Subodh, stop making fools of media!

Afsan Chowdhury
Thursday, November 9th, 2017
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The Daily Star’s labored attempt at satire may have not made anyone laugh, but the reaction of the vernacular media in handling the news of the arrest of Subodh, the graffiti art character popular on the walls of Dhaka, exposed the weakness of  the media’s  ability in several ways. While the media has been robust in many cases, its inability to function efficiently on basic issues should cause concern. It was not the media’s proudest day.


The character Subodh is quite interesting and has captured the public imagination. Most see him as a voice of protest in a world where the space for dissidence is increasingly shrinking. He is popular, particularly among the FB generation, who like to see their angst reflected in his statements. The utterances are actually quite harmless, a touch of romantic escapist ones. He is not even a protestor in the usual sense. But he had become an expression, if not the voice, of many who feel stifled in contemporary Bangladesh. In a political parties’ dominated world where the individual’s sense of alienation is very high, Subodh provides emotional and psychological relief.  To that end he is a significant person.


Hence his arrest became big news.


A viral of unease


It became big news because the Daily Star ran an item saying that the creators of Subodh had been arrested. Almost immediately, other Bangla publications picked it up and ran it without further ado, which of course meant no checking. Some went one step further and even interviewed two security experts of whom one very strongly defended the arrest, saying that Subodh’s internment was a positive development as such a sort of graffiti could spread social unrest.


As it multiplied or went viral, social media began to respond and most were of course voices of anger and concern. Counter comments also began to rise and at this point it began to hit people that the original story had a shoulder caption declaring it to be a “Satire.”


By the time the error was noticed, things had gone way too far and the damage had been done. Many from the mainstream media had fallen for the ruse and some even had read the satire caption but didn’t fully comprehend it. One of the reasons of course was that it didn’t read like a satire but normal news. In other words, it fits in perfectly with the concept of fake news.


One of the aspects of satire is that at least some may enjoy the humour or at least the kick in it. True, we lack a sense of humour at an extraordinary level but that doesn’t mean that in that very realistic piece we saw the satire. It read as straightforward news. The punch was missed and so the sarcastic punch didn’t hit. In fact, once the shock was over the Bangla media behavior became more to poke fun at than Subodh.


What went wrong?


In very simple terms, our word media hasn’t learnt the grammar of journalism too well. One reason why there is so little pressure to learn is that the market is not competitive due to a lack of profit seeking investment. The media operates as a social capital gathering business using not always transparent investment capital. And this investment capital is not factored in for profit making but image and connection building. Thus professionalism is not the critical ingredient sought in the media industry but reach and impact, not quality.


So the focus is on “Breaking News”, not ‘Correct News’ or in-depth news where clarification or research is required. Hence the culture of fact –checking is absent. It’s not seen as necessary. Quality based competition is missing in the media.


On top of that there is huge pressure from social media which is the real news breaker now. This competition is like swimming in an endless ocean where everything is available. Hence irrational competition has further damaged the conventional world of the media.


Because there is little investment in media capacity building by the owners, the grammars are never learnt or practised. Media workers also see safety in connections with various lobbies, political groups, law enforcers and officials making them depend on extra-media performance to survive. In that environment, that such a mistake occurred is not an exception but the rule.

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