The Course of Public Discourse

Political commentary has not been my foray, I find my attention span dwindling as the dismal picture of humanity is painted in its ‘democratically’ elected leadership. We have always put our trust in collective intelligence rather than the minds of individuals. While thinkers, writers, philosophers, authors, journalists and other opining voices may shape ideas and the direction of society the decisions of consequence still stem from a collective not all of which are necessarily healthy for a society.

What is Public Discourse?

Public discussion, the pursuing of topics of societal interest by its members accurately representative of the community to which the topics relate.

While various philosophers and political thinkers have skipped several lunches over the definition of this two word term, toying with the idea of what is ‘Public’ and who does it involve and what is discourse and what is just plain speech or writing, this definition should do for now. Getting together for coffee with your friends and discussing the state of state affairs, the news we see, hear and read, public debates, YouTube channels, Twitter Streams, Trending topics, lunch discussions, parliamentary debates and even the rants of TV News Debates come under this name of perhaps little pretense.
The idea of PD is not a new one, nearly all ancient civilizations had groups of men and occasionally women discussing the matters important at that time. The confined discussions in the Roman Senate or in a Philosophy school are not to be included in this as they with their penchant for exclusivity they were anything but public. If you have read my post on Coffee, you’d recall that the advent of Coffee shops led to the drastic increase in frequency and quality of public discourse in Arabia and much of Europe. Democracy it self could have emerged from public discourse where those voted for were elected in the public sphere, to carry on discussions and do something about them.

What can drive Public Discourse?

Education, awareness, a sense of responsibility and an active interest in one’s environment. We remain blessed with frustrating headlines for we by our negligence allow the elevation of unfit persons to positions of great power. Public discourse has been driven by  what we know and how we know it is generally the media.

The video above has sensationalized television viewing in the last year along with an incestuous fantasy serious with wild creatures some of them not human and suicidal to homicidal, meth brewing professors.  While we embraced the show and its fast paced tirades with gusto I wonder if the message actually got through ? TV, print and now web media educates the public and is doing a less than satisfactory job. The calculated propelling of non entities as national leaders in another time would have drawn flak, brave scribes brandishing their pens and what not. Now nothing. We have migrated from the era of bland insipid factual reporting to milk gulping stone statues, weekly soap opera roundup stories and the latest in failed celebrity reality shows. We have even gone a step further in the broadcasting of windbags of a very loud variety who manage to speak a lot without saying anything.

Televised debates, Janta ki Adalat, Face the Nation, Face the People and other imaginatively named shows with anchors who have nothing to say and no desire to let anyone else speak long enough to make sense. That’s what you get to see and on what topics? Do you see the economy, policies, defense budgets, education, health, employment, crime, price rise, inflation, transport, infrastructure, science, municipalities, taxes or government expenditure being discussed? No, of course not, for talons cannot be brandished on these subjects and you’d never find political spokesmen who know enough to articulate or posses the ability to. You shall not find in this nation any leader trying to explain his or her policies for they know those remain of little concern to the actual Aam Aadmi. 

What can you do?

If the horse shall not go to the water, bring the water to the horse. Yes the condition of our conventional sources of information is deplorable. Leading dailies massacre grammar without remorse on a per article basis, even when the language is right, content is hardly there.  So turn to the internet, its got more than entertainment. There are lots of open news channels, YouTube channels which are looking into seemingly bleak and lackluster but important issues.

News Laundry :  If you are an internet regular then this is likely to be on your plate already. A tongue in cheek attempt at unpaid media, NL started out pretty decent with news satire hitting Indian laptop screens for the first time. It has however fumbled with the Prime Ministerial Interviews( With FB and NDTV) where the standards it expects from mainstream media were not to be seen anywhere. Still a decent round up of fortnightly news even if it is surrounded by a lot of fluff.
#NewsReview #Interviews #PanelDiscussions #InterviewingJournalists

News Click : A more somber attempt at public education, NC interviews experts on various topics ranging from the Snowden case, Asian agricultural problems to the issue of Israel and Palestine. These experts are generally academics either local or international and the videos are often amateurish. Yet the content is there and if you are interested in an Indian perspective of world affairs, this is a good place to start.
#Interviews #Lectures #Academia

Al Jazeera : Isn’t that the channel to which one sends home videos of decapitation?  Well that has been true but this International network delivers some rather decent content. With multiple documentary programs, Twitter driven discussions( The Stream ) and 2-3 minute, daily Global news reports this is a good bet if you are looking for a few minutes of catching up of what goes on in the world. Celebrity news, IPhone launches and sports are often given a miss. The reporting however is peppered with amateurish mistakes which you can overlook as long the content is palatable.

Manthan : Talks and lectures by prominent thinkers on the Indian scene along with academics elsewhere which cover politics, socio-economics and other spheres of public discourse. The good thing about this one is that you can attend the sessions in person too. It is one of these videos that has inspired this post. Arun Shourie  a Gentleman Journalist, author and politician gave a talk on public discourse while in Hyderabad. He speaks of the state of what we are fed as an audience, what we should be fed and what we can do about it. The importance of public discourse and the lack of its quality in the current scenario are eloquently spoken on by the soft spoken member of a generally excitable political party. Do watch the video you’ll find it informative as well as entertaining.
#PoliticalDiscourse #Lectures


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