The Epic Kechal: The Hegemony of Prothom-alo and the Anti Establishment Group
by Zia Hassan
In Bangladesh politics, there is an interesting saying. If both the government and the opposition are criticizing you and then you must be doing something right. Prothom-alo continuously holds that enviable positioning in our society. But, it is not only the government and the opposition, Prothom-alo draws flack from all corners. The communist hate them, the people in military hate them, the mullah’s hate them, the liberals hate them. But, they all follow Prothom-alo and consider it as the pied-piper of Hamelin taking a sleepy eyed nation into the abyss with its deadly tune.
There is a reason why Prothom-alo generates such scorn from all side. They are all envious of the position Prothom-alo enjoys as the undisputed opinion leader of the country. 80% of the educated people who forms the most important middle and upper middle class segment of the demographics, subscribe to Prothom-alo and endorses its view every day. And, all the said groups are ready to cut their one arm to get the attention and column space from Prothom-alo to draw the attention of this most important and the largest of the social segment.
In 15 years of near perfect domination Prothom-alo does not have any competition (Baler Kontho? not yet. ) in forming the opinion of people. The game is so one sided that, if Mr. Motiur desires to topple government; he can do it three months.
And, they all know it.
The Zombies of Prothom-alo
It is now safe to declare that, this country is now divided into two groups. Those who read Prothom-alo and those who does not . 80% of the literate paper reading community now subscribes to Prothom-alo and the majority of them endorse the views of Prothom-alo.
These people cannot think any more. They have mortgaged their mind to the editors of Prothom-alo. They get exactly the amount of information Prothom-alo gives them, their opinion is formed as per the agenda set by the paper, the hate when Prothom-alo asks them to hate and they fall in love when Prothom-alo sends some subliminal love trap to their way and they go Ga Ga.
All other paper, the talk shows, the visual media,, the blogs, Facebook status updates all just expands on the agenda Prothom-alo sets in their lead news in the morning. And, in fifteen years of habit these people now act like zombies in a scary movie where no truth serum works anymore.
A big distinction now exists between these zombies and the people who challenge the views of Prothom-alo. And, these small group of people forms the part of anti establishment be it mullahs, the communist or the wide eyed anarchist.
PROTHOM-ALO=THE ESTABLISHMENT ITSELF PROTECTING THE GRID
Prothom-alo which gained popularity in the first term of Awami League and became the voice of the nation to their fight erase evils of the establishment has now morphed into the establishment itself. And, consciously or unconsciously they are now fighting to maintain the status quo set by the establishment.
Yes. Prothom-alo still publishes news of corruption and evils of the institutions – which consists of the government, military, judiciary, civil administration, the political parties, their arms, the corporate large and small and the wider society. But this comes from their policy of incremental change in the establishment. Any radical change in any of the part is undesirable to them.
Prothom-alo have now settled in a comfort zone and transferred the same views in minds of their zombie followers who accept the corruption of government, the repressive society, the invasion of big corporates in their private life, the slums, the poverty, the capture of our cultural values by the corporates, the hollow DJ’s of FM radio, the worship of product and mindless pursuit of coolness – as norm.
They now equates using Banglalink SIM to loving the desh- Bangalir desh, they now accept corporate seize of Shahid Minar in 21 February and finds Lalan Utshab in Kushtia as a corporate production promotion festivity.
In all the fields that require support from media, Prothom-alo has created a strong network that now forms, which the writer would like to call THE GRID. The GRID now protect each other, gives access to each other, create opportunity to each other, make each other look important, create financial opportunity for each other and supports each other in ensuring that no new competition can emerge.
In arts, culture, literature, intellectual landscape, thought leadership, in business, in local politics, in economics a group of professionals has arisen as nation’s leader with the support of Prothom- alo who now dominates the air space. In many cases, specially in the realm of thought leadership this group is mediocre and does not have anything new to offer. Every week they come with predefinted column space spouts some mindless talking point which does not have any bearing in the lives of the people. Thankfully these days, lot of these version are getting challenged in the online columns where their thought leaders have clearly taking anti people stand. But, in most cases people succumb to these mediocre group of thought leaders.They have been maintaining their market leader position with the support of Prothom-alo. Prothom-alo plays a very important role in protecting this grid.
At the same time, the members of the GRID have also amassed h huge wealth that they are now very keen to protect the status quo and their business interest. The Transcom group which is one of the largest groups of the country enjoys a market leading position in consumer electronics, beverage, and fast food and in other industries.
Prothom-alo is aware that if this balance is changed their domination may be challenged. They are very protective about continuation of this hegemony and ready to take any position to protect this. This is the reason; Prothom-alo gives very less space to the left leaning groups who has been crying a river to make a dent in the two party rule that has been existing in last 20 years.
They are also very keen to protect the interest of the corporates, and their very powerful friends in the grid that forms part of the establishment. Two incidents are relevant here. During the PERSONA video scandal, Prothom-alo chose not to publish the incident for number of weeks and later they were forced to publish this when there was a huge hue and cry in the social media.
Another incident is the Vikarunnessa Parimal incident. For number of days, the Viki’s were raging protest in the heart of the city, however Prothom-alo chose not to publish the story until there was huge criticism in the social media for their stance.
So, let see what Prothom-alo stands for and what the Prothom-alo reading zombies stand for eventually.
An American Dream
Apart from the pro establishment stance that is obvious for everyone to see, by reading the subliminal message that Prothom-alo sends every day to its unsuspecting readers , one can very well figure out what Prothom-alo stands for.
Prothom-alo stands for America and the values United States wants Bangladesh to hold.
I am not trying to be sensational or conspiracy theorist here. And I am neither claiming that this comes from secret plot planned in allays of Washington. Rather this was a marriage of convenience when the United States goal to see Bangladesh as a moderate Muslim country clearly coincided with the Radical Islam phobia of the left leaning editors of Prothom-alo.
Though, the radical left hate US and makes a living out of anti US rhetoric, the values of left has lot in common with the US political agenda. Both of them are highly sensitive to religious fundamentalism, always send a confused economic message and stand for freedom of speech, woman’s right and lot other liberal values.
In one of the diplomatic cables revealed by Wiki Leaks, US embassy diplomats termed Prothom-alo as friendly to US-quite an endorsement in a secret cable.
Needless to say, the Prothom-alo reading zombies has also mindlessly subscribed to these views although there was some resistance in the beginning.
Enemy at the gate :Radical Islam
As said before, the principal allergy of Prothom-alo is Islamic fundamentalism. This itchiness is so acute that, Prothom-alo can subside a story of cyclone that has killed 20,000 in favor of a story of some remote Madrasa teacher caught with swords and bows with a radical plan to convert Bangla into Taliban.
Mukti Judher Pokher shokti
One of the clear stand of Prothom-alo is, it is a pro liberation entity. Though, the left were vehemently opposing the liberation war and never endorsed Bangabondhu, the dynamics has changed lately. Since the anti liberation forces like Jamat and Shibir found a way back in the mainstream politics as standard bearer of Islam, the left leaning entities like Prothom-alo has found a cause in fighting Jamat and Shibir both as an the anti liberation force and a radical Islamist force, hellbent to establish Khelafot in Bangladesh.
Prothom-alo has worked tirelessly to alienate Jamat and Shibir and has been successful in marginalizing Jamat and Shibir who were in the ascendancy during the birth of Prothom-alo.
As result, Prothom-alo has been successful in stopping the radicalization of the middle class which has a natural inclination towards Islamic fundamentalism due to anti west views, as seen in the state of Pakistan. This is one of the positives effects of Prothom-alo. J
The cool corporate
Prothom-alo stands for the large corporate companies and protects their interest. Apart from the requirement to generate more advertisement revenue, the alliance with the Big Corporate companies in telecom, in real estate, in consumer goods, in food sector, in transport sector or any other sector you name Prothom-alo now stands for the rights of the big Corporate Companies that has emerged in last 20 years. Prothom-alo protects them from criticism, hides negative stories of them and strives to kill new competition. This is why, we now see valentines day as a national celebration. This is also an expansion of their core theme of protecting the establishment.
It is important to note here that, the weakest section of Prothom-alo is their business and economic reporting. The upheaval of world economy which makes headline even in the newspapers of Maldives does not get any column space in Prothom-alo, neither they were able to highlight the core policy issues that have resulted in this anarchic capitalism in our country and never fought for any cause that would correct the system . And, this has resulted in a middle class who is unaware of the wider economic aspects of global economy and ignorant of the local economic policy issues that impacts our daily life. The status quo is the norm of the day, as dictated by Prothom-alo. And zombies are blissfully unaware of their space in the world.
Protection of Israel
Prothom-alo also stands for, Israel. Bangladesh probably is least radicalized Islamic population in the world by the constant effort of Prothom-alo. Though, United States always like to suggest that, Islamic fundamentalism is a spontaneous act of combustion in the mind of jihadist, they conveniently choose to ignore the fact that Israel’s continued apartheid regime in west bank and Gaza is the key source of fundamentalism behavior in Muslim people.
Sensing this, Prothom-alo chooses to filter out most stories of Israel Palestine conflict. And Prothom-alo makes sure that, no inflammatory news or sensitive pictures are published which can be source of anger towards Israel or America. In other Muslim countries, this kind of view will be termed as pro Israel.
Support for the Paharis
Prothom-alo also takes the side of the pahari population in their fight in Chittagong hill tracts. Their view points are less sympathetic towards Bengali settlers as they hardly give any air to their views of these settlers in this conflict. This shows the residue of the leftist values left in the mindset of their editorial policy a maker, who now stands for the institution 90 out of 100 times. Due to their effort the zombies are also now more sympathetic to the cause of the Paharis in this conflict.
Love of my life -Dr Yunus
Prothom-alo also stands for Dr Yunus, whom US leadership considers as Jani jigar dosto. In this aspect, Awami league leadership is playing a zero sum game. Prothom-alo has clearly beefed up a huge support for Dr Yunus in the mainstream Bengali mindset and PM’s needless pejorative insinuation is only serving to diminish her credibility in the eyes of the zombies.
Here comes the anti party. The Mullahs
As Newton stated in third law, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, Prothom-alo also have very active radical group who vehemently opposes most of the views forwarded by Prothom-alo. One of this opposition comes from the radical Islamist and second come comes from anti establishment, however, this opposition is disproportionate and futile.
The first group that opposes Prothom-alo is the group who are the prime target. The radical Islamic organizations. This group is aware that, Prothom-alo has dented a big blow into their business of religion. Jamat E Islami and Islami Chatro Shibir is one organization that has been hugely effected by the moderate message preached by Prothom-alo. Prothom-alo has successfully converted the middle class in to having less radicalized political view that could have easily fall for the radical view of of the Islamic groups.
We will be having a very farther discussion on the dynamics of this group in other Kechals and will spare them here for a later much detail discussion on them.
The anarchist and the anti establishment hardcore ultra liberal left
The other group that does not subscribe to the views of the Prothom-alo is the lleft leaning ultra liberals. They call Prothom-alo the Motikontho-the voice of Mr. Motiur Rahman the editor. This is an interesting group that is emerging in Bangladesh political landscape. Let’s see some of their characteristics.
For this group, the biggest mistrust of Prothom-alo comes from their support of the establishment and the Large Corporate entities. They recognize ill effects of corporotization of the Bengali values and conversion of those values into trad-able product.
This is an affluent group of people and they have the luxury to live on family inheritance without being involved in the rate race that is required to make ends meet in this country.
They are concerned about society and their preferred method is equal distribution of wealth.And, the bucket stops there. They don’t have any farther ideas on this. They abhor capitalism and but are not capable to engage in any debate beyond the fundamental question of individuals right of wealth. They hate Prothom-alo for obliging to capitalism.
They equate US as the source of all evil in the world and equates US to capital. Even they blame, the hallmark scandal as an extension of US capitalist agenda. A lot of them has made a successful following through their anti west rhetoric. A lot of them are green card holders and very often visit west and have their immediate family and friends living in various western countries.
Their arch nemesis is, Dr Yunus, who gives loan in high interest rate. They call him shudkhor and accuse Prothom-alo for beefing up the stock of Dr Yunus. They identify him for tying up the poor village ladies in a circle of debt.However, almost all of them owns credit card and prefers American Express. . They love Chay, they are anti corporate and anti establishment both the entity Prothom-alo vehemently protects.
However, they align with Prothom-alo in its opposition of radical Islam, support of Pahari side in the conflict in Hill tracts and pro liberation stance. But, these similarities are taken for granted they choose ignore this as irrelevant.
They have a genuine love for their country and the oppressed. However, their love has never been tested. It will be interesting to see how much personal sacrifice they are ready to make when they have to make a choice between personal gain and country.