News Media and Contention Over the Local in Urban India

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  SAHANA UDUPA Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity News media and contention over“the local” in urban India A B S T R A C T Exploring the highly competitive bilingual news fieldin urban India, I illustrate how localization of newscontent has led to conflictual discourses around whoshould constitute “the local” and for what end.Mediatized contests over “the local” frame urbanpolitics along linguistic and cultural divides,articulated through populist challenges to neoliberal media discourses of “the global local.” In turning acritical eye to these mediatized contests, I extendthe recent emphasis on the need to “ground”globalization studies and explore the concrete waysin which globalization imprints itself on local spaces. I argue that local and global formations areembedded in the dynamics of news fields in waysthat elude generalized claims advanced bypessimists of cultural homogeneity as well as byoptimists of local resistance. [ localization, news production, India, mediatization, Bourdieu, globalmedia ] S hortly before the Valentine’s Day celebration in 2009, for a periodspillingalittleoveramonth,thecoastalcityofMangaloreinsouthIndia flared into view as a protagonist in news narratives acrossthe country and several e-linked corners of the world. It stood, atleast in news media portrayals, in perfect symmetry with the war-torn, patriarchal fiefdom of Taliban Afghanistan, evoking the same dangerof violent erosion of women’s rights. This media framing and intensifiedcoverage of Mangalore was sparked by the attacks of right-wing Hindutvaactivists on a group of young women in a suburban pub. The strong-armtactics of the male activists were captured by a television crew who had ac-companied the attackers, armed with prior knowledge of the attacks andready with their camera. The first televised images showed the young menforcibly dragging the women out of the pub, beating them, and parading their will to “cleanse” their town of the “social evils” that allegedly enticed youngwomenintothetrapsofalcoholconsumption.Agroupofe-enabled womenquicklydenouncedtheattacksandmarshaledsupportacrossstateandnationalbordersbylaunchingthesymbolicallycharged“PinkChaddi”(“Pink Underpants”) campaign on Facebook. The ensuing media coverage was striking in its divisive verdict: The English media raised alarm overgrowingmoralpolicingandvociferouslyassertedthewomen’srighttopub-licly drink and dine, whereas a section of the regional-language (Kannada)media regarded that stance with suspicion. It not only embodied a threatto their local cultural autonomy but it also reinforced their own discomfort with the growing commercialization of news and the discourses of global–urban modernity peddled by the “new-age” English newspapers launchedor relaunched in the wake of India’s turn to a market-led policy regime inthe 1990s. What does this incident—which I discuss in detail below—say aboutthe variegated mediation of “the local” and the expanding news media’sdeepentanglementswiththechangingurbanlandscapesofglobalizingIn-dia? The distinct ways the English and regional-language media framed  AMERICANETHNOLOGIST  , Vol. 39, No. 4, pp. 819–834, ISSN 0094-0496, onlineISSN 1548-1425.  C  2012 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved.DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1425.2012.01397.x   American Ethnologist   Volume 39 Number 4 November 2012 the controversy prompt me to inquire into the particu-lar outcomes of the bilingual dynamics of the news fieldsin shaping everyday localities. How might this divergencespeak to the theoretical task of comprehending the na-ture of “the local” in an age of global flows of capital andmedia? I explore these questions in postliberalization In-dia, where the media expanded at a blistering pace acrossmultiple platforms and the news media swept the coun-try with their round-the-clock reporting and incessant roll-out of packaged articles. As I navigated through and acrossnewsrooms and into the layers of meanings impinging onnews production in urban India, I was struck by a flurry of local news stories and the rising stakes over framing “thelocal” within the news fields. The changes were remark-able in the globally visible high-tech city of Bangalore insouthIndia,whereIconductedthebulkofmyethnographicfieldwork.The strategic shift toward local news, I show, wassignificant in shaping a conflictual appropriation of “thelocal” by the city’s English and Kannada newspapers, 1 allof which were subjected to interorganizational and marketpressure to localize content. Enhanced focus on localstories enshrined the centrality of city-level news for thenationally circulated multiedition English dailies, simulta-neously triggering contests over the meaning of “the local”in the bilingual news field. Whereas a formulaic, neoliberalconception of “the global local” was successfully implantedin some English newspapers, prominent Kannada newsdailies began to articulate a territorialized and culturalizeddiscourse of “the local,” leading to a reconfigured field of news publics and urban politics in Bangalore. 2  While thisdoes not suggest that the domains of English and Kannadanews are hermetically sealed, the structural and performa-tive differences between the two articulate a disjunctivepolitical space such that “the local” is constantly undernegotiation and at the brink of conflictual appropriationabout who should constitute it and for what end.To date, many studies of the mediated nature of “theglobal” and “the local” have dwelled on an analysis of me-dia representations or on larger geopolitical institutionalregimes impinging on news production. This article buildson the limited body of anthropological literature on jour-nalisticpracticesinpost-1990sIndiatoexaminetheinteror-ganizational and organizational dynamics of the news fieldand to draw out the ways in which that bilingual field con-structsthemeaningsof“thelocal”inoneglobalizingIndiancity.Init,Idepartfromextantliteratureonglobal − localde-bates by approaching localization as a concrete and media-tizedformofpoliticsandnotmerelyanabstractappendagetoglobalizationoraconsensualcongruenceof“global”and“local” on a level playing field. I contend that localizationof news content has led to an intensification of the local—the political consequences of which can be comprehendedonly if its mediatized nature is unbundled. Drawing partly on Pierre Bourdieu’s insights into mechanisms of culturalproduction and dynamic relations between diverse culturalproducers, I illustrate that mediatized localism gets shapedbyadialecticalrelationbetweenstrugglesoverthemeaning ofthelocalwithinthefieldofnewsproduction—arisingoutof multiple contestations for symbolic dominance withinthatfield—andasimilarstruggleinthewidersocietyamong linguisticallymarkedaudiences.Iarguethatthediscussionsofneoliberalaswellasterritorialized,parochial,andcultur-alized versions of the local emerging at society’s intersec-tions with the news field, are pertinent to any serious eval-uation of the nature of localities in the age of global flowsand media expansion. This pertinence signals the need toaccount for the dynamics of the field of news production inthe growing body of scholarship on globalization and local-ization, since the media increasingly assume “definitionalpower across the whole of social space” through what Nick Couldry rightly recognizes as “media meta-capital” (Udupaand Chakravartty 2012). For the Bourdieuian field theory,this means factoring in the flows of transnational capitalthat bring specific discourses about “the local” and audi-ence structures to the field of news. Paying attention tothese flows and symbolic content is also a step toward res-cuing the field theory from mere “positional epistemology”(LiPuma 1994:23). Grounding the local − global dialectic There is little disagreement in globalization scholarshiptoday over the growing interpenetration of spaces acrossnational borders by such flows or about their increasing complexity. The fixity and boundedness of places is being replacedbywhatAnthonyGiddenshasdescribedas“phan-tasmagoric locales thoroughly penetrated by and shapedin terms of social influences quite distant from them”(1990:18). Ulrich Beck (2006) and Ulf Hannerz (1996) rec-ognize this reconfiguration as arising from new forms of cosmopolitanism that have overturned the inside–outsideepisteme of nation-states, paving the way for closely inte-grated spaces in which the “distinction between nationaland international is transcended by a ‘both inside andoutside’” (Beck 2006:33). Within anthropology, a growing numberofstudiesrecognizethelocalasacompletelytrans-formed space with multiple registers of globality and lo-cality (e.g., Grewal and Kaplan 1994; Kraidy 2005). Anotherinfluential strand of scholarship proposes that the localshouldbeunderstoodasmuchtemporallyasspatiallysinceit signals a “structure of feeling, affect, temporality and re-latedness in which the dyad global-local becomes nonsen-sical as a nested or spatialized opposition” (Das and Poole2007; also Das 2007). Arjun Appadurai and Carol A. Breckenridge (1996),Faye D. Ginsburg et al. (2002), and Frederic Jameson (1991),among others, place media communication at the core of  820  News media and contention over “the local” in urban India   American Ethnologist globalization’sreconfiguredsocialrelations,asitdisembedsthem from local contexts and rearranges them across “in-finite spaces of time-space” (Giddens 1990:21). As SimonCottle(2009)rightlynotes,influentialtheoristsofglobaliza-tion have all recognized the constitutive role of media com-munication in globalization processes. If several globaliza-tiontheoristscontendthatmediaareatonceglobalization’s“infrastructural means and its privileged signs” (Mazzarella2004:348), Appadurai points to media as central to “imagi-nation” within the reconfigured landscapes, which are suf-fused with images circulating across spaces; that is, the me-dia “impel  . . .  the work of imagination” (Appadurai 1996:4).However, the existing literature pays little attention tothe internal workings of the media, especially the news me-dia at regional and national levels, that compel and shapeimagination or configure the local as “a structure of affectand feeling.” What aspects of the field of news productionbear on the imagining and structuring of the local? How do we approach the media as itself variegated such thatit relates to the local in divergent and often contradictory  ways? How does this mediated local shape and get shapedby wider politics and political identities within transform-ing urban landscapes of India or the global South, moregenerally? Althoughthegrowingvolumeofglobalmedialiteratureincludes significant theoretical advances relating to the in-stitutional shifts in media production, many studies are of-ten constrained by the overarching research paradigms of “globaldominance”andthe“globalpublicsphere”andrep-resenttwoopposingevaluativestancesonmediaglobaliza-tion(Cottle2009).Ontheonesideisthedystopiancultural-homogenizationposition,ontheothertheoptimisticvisionof a cosmopolitan order or, in some cases, promises of lo-cal resistance. Questions on regional media are bracketedas“peripheralvisions”(Cottle2009:32),evenastheirimpor-tance in de-Westernizing media theories is acknowledged.I contend that the workings of the news media at the re-gional level are at the core of new linkages between globalimaginations and rearranged localities in ways that com-plicate theoretical generalizations on media globalization.Theirexplicationisthuscrucialforanyseriousunderstand-ing of the ways in which global flows shape and get shapedby the news media.Recent studies of journalism in India have recognizedthe global − local problematic as a salient aspect of contem-porary news production, partly as a result of a huge in-crease in the volume of local news reported by newspa-pers across the language spectrum in the last two decades(Ninan 2007; Rao 2009; Stahlberg 2002). Drawing onHannerz’s (1996) conception of globalization as a meta-culture of similarity and difference, Per Stahlberg (2002)posits a disjuncture between the “generic” form of jour-nalism widely practiced across the world and the “spe-cific” content it derives because of its contact with lo-cal practices, institutions, and power structures. He arguesthat because of greater localization of news content ledby the regional-language press, “India in a sense has be-come less globalized” (Stahlberg 2002:196). Shauntala Rao(2009) uses the conceptual framework of “glocalization” (aselaborated by Robertson 1997) to develop her argumentson changing journalistic practices in postliberalization In-dia. She rightly points out that, although journalistic prac-tices such as training, technology transfer, and audiencefeedback have a transnational footprint, content remainsfirmly local. Acknowledging her adaptation of the glocal-ization framework as helpful in pointing to the “rejuve-nated local” (Rao 2009:474), I take these insights a stepfurther to understand how local content and mediatedimaginings of the local in relation to global capital flowsshapeandgetshapedbyregionalpoliticsandthedynamicsof democratic participation. Departing from glocalizationand similarity–difference models that suggest a consen-sual mixing of global journalistic practices and local con-tent, I contend that the interpenetration of the global andthe local cannot be fully comprehended without discerning the terms on which such infiltration happens and its exactcomposition. The challenge is to turn critical attention tothe local conceived as a complex spatial–temporal matrix thatisbothdiscursivelyandmateriallyconstructed.Centralto these issues are Saskia Sassen’s theoretical redirectionsto “ground” the notion of “the local” by drawing attentionto “the concrete, localized processes through which glob-alization takes shape” (2007:98; see also Castells 2000; Har-vey1990).WhileSassenandotherscholarsrightlyrecognizethe constitutive role of economic globalization and recon-figured production regimes in the formation of cities andlocal “places,” including those in the global South (Canclini2003), much remains to be written about the role of thenews media and the mediated nature of such formations(see, for some exceptions, Davis 1999; Gibson 2004; Kratke2003). This gap is even more pronounced in studies relatedto Indian cities and the Indian media. Addressing aspects of this gap, I conceive of the localnot as an a priori site but as a series of emerging discursiveand material spaces that are mediated and mediatized. My discussion buildsontherecentrevisionswithintheanthro-pological literature to consider the local as a structure of af-fect and proposes that the local gets articulated at the very nexus of news media dynamics, urban politics, and globalcapital. While this perspective does not mean that the lo-cal is entirely a creation of the media, it nevertheless pointsto the increasingly mediatized nature of contemporary ur-ban localities. In this conception, mediation is a “constitu-tive process in social life” and refers to “the processes by  whichagivensocialdispensationproducesandreproducesitself in and through a particular set of media” such thatclaims to authentic knowledge of bounded cultures give way to reflexive accounts of multiple “nodes of mediation 821  American Ethnologist   Volume 39 Number 4 November 2012  where value is often produced and contested” (Mazzarella2004:345–346). Extending William Mazzarella’s recognitionof mediation as “practical loci of politics” (2004:356), Iuse the term  mediatized   to refer to highly conscious me-dia strategizing that involves struggles in the field of newsproduction for dominance, material gains, and difference(Bourdieu 2005). These struggles partly stem from greaterdifferentiationandcomplexityofmediaecologyinthewakeof rapid growth in high-speed communications technolo-gies and global capital flows (Boyer 2010; McNair 1998).This approach follows the recent surge in scholarly in-terest in the processes of mediatization, with its empha-sis on the constitutive role of expanding media in shap-ing contemporary societies and the growing prominence of media resources for nonmedia spheres (Hjarvard 2008).However, I bring to this generalized discussion the specificsociocultural dynamics of contemporary India, in particu-lar the internal dynamics of a bilingual commercial newsfieldembeddedwithinbrandingandnewsroomdiscourses. As Friedrich Krotz (2009) rightly points out, mediatization,by its very definition, is always temporally and culturally specific. 3 Mediation, as a social phenomenon, may or may not include deliberate strategizing or an institutionalizedfield of interventions.Recognizing the mediatized nature of “the groundedlocal” also entails examining the penetration of local − global discourses within the news media as partof news entities’ own need to locate, create, and targetspecific audience groups. Thus, I foreground the dual play of “local − global”—as external discourses impinging onmedia production owing to flows of transnational capitaland as co-created media discourses shaping local politics. Any exploration of this dynamic should take into accountthe processes of media production, which have, as PierreBourdieu (2005) rightly notes, their own logic and rulesof the game. Bourdieu’s field theory emphasizes the rela-tional mode of structures in ways that open up questionsabout how different players within a field vie for prestige,legitimacy, and power by “incorporating empirical data onindividual journalists, newsbeats, and media organizationsinto progressively larger systems of power” (Benson andNeveu 2005:11). Crucially, according to Bourdieu, theseinternal struggles among news players are overdeterminedby a similar field of social positions, of the audiences theplayers correspond to, through the logic of homology: “Thefunctions they fulfill in the internal struggles are inevitably accompanied by external functions, which are conferredon them in the symbolic struggles among the fractions of the dominant class and, in the long run at least, among theclasses” (1986:147). Although it is possible to interpret the logic of homol-ogy in functionalist terms and describe the symbolic or-der as comprising instruments of power in which forms of knowledge are effects of mere position taking by variousagents (LiPuma 1994), a more careful reading would allow us to approach homology as a dialectic embodying spe-cific cultural and symbolic content. Such an interpretationoffers a compelling conceptual framework in which boththe internal workings of the media and the larger struc-tures of power can be brought into analysis in relation toeach other. Simultaneously, it provides a framework to cap-ture the dynamics of news production without the theoret-ical fixation with “order,” instead allowing for explorationof the “complex workings of media in a net of culture influx”(Rao2010a:147–148).RecentstudiesdrawingonBour-dieu’s field theory have extensively researched journalisticpractices and outcomes and have made impressive theo-retical advances in integrating field insights with empirical work on journalistic production (Benson and Neveu 2005;Champagne and Marchetti 2008). The emphasis in thesestudies has largely been on national journalistic cultures,and attention has yet to adequately focus on the role of transnational capital in structuring the journalistic fieldsand bringing specific symbolic content to bear on newsproduction. Using the particular case of the high-tech“globalizing” city of Bangalore, I advance Rodney Benson’sand other key explorations of Bourdieu’s field theory fornews production by focusing on the structuring factors of global capital that invoke specific discourses about the lo-cal within the journalistic field at a subregional level in In-dia.Conversely,Ishowhowglobal − localinstantiationsandmanifestationsarehighlymediatizedandgetshapedbythestruggleswithin thefieldof news andbytheir dialecticalre-lation with linguistically marked audiences—both of whichare subjected to larger flows of global capital within the city of Bangalore.My empiricaldata are drawn from 18 monthsof ethno-graphic fieldwork in Bangalore between 2008 and 2010.I spent time inside the newsrooms of two major Englishnewspapers ( The Times of India   [ TOI  ] and  Bangalore Mir-ror   [ BM  ]) and a Kannada paper with one of the high-est circulations in the city ( Vijaya Karnataka   [ VK  ]) as wellas at socializing and professionalizing sites such as thePress Club of Bangalore, Reporters Guild of Bangalore, and Vidhana Soudha (State Legislative House). 4 I conducted atotal of 140 interviews with news executives representing various departments at the three papers mentioned above,including the editorial, advertising, circulation, and brand-ing units, and with journalists from other major Englishand Kannada newspapers. I collected organizational doc-uments such as editorial policy handouts and formal in-structions to journalists in these field sites. Interviews andethnographic observations were supplemented with quali-tativecontentanalysisofasampleofnewsclippings,ontheMangalore controversy, in particular.I begin by briefly mapping the news field in Bangaloreand describing the intrainstitutional context that shapedgreater focus on local urban stories, especially the changes 822
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