Media support for Obama:
US differs from India
distinctive feature of the American election scene was the
open editorial support given to Barack Obama by such well-known
newspapers as Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.
practice is peculiar to the US. The mainstream media in other
democracies usually shy away from such endorsements of individual
candidates. The reason for their disinclination is that a
show of partisanship may undermine their reputation for impartiality
and affect circulation.
although their biases are known, they do not openly state
it, confining themselves to reiterating general principles.
is not clear why the American media do not expect that their
credibility will be questioned if they reveal their preferences.
It is not only a matter of their venerable age and past record.
There are also newspapers as old and reputed as Washington
Post and Los Angeles Times like The Times in Britain. But
these will not risk adopting a position for or against a party
or a candidate.
big Indian media houses might have emulated their counterparts
in the oldest democracy if only because of their earlier tradition
of partisanship. In the colonial period, the major English-language
newspapers could be broadly divided into two camps - nationalist
and pro-British. The latter even had British editors. The
Statesman, for instance, had an Englishman as its editor up
to 1966 - two decades after independence. Up to Aug 14, 1947,
it called Mahatma Gandhi as Mr Gandhi.
"nationalist" newspapers, on the other hand, were
mainly pro-Congress. And even the formerly pro-British media
drifted towards this line after 1947 if only because there
were no other major national parties.
the course of time, however, even this approach was diluted,
apparently because a gulf began to open up between the public
and India's Grand Old Party. The climax of this breach was
the emergency rule of 1975-77, which saw two well-known newspapers,
The Indian Express and The Statesman, indicate their opposition
by refusing to toe the official line. Some of the others had
crawled when only asked to bend, according to the opposition
leaders of the time.
emergency was some kind of a watershed, for it made the media
turn away from the vaguely pro-Congress attitudes of the past.
However, it has taken the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party
(BJP) in the 1990s for the mainline English-language newspapers
once again to veer close to the Congress primarily because
of their support for secularism.
the emergency in India, the eight years of George W.Bush led
to a great deal of self-introspection in the US media. Nothing
quite demonstrated this turning of the searchlight inwards
than a pledge by the New York Times that it will be more careful
in future about official propaganda.
cautionary note to itself was necessitated by the fact that
the war against Iraq was built on lies - the charge against
Saddam Hussein about amassing weapons of mass destruction
or procuring uranium from an African country - and that the
media had allowed these untruths to be published in good faith
and also not to appear unpatriotic at a time of war.
is not impossible that this role of being virtual peddlers
of disinformation on behalf of the Bush administration made
sections of the US media come out so strongly in Obama's favour.
Besides, Obama has gained from Bush's high percentage of unpopularity.
if to make amends for its earlier credulity, the New York
Times has now accused Bush of using even the limited remaining
period of his presidency to expand the areas of surveillance
of private individuals, negating legal safeguards for endangered
species and allowing exploration of oil and gas in pristine
fear", the paper has said, "it would take months,
or years, for the next president to identify and then undo
all the damage".
of course, is a polarising figure in American politics as
Indira Gandhi was in India in the aftermath of the emergency.
In recent years, however, the difficulty of taking a firm
for-or-against stance for parties and leaders in India has
been accentuated by two factors. One is that there are no
charismatic politicians like Obama. It is unlikely that Hillary
Clinton would have secured a similar endorsement in the US
if she had won the Democratic nomination.
the other is that the two-party system has failed to evolve
in India, as was expected in 1977 when the Janata Party was
the only party opposing the Congress at the national level.
Instead, a two-alliance system is taking shape, one led by
the Congress and the other by the BJP. But the problem is
the fear that some of their constituents can swing back and
forth between the two groups.
this evidently makes the kind of endorsement which Obama has
received quite impossible in India.
Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at email@example.com)