Of spin doctors and freethinkers

One fails to understand the thinking of untutored ‘spin doctors’ or dilemmatic ‘freethinkers’

Syeda Afshana
Srinagar, Publish Date: Jan 12 2019 11:00PM | Updated Date: Jan 12 2019 11:00PM
Of spin doctors and freethinkers

They say the best we can do is to ask difficult questions to those who present the world to us in whatever form. These days, we all know, there is no such thing as an objective fact. How the world looks depends on who you’re and where you are looking at it from. At the same time, there is much to be said for the old fashioned distinction between news and views. The first being offered in the hope that most impartial observers could agree on the facts, the second interpreting those facts as per political, ideological, religious, economic or any other point of view. 

Increasingly, these days this distinction is blurred, as governments ‘spin’ what they are doing to gain support for a particular policy, and the media itself responds to different pressures. In so many violent conflicts all over the world, the first casualty has surely been the truth. The abandonment of objective analysis has shored up perpetuating various injustices and wrongs by the powers. 

The ability of governments to spin is not new—think of the old adage, ‘never believe what you read in the papers’. However, both the scale of government and new technologies available to them, provides them with many more opportunities, and hence temptations, than they once had. This faces them with a particular problem when they need to sell unpopular policies, or even policies they fear may be unpopular if things go wrong. The dilemma is simply how far to go. If they go too far, they forfeit trust and may pay a high political price. For example, Operation Restore Hope (or ‘Hype’ as it was dubbed) in Somalia in 1992 went seriously wrong when some US Rangers were ambushed and killed and one victim’s corpse was featured on the front page of Time. In order to retrieve the situation, President Clinton had to announce an accelerated withdrawal of US troops. Clinton was able to limit the political costs partly by turning his back on other African crises, notably Rwanda and partly because the intervention had been undertaken by his Republican predecessor. 

Now the question is as to where does all this leave a common person? We are constantly bombarded with a surfeit of information via Internet, TV and radio as well as print and other media. It is tempting to say ‘a plague on all your houses’ and believe none of it! But, from the vantage point of view, cynicism is as great a threat as gullibility. So what to do? There are no easy answers. 

Nonetheless, there is a special responsibility for the educated class of any society to foster a spirit of enquiry and constructive criticism. Public sphere needs to be the place of dressing down. There is also no point in insulating institutions from the happenings in the society. It usually proves to be an unachievable task. Nothing political is to be a ‘taboo’ or ‘politically incorrect’ discourse. In fact, the discourses need to be sincerely candid. We need the widest possible public of informed citizens who are able and willing to think dispassionately beyond their own field of expertise, while even remaining within what they call ‘the system’; people who can realize that world is a complex place and rushing to judgments is not right. 

This is all the more important in a place infested with conflict. Conflict may be too serious a business to be left to the army generals or armed militants, but the educated class in general needs to concede that it is not beyond prejudice. Time is scarce, and we all have a tendency to turn to the media that we find psychologically sympathetic, or whose editorial policy accords with our own opinions. This is dangerous because the media we disagree with may have as much or not more to teach us. The xenophobic reporting of state-run media organizations or any other publication that enjoys government patronage may be disturbing, but this fact alone tells us something about the development and direction of official mindset. 

One fails to understand the thinking of untutored ‘spin doctors’ or dilemmatic ‘freethinkers’ who attempt to experiment old formulas and tactics again and again, forgetting the lessons of past. Perhaps, they fail to pick up the silent language, the untold wisdom, and the tacit clues from the surroundings that keep scribbling the history in blood. It doesn’t need any open talk to pick up the mood and message.

Bottomline: Of course, it is hard to counter the baseless propaganda, and harder to secure your own right to say the right thing. A place where facts are manipulated and distortion is rewarded; where images sway more than substance; where gimmickry gets glorification—seeking tolerance for truth is just a pipe dream. Seems adding to bedlam and bamboozling the minds is an easy and only option to ‘make a difference’!!   

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