore, it is left to be seen as and when the BNP is elected back to power how ‘magnanimous’ they will be to their enemy — the Awami League. For now, we can take a comfortable front seat and relax as the tamasha unfolds in front of our eyes!   

However, what has not been questioned by any quarter is the recent statement made by a BNP leader where he chastised the government for its inquest on Tarique saying ‘he is the future prime minister of Bangladesh’. Really? Are the people of Bangladesh idiots?   

Is Tarique even remotely an elected leader of his party? What guarantees do we have that he will serve the people of Bangladesh simply because he is a leader by default? In the years that he has been in the corridors of power, what has been Tariq Rahman’s one ‘all defining commendable role’ that makes him such a sure-shot prime ministerial candidate?   

How long shall we sit back and accept that dynastic ties and family lineage are the only prerequisite to become a ‘leader’ of the people? It again boils down to our political-business mafia combine’s long history of propelling siblings of the tested and failed back to power.   

Their modus operandi is simple. All they do is hire sycophants whose only job is to heap a million praise on their subject in public, hold ridiculous birthday party of the ‘leader’, observe the ‘august’ date he was released from prison through doa mehfils (prayer sessions), as well as erect larger than life cardboard cut-outs or flashy posters of the likes of Tariq Rahman holding a very delicate finger to his princely chin to demonstrate his supposed appeal and possibilities as a ‘leader’.  

It is again the media who in turn are active collaborators that wants a return of leadership by default or reestablishment of a parochial dynasty to usurp the fate of the nation. The bankruptcy of conscience of all political parties and their media manipulators has never been more evident than now. Yet, it seems despite all our democratic pretensions, it is the media that has waylaid the aspirations of the people and will perhaps do so in the days to come.  

If we return to the Hefajat episodes of recent days, although the mullahs beat a hasty retreat after the government crackdown on May 6, the organisation is still being venomously supported by many an intellectual in talk shows to effectively give the impression that it is still a ‘potent force’.   When it’s general secretary Junaid Babunagri was released from prison hospital suffering the effects of ‘torture’ by the police as claimed by both Hefajat and the BNP, or ‘ill health’ as defined by the government, it is entirely left to us the citizens, as to which version we may believe or disbelieve.   

But to think that stalwarts of the BNP had to rush to hospital just as the seriously ailing man was being released and then threatening the nation of ‘consequences’ if he dies, only goes to show how little these politicians care or understand about the sensitivity of the people, even their own allies.It is not the living that counts for our politicians or even us anymore, but corpses - and we will go to any barbaric extent to ‘grab’ one, as long as it is not our own corpse that is on offer.

It was the same BNP that talked about ‘genocide’ and even held a ‘Gayebane namaaz e janaza’ (funeral prayer in absence of dead bodies) attended by most of its senior leaders for the ‘2,500 Hefazat activists’ who were apparently ‘killed’ by security forces at Shapla Chottor. Motijheel on 6th May and most print media buttressed those claims for it suited their immediate agenda. 
The New Age report of June 3 demolishes the claim of the government of eleven death, and states that the actual numbers may be between twenty four to thirty and while it may yet be speculative it certainly takes the wind out of the Hefajat/BNP’s propaganda sails, which caused many a local and international human rights group to nail down the Awami League government.   That said, we are not merely talking about numbers of dead bodies any more. 

Any death by use of deadly force is abominable. The question for the hour has three specific parts:   Firstly, how and wherefrom did the Hefajat/BNP come up with these ridiculous figures, which they claimed would be made available to the public once they are voted back to ‘power’? Why can’t we have the details now?   

Secondly, how come this issue of the number of dead bodies in Motijheel has ever so conveniently disappeared from public debates and TV talk shows?   Thirdly, has anyone noticed how the word ‘Islam’ has also vanished after the Hefajat prefix? How is it that none, not even the most virulent of Hefajat supporters and its apologist intellectuals on TV talk shows, has come forward to correct this or demand that it better be uttered ‘the way it was or ….else’?   

And isn’t it also time for some of us to make a case about our very precious ‘religious sentiments’ being hurt by an organisation that claimed it was the ‘saviour’ of our religion and the faith of majority Muslims, yet has today dropped the name of Islam altogether? Isn’t the government equally to blame for allowing a bunch of conceited mullahs that appeared out of quomi madrassahs to ‘misuse Islam’ and its good name?   

The truth is that, closer to election time, we are being fed a barrage of garbage that our ruling-class politicians are not even half serious about. Their only seriousness is grabbing power one way or the other, and it makes sense to use the media to make perfect dunces out of all of us. 

Therefore, we are left with no options but to gulp all the baits that come our way, while our politicians make merry at our stupidity.  

The home minister has for now been exonerated from his demonic and possibly inebriated suggestion that BNP workers shook Rana Plaza hard enough for it to collapse. He is back in the limelight with a bang, for banning political processions and rallies. 

It looks for now that a ‘democratic rally may be permitted’, but has to be guaranteed as ‘violence free’.   

Now, who on earth can come up with such a guarantee when time and again we have seen that it is politicians and their low-life moronic thugs who provoke and perpetrate violent incidents that then leads on to hartals — and the roulette of deceit continues?   

There is no end to the dramas we have witnessed and will continue to witness; for, the fact is we are an entertainment starved nations, where comedians masquerading as politicians continue to dish out what we want, and do so in extremely poor taste. 

Yet when it comes to fooling the people, they are a class in themselves and should be awarded with the biggest medal available anywhere.  

Signing off, does anyone recall Savar and our media-driven salivating and frothing at the mouth hysteria when over a thousand corpses were pulled out of the rubbles?   Hello! Where is Savar today? Have we even spared a thought for the thousands that survived? How many media organisations have done any follow-up as to how the families are faring today? Do they still get to eat a decent meal now that the breadwinner is dead?   

New Age Op-Ed Friday 7th June 2013 


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