Dialogue October - December 2005 , Volume 7 No. 2
A long walk with Guevara and Chomsky:
Analysing the role of Media
It was a
chilling December morning of 1998. I just got up to see my father fuming with
anger, with a Hindi newspaper in his hand. Visibly upset by the editorial
content of the paper that eulogised comrade Vinod Misra as a symbol of ‘social
justice’, he could not comprehend the compulsions behind ‘too-sympathetic’
obituary to the CPI(ML) by a well-known capitalist-owned newspaper. Was it an
underlying nexus between capitalism and Communism? Or, was it the manifestation
of ‘Stockholm syndrome’ of an organisation that desires the existence of an
ideology that threatens its very existence? Years passed by; and I, too, came
across several such agitating moments. None, however, were as baffling as the
one related to Che Guevara.
The Enigmatic Guevara
Almost four decades after his
death, Che seems to have turned into a “pop icon”1
who finds a pride of place on the ‘chest’ of a generation — thanks to
‘Che Guevara T-shirts’ — that is as far removed from revolutions as
palaeolithic men were from machines. Paradoxically, it is the recurring forces
of globalisation, which has resurrected Che — the self-confessed enemy of
capitalism — from the debris of ignominy. It recreated the sentiments captured
by Alberto Costa in his 1960 photograph of the Argentine revolutionary invoking
romanticism associated with rebels, revolutions and martyrdom. No wonder, today,
Guevara is popularly seen as a romantic figure, generous and compassionate,
rather than a ruthless authoritarian.
It is this dichotomy — enigmatic as well as confusing — that attracted me towards anything related to Che. Therefore, when I saw Albert Granado’s biography-cum-autobiography, Travelling With Che Guevara: The Making Of A Revolutionary
One can, however, see the germs of ‘Che, the killing machine’, during the journey itself. When the two friends reached Machu Picchu, Granado told Guevara about his desire to establish a pro-Indian political party, with the goal to revolutionise the Latin American politics. Guevara’s response was an indication of the things to come in the future: “Revolution without firing a shot? You’re crazy.” One, however, needs hawk’s eyes to locate such streaks of violence in this highly sympathetic account of the Latin American revolutionary. Those who could see this totalitarian trend in the young Guevara would not be surprised to hear his later-day prescription of “hatred as an element of struggle” that would make human beings more “violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine”.
Unfortunately, the world is full of those who cannot see beyond the obvious. Till the time, these people — along with those who ignore the truth deliberately — remain in majority, things are not going to change. Till then, one would find the protestors holding the poster of Guevara in their ‘rallies for peace’, despite the fact that the Argentine was quite furious with the Soviet Union for not locking its nuclear horns with the US in the Cuban missile crisis. Till then, thousands will sing his praise as the one who fought for liberty and human dignity, ignoring the fact that the 1967 martyr in the Bolivian highland was a self-confessed Stalinist
Granado’s portrayal of Guevara could be as deceptive as presenting Hitler as a pacifist and non-violent individual on the basis of the latter’s ‘pro-vegetarian’ speeches. This perception will continue as long as the media promotes the liberal face of Guevara. Till then, Hollywood actors Antonio Banderas and Carlos Santana would feel proud to perform on the theme song of the movie, The Motorcycle Diaries, at the Academy Awards, and the Oscars would cherish organising such shows
The Chomsky Phenomenon
ranks with Marx, Shakespeare and the Bible as one of the 10 most quoted sources
in the humanities — and the only writer among them still alive,” says The
Guardian. “He is arguably the most important intellectual alive,” writes
The New York Times. In a poll conducted by Prospect in association
with Foreign Policy, he was declared No. 1 Global Public Intellectual.6
The man of eminence is no else than Noam Chomsky, who came into prominence as a
linguist professor at MIT in the 1950s. Most people, however, remember him for
his uncompromising criticism of the US’s role during the Vietnam crisis.
The decision to award ‘The Elvis of Academia’ title to Chomsky, however, did not go without criticism. Celebrated journalist and long-time subscriber to the ‘all that glitters is not gold’ philosophy Christopher Hitchens brings out the gradual “mutation” of Chomsky’s “regard for the underdog… into support for mad dogs”. Despite calling the US as “one of the leading terrorist states” in the world for its role in Vietnam, South America, North Korea and, of course, West Asia, Chomsky saw nothing wrong in praising China as a place where “one finds things that are really quite admirable”. Paradoxically, the admiration came in 1967, just five years after the great Chinese famine that killed 30 million people. He came in defence of Cambodian dictator Pol Pot, who almost decimated the entire middle class of the country, killed 68,000 of the 70,000 Buddhist monks and murdered 50 per cent of the urban Chinese population.
If Chomsky had had his way, Afghanistan would have remained under the Taliban rule, and Kuwait would have existed as an Iraqi colony. Worse, Baghdad, too, would have remained the personal property of a dictator. And, Slobodan Milosevic would have been allowed to cleanse and annex Bosnia and Kosovo, as the US and the UK do not have the moral standing to carry out the ‘ethical’ operation to stop the Serbian dictator. Chomsky seems to fit perfectly into the role of Leon Trotsky’s “radical tourist” who seeks, from a discreet distance, salvation for others in evil.
In Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent, Robert Barsky
However, it was Orwell who wrote in Notes on Nationalism
This selective quotation should not surprise those who have tracked the academic journey of Chomsky. Neither should it baffle those who have seen the media betting for the wrong horse — intentionally or unintentionally. It reminds us of George Orwell’s prophesy of a future in which a “propagandistic media” produced a steady stream of “up-is-down”, “right-is-wrong”, “war-is-peace”. No wonder, a Time magazine poll found 80 per cent of Europeans regarding the US as the greatest threat to world peace. No wonder, Chomsky is the Elvis of Academia!
The West Asian Dilemma
If one is looking for the
Orwellian “right-is-wrong” perception created by the media, the
Israel-Palestine relationship is a perfect example. Tel Aviv has, of late, been
transformed from innocent and meek David to strong and aggressive Goliath —
thereby squandering the sympathy it has garnered due to Hitler’s repression of
Jews during World War-II. Though a few scholars like Thomas Friedman11
can claim that the existing prejudice against Israel is because of the desire of
the people to see Jews — the first proponent of the code of conduct through
Ten Commandments — “misbehaving”, it is more because the Jewish cause is
no longer articulated in the “language of the Left”.
In October 2000, CNN flashed news that said, “Israeli helicopter gunships attack Palestinian area near Jerusalem.” The channel, however, failed to convey the fact that there were no casualties because of the offence, as the residents were warned in advance to leave the area. This stands in sharp contrast to Palestinian gunmen’s sudden attack the night before. One wonders whether it is because of the failure of the media to care for such subtleties, or is it a deliberate move to turn Israel into villain? One often traces the Israeli tanks or well-armed soldiers amid ‘unarmed’ Palestinian protestors. What these pictures fail to convey is that behind the façade of the “relatively harmless stone throwers” remain the armed terrorists in plain clothes that hide behind the crowd to target the Israeli soldiers.
CAMERA (the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) exposes the biased presentation of two photographs — of an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian militia respectively — by the New York Times. What did the trick was their caption. While the picture of the Israeli read, “An Israeli facing stone-throwers in Hebron”, the other one said, “At the burial of a Palestinian killed in the Gaza Strip”. Again, the Israeli was portrayed as aggressor, while the Palestinian was shown as innocently holding a gun at a funeral of a victim of Jewish aggression.
And, The Indian Experience
The Indian media is a classic
example of how a media should not work, critics say. Time and again, it has been
made the caricature of anti-national elements for their war again the nation. A
member of the Indian negotiating team during the 1999 Kandahar hijacking, Vivek
Katju12, observed at a
seminar, The Role of the Media: “The hijackers were acutely aware of
how the media was projecting the issue — the excessive focus on relatives and
the mounting pressure on the Government.” Relentless focus on aggrieved
families only pressurised the Government to act fast, thereby losing the ‘war
of nerves’ with the hijackers. In the entire episode, the media seems to have
acted in collusion with terrorists, rather than the Government. But the moment
the jihadis were released by the Government, the same media began
sermonising us about the American stand of ‘no negotiations with
A few critics quote the self-proclaimed loyalty of a well-known editor towards General Pervez Musharraf’s Pakistan during the Agra summit: “In India, I am known as a Pakistani agent, and I am proud of that.” A few others wonder at the ease with which Riaz Khokhar could edit, without using newsprint, three of the Capital’s dailies during his tenure as Pakistan’s Ambassador to India — thereby giving subtle pro-Islamabad tilt to all the issues of national importance, including that of Jammu & Kashmir. Long after Khokhar left India, the Indian media’s ‘too-touchy’ sentiment for Pakistan continued to flourish. This was manifested during the recent earthquake in POK when our newspapers and television channels went all out sermonising us to “turn the disaster into opportunity” by assisting Pakistan in its hour of crisis. In the process, Islamabad’s efforts to export terror in the country were ignored. After all, the calamity has occurred in Pakistan!
A section of society seems unsettled by the way media has handled the situations like riots, insurgency or natural disasters. During the Gujarat riots, for example, a news headline regarding Godhra as a “backlash of Ayodhya”, only aggravated the mistrust. And, ‘Goddess of small things’ Arundhati Roy’s graphic depiction of the mob attack on the house of ex-Congress MP Iqbal Ehsan Jaffri only reinforced the suspicion. “The mobile police vans around his (Jaffri) house did not intervene. The mob broke into the house. They stripped his daughters and burnt them alive. Then, they beheaded Jaffri and dismembered him,”
More passionate, however, is the ongoing debate on the ‘tabloidisation’ of Indian media. It is widely believed that the media has suffered an ethical and qualitative deterioration, thanks to the tabloid culture gaining ground in the country. We bemoan at the growing tendency to see the media as an industry — just like toothpastes and soaps — thus relinquishing its ‘moral’ aura and authority. One, however, needs to remember that the ‘tabloidisation’ of journalism does not mean “a diminution of its ambition, but as an extension of its reach, another unfolding layer in the story of journalism’s role as the oxygen of democracy”, as observed by David Kemp in his article, The Tabloid Decade15. If the tabloid culture helps in the diversification, not diminution, of the sphere of the media, it should not be criticised but seen as an inevitable and positive development. Despite the ‘sound byte’ culture, the Indian media has made a giant leap forward — though not the way one would have liked. It now caters in a better way to the needs of a much larger and diverse number of people than it used to do during the monopolistic era of Doordarshan.
What made an eminent Indian
journalist boast his ‘loyalty’ towards Pakistan? What made the media see an
evil in the sole genuine democracy in West Asia — Israel? What made it
eulogise Guevara and Chomsky? The common thread binding all these seemingly
diverse issues is the ‘lib-Left’ dominance in the global media — from
India to the US and the UK.16 This is a natural behavioural
trend of an ideology that regards India as artificial construct of at least 16
nationalities, that sees devil in the US-Israel combination and that expects the
rise of true democracy and liberalism from the sand dunes of Arabia. (In
India, however, the situation is further aggravated by the lethal combination of
Communism with Macaulayan education, which perpetuates distrust for anything truly
indigenous). The dominance of the Leftist ideology confirms the long-held
view of Belgian scholar Koenraad Elst that the capitalist countries spend their
wealth on libraries to be filled by the books written by Communist scholars. How
else can one justify the dominance of the Left ideology in the capitalist
centres of New York and London?
Brook Larmer’ article ‘Che Chic’ in Newsweek (July 21, 1997)
2. Travelling With Che Guevara, 2003, writes about the making of Guevara, the revolutionary
3. Che Guevara, ‘Message to the Tricontinental’, 1967
4. Jorge Castañeda, Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara, 1998, describes how Che in
the mid-1953 wrote to his aunt: “I have sworn before a picture of our old, much lamented comrade
Stalin (who had died in March) that I will not rest until I see these capitalist octopuses annihilated.”
5. Actors Banderas and Santana performed the nominated song “Al Otro Lado Del Rio” from “The
Motorcycle Diaries” at the 77th Academy Awards in February 2005
6. The Times Of India, ‘The Elvis of Academia’, October 20, 2005
7. Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power & Genocide
8. Swapan Dasgupta, ‘Post-quake tips for radical tourists’, The Pioneer, October 16, 2005
9. Robert Barsky wrote the biography, Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent, in 1997
10. Orwell, Notes on Nationalism, May 1945.
11. Thomas Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem, 1989
12. Quoted from ‘Analysing Reportage from Theatres of Conflict’ by Kanchan L, Faultlines, Volume-8
13. Outlook, May 6, 2002
14. Asian Age, May 2, 2002
15. David Kemp, in his article, ‘The Tabloid Decade’, in Vanity Fair said that the “tabloidisation of
American life — of the news, of the culture, yea, of human behaviour – is such a sweeping
phenomenon that it can’t be dismissed as merely a jokey footnote of the history of the 1990s. Rather,
it’s the very hallmark of our times; if the decade must have a name… it might as well be the Tabloid
16. The journalists (in the UK), it is reported “generally took liberal positions on a range of social,
economic and moral issue, which tends to confirm a widely held assumption that journalists are mostly
of a Leftist or liberal disposition. (Quoted from the book of Hargreaves, Journalism: Truth Or Dare,
on the survey conducted by Tony Daleno and John Henningham in 1995). This lib-Left leaning was
also found among American journalists by Pew Centre For The People And The Press.
|Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)|