The raison d’etre for
this research is in the socio-political atmosphere in India where the norms of
discourse for a healthy public opinion seem to be changing. The aim of this
research is to investigate how noise in India has emerged as a powerful element
of steering political discourse while governing fundamental tenets of
democratic discourse such as participatory dialogue, alternative viewpoints and
freedom of speech and expression

A
healthy public sphere is imperative for a successful democratic process, and
politically motivated use of noise can interfere with the formulation of public
opinion by crushing participation, negating criticism and hindering freedom of
speech and expression.  The public
sphere, as explained by Habermas (1974), is a ‘realm of social life’ where
public opinion is formed and access is ‘guaranteed’ to all citizens (p. 49).
But what if noise emanating from different quarters of the society is
strategically employed especially by powerful groups to undermine and
manipulate the very role of the public sphere that is central to a functioning
democracy. As Habermas (1974) notes;

                                                                                              

Citizens
behave as a public body when they confer in an unrestricted fashion-that is,
with the guarantee of freedom of assembly and association and the freedom to
express and publish their opinions-about matters of general interest. (p.49)

 

Hebarmas
clearly lays a lot of faith in the power of citizens to engage in unrestricted
fashion to formulate opinions about the issues concerning them; but could this
be true for democracies where public dialectics are subject to monopolization
and interference by external agents? In the above description, Hebarmas notes
that ‘citizens behave as a public body’; but what if political and pressure
groups take up the forefront of the ‘public body’ and drive public debate as
per their ideology and to their advantage? What happens, if media responsible
for representing public opinion itself becomes an actor and on screen debates
and discussion appear to look like ‘speak/scream-over-each-other’ contests only
to leave the public puzzled and livid? If these nuances are to be considered,
then it can be claimed that Hebarmas’s theory of public sphere and its
importance in facilitating public discourse and opinion is solely limited to
Western societies hence, can have limited application in non-western societies
like India. This is to underscore that the very nature and norms of discursive
engagement and public dialectics differ from culture to culture, and elements
such as the use of calculated language, slogans, degree of discursive
aggression, physical scuffle and noise, inter alia can shape the very nature of
dialectics and their outcome.

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Underlying my description are both informed and widely believed
assumptions that have been acquired, having witnessed the changing nature of
public discussion, political debate and conduct of media (TV primarily) in
India. While this ‘changing nature’ could be explained and investigated from
various vantage points, the communication angle is the most prominent here

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