THE BLOG

Brand India and the Failure of Common Sense

Soon after the Radia tape leaks exposed the cozy relationship between the media and big business houses in India, the very publications that had turned away from this year's biggest story of corruption chose to publish a series of reports highlighting the anxieties and concerns of corporate India.

Savor these vignettes.

"We are deeply concerned about the potential damage to Brand India due to brazen acts of corruption by a select few," says one executive. Read a little closely. The concern shown is only to the potential damage to India's image, as against the importance of tackling corruption. He goes on to say, "In order to preserve the robust image (sic) of the nation, we call for transparency, accountability and probity in our system of governance." Apparently the speaker has either not comprehended the contradiction in his own words or has chosen to ignore it entirely. We simply cannot have transparency in governance if we attempt to manufacture or control the "robust" image of the nation.

Says another executive, "The larger corruption issue will have an impact on the India story. As far as phone tapping goes, there is no issue with it if it is done to tackle corruption but unnecessary gossip cannot be passed around in the name of fighting corruption." Here too, the aim is to marginalize the anti-corruption imperative by semantically implying that it is actually all about gossip.

In a third instance an influential industrialist speaks out against the nexus of lobbyists and corporate India. Well said, but then he goes on to add that the government should refrain from routinely tapping phones. Once again, because of semantic association, the reader may be forgiven for assuming that the real issue is careless surveillance by an irresponsible government agency, and that the wealth of information on corruption that was unearthed by the tapes is actually irrelevant.

In what was perhaps a more entertaining example of corporate paranoia, a businessman comments that the country could become a police state. "People are going to be afraid to talk on the phone and the whole business scenario will be severely impacted. This cannot be permitted in a civil society." Look deeper and you will see that the underlying theory proposes that business does not need surveillance because it is ideally managed and self-governing. Well, no comments.

Between the text, their semantic associations and the meaning that the reader derives, is context - all these reports on damage to India's image and harm to corporate India have been disseminated by the very publications that had chosen to remain silent on the corrupt media-corporate nexus. Even a moderately astute reader who was witness to these public discourses over the past few weeks would grasp the semantic irony, the contextual dissonance and the moral hypocrisy. And even a reasonably intelligent citizen would know that it is by tackling corruption, and not through a cosmetic makeover of the country's image, or a blanket assurance of protection to big corporations, that we build great nations and vibrant democracies.

This was a rudimentary critical deconstruction of just one of the angles of the media discourse around the Radia tapes - demonstrating the divergence from primary issues of corruption to secondary, tangential concerns about corporate harm and branding damage. There is much more that can be unearthed about the implicit meanings that lie somewhere between what was said and not said, reported and not reported, wilfully ignored and chosen to be published; between the text, the subtext and the context of the Radia tapes discourse.

But that is not my job, or anyone else's for that matter. It is the job of India's journalists to govern their own territory, lest it remains in the fiefdom of public relations mavericks and big corporate lobbies.

Read more on this story here - Leadership Without Legitimacy: Will the Indian Media Get Its Act Together?