Media in times of class unrest

Afsan Chowdhury | Published: 18:07, Oct 26,2017


THIS is not the moment for some slogan-mongering Lefties to overrun the republic but a time when old class clusters are undergoing rearrangements. The rise of the upper class after 1971 was a famous victory which won using the shoulders of the poor, particularly the rural poor, but it has delivered a solid foundation on which the state resides.

The period from 1972 to 1975 was the one of supremacy of the civilian political class that also drew the first constitution. But the pressures were already being built which the then government tried to handle using the 4th amendment, creating one-party rule. It was a period of breathlessness as everyone tried to cope with rebuilding a post-war world. But the process of building the upper class was obvious, too. However, the monopoly of the civil politicians was ended by the military politicians who took power in August and November 1975 and the nature of the state power equations were adjusted with a civil-military ruling alliance that continues till today.

But the casualty in this process after 1971 was the Tagorean middle class which often claims that the spirit that moved 1971 belonged to them and it is they who uphold the value structure of Bangladesh, often roughly meaning ‘chetana’ by some.


The upper-class membership type

WHILE it is true that the ‘spirit’ of 1971 is alive and well in them, this class or part of it has been eclipsed by historical development defined by the lack of economic and political power. Over time, the professional class has declined which controlled the cultural sector and those sort of activities that kept them alive in the social capitalist space.

However that space has changed and has moved beyond the control of the middle cultural class because of the rise of the financial capitalist class. It is now in charge of culture through its disposable resources as it buys social goods using money and talent. Interestingly, it is in this equation that the changes are mostly on.

With one decline has come a new emergence with a new value structure which is not geared towards nationalist projects but more about equity development. It marks the rise of a new segment of the middle class, which is professional on the labour market but is also trying to exert influence, however paltry. But it is a period of high unrest and no class is certain of its status or power which has allowed the media working class more space than expected.

The upper class/ruling class has recently expanded with the inclusion of a newly muscle-flexing judiciary to the executive, the armed forces and the hyper wealthy class groups. Other fringe groups may be around, but this forms the basic core. However, not all are united or have a common purpose. While the conflict between the executive and the judiciary is sharp and publicly exposed, the other conflicts are muted but also the one of convenience and opportunism. The upper class is not monolithic what with many sets of partnerships that are required to sustain dominance in today’s Bangladesh.


The rise of new social capitalism

IN pursuit of that, many social capital investments are made that indirectly support financial capital gains and media is one. Large-scale media is only possible to be initiated by the economic mega capitalists who wish to protect their economic gains more than wishing to expand it. To create media products, workers are required and it is here that both the medium and the worker become part of a new sub-class construction.

To earn noteworthy media-based social capital, an audience is necessary and, thus, programmes must satisfy the market with less competition as wealth making in Bangladesh is not competition-, but connection-based. While entertainment programmes are essential, the main selling points are news items and talk shows in the most profitable sector — television.

Print media without online has no space but its main focus is also news items. And there are specialised news channels as well. In the end, without news content, whether political or crime or scandals, media cannot survive. And it is at this point that the contradiction between social and financial capital emerges.

Since the process of wealth-making is not transparent, its news related to this, directly or not, that gets maximum attention. So, business news when related to corruption, crime news committed by the rich and powerful, financial scandals etc get most hits.

The media-owning class would much rather not make such news but then they would fail to get an audience which would damage the purpose of investing in non-profit making ventures to protect economic gains. It is this contradiction that forces the upper class to focus on the ills and ailments of the same class. And those who do this job come from the middle class, those sidetracked from the mainstream route to join the upper class.

Some, of course, do make it but they are very few. To achieve this status, they need to become trade union leaders, go close to the government and make deals. Not everyone actually is in a position to make deals; so, the upward mobility is limited. Most become comfortably middle, are familiar with the upper and remain connected to those lesser than them. That is why the media worker is a critical player in these times of class reformation and re-arrangement.


TV, online convergence media as a player in transition

WHETHER they play any significant role in transition of the class system as it exists in a loose and unstructured as well as non-transparent capitalism is a question that has not been explored enough. A clear space is occupied by the online media world but the professional quality is still suspect. Financial sustainability, requirement of high support from the owners and market saturation because of easy technology and low start-up cost make the online media sector a little uncomfortable.

However, as a sector, they are enormously potential. Interestingly exclusive online media is being challenged by ‘convergence’ media outfits as an increasing number of television channels are going full-scale to produce online news sites. It i creating a new area where more media workers are required. Of them, some are able to use the digital market place to buy and sell as well.

Nothing is certain, nothing is definite except that there is a huge media mixing that is going on whereby old classes are losing influence, new class formations are noted and partnerships are occurring as well. While the upper class has enough resources to invest in trying to earn social capital, that very process and objective are giving rise to a new middle class, that is not yet certain of itself or its clout, if at all, but obviously one which cannot be ignored.


Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist and researcher.

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