A weekly newsletter to help you track the news media ecosystem and make sense of it.
Protests and marches have thronged streets across the US following the killing of George Floyd — a black man who died pleading “I can’t breathe’’ as a white police officer pinned his knee on Floyd's neck.
There’s outrage, anger and unrest on the streets, and online.
Brands and corporations, too, have taken a stand. In the last 48 hours, a string of companies including Apple, Amazon, Disney, Nike and Citigroup have put out statements against racism and expressed solidarity with the African American community.
The message is simple and consistent: we support those protesting against racial inequality and social justice.
Do these statements matter?
This is not the first time that brands in the US have taken a public stance.
Remember this in 2018?
But large corporations are rarely flag bearers of social justice and equality. For instance, just a couple of weeks before Amazon tweeted its support to the African American community, it fired two workers who criticised its warehouse workplace conditions. However, most big brands spend millions in publicity and campaigns. It helps them in brand recall and, more importantly, often drives public discourse. And that’s where their influence lies.
An Emmy-winning advert by Nike with Colin Kaepernick (the NFL quarterback who had knelt for the national anthem as a protest against racial injustice in the US) not only pushed the company stock, but helped trigger a conversation on racial inequality.
What about the brands in India?
Both Indian and global brands operating in India stay away from taking up public stances in their campaigns and ads. Every now and then, there a few that have a social message — voting awareness, transgender inclusion, corruption — but they make sure it doesn’t cross the line: to speak or address the political faultlines of the country. Can you imagine an ad campaign that addresses or takes a stand against casteism or caste-based violence?
Brands in India don’t have a voice. They don’t rely on an image that requires social consciousness. Most are marketed on the sheer popularity of the celebrity endorsing it or the product features itself.
Hate on TV news, brought to you by…
What should be disturbing, though, is the brands’ indifference to powering or being associated with content that is replete with bigotry, communal hatred and misinformation. I’m talking about TV news. In this arena, brands will support whatever gets them the most eyeballs.
Through our Bloodlust TV series, we have documented and shown how channels and their sponsors have fuelled bigotry and communal passions.
And now, brands are being called out:
There’s a lot that holds back brands in India, like an immediate threat to the company (remember what happened to Snapdeal after Aamir Khan, who happened to be its ambassador, spoke out against the growing intolerance?), upsetting those in power, and the ire of the online mob. That said, the decision to not abet and power hatred is easy. After all, it costs nothing but consciousness and the willingness to not amplify hatred.
Even the brands supporting #BlackLivesMatter are a case of glass-half-full and leave a lot to be desired (especially when the same companies continue to have practices and systems that don't bode well with advocating for racial equality). But it’s enough for Indian brands that power TV news to take some cues.
From Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta to my uncle, our quest for positive news about the government and country runs deep. Kalpalan Sharma breaks down the misunderstanding of the media's role in a democracy.
The US might not be a country you’d associate with press attacks, but it’s seen over 300 press freedom violations during the George Floyd protests. Ayush Tiwari on the difference between Indian and American responses to these violations, and what this means.
Yup, you read that right.
“We will not amplify voices who incite racial violence and injustice by giving them free promotion on Discover.”
Interesting, eh? Do you view censoring social media content as curtailment of free speech? When does it transition from free speech to amplifying? It’s a question worth asking. In the meantime, here’s what other social networks can learn from Snapchat’s rebuke of Trump.
There’s a lot to unpack on what’s happening at Facebook. Zuckerberg recently led a call with 25,000 Facebook employees.
He also referred to, albeit obliquely, the post by BJP leader Kapil Mishra in the run-up to riots in North East Delhi, as a more clear-cut example of inciting and calling for violence :
“And there have been cases in India, for example, where someone said, ‘Hey, if the police don’t take care of this, our supporters will get in there and clear the streets.’ That is kind of encouraging supporters to go do that in a more direct way, and we took that down. So we have a precedent for that.”
This will apply to pages “wholly or partially under the editorial control of their government”. It will be interesting to see the extent of its rollout in India, given the huge number of government-controlled media outlets.
YouTube has had it for a while:
Chug it out
A detailed report by AP demonstrates that Chinese labs delayed the release of Covid genome sequences for more than 10 days. It also points fingers at the World Health Organisation which, while flagging the issue in internal meetings, praised China publicly. Shekhar Gupta broke down the report's findings in his Cut The Clutter if you don’t have the time to read the report.
How a high-profile blockchain-powered media company came to its end.
Guardian rolls out its registration wall
As third-party cookies get phased out, this will help the Guardian gather insights and data about its readers.
“The first public service voice assistant.”
🛠️ Resources and tools
If you’re looking for context to make sense of the protests in the US, a non-exhaustive collection of suggested resources to engage with as a starting point for anti-racist work
This was the fifth edition of Stop Press, an effort that is primarily an exercise to learn more about the hows and why of the news ecosystem. For suggestions and feedback, do write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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