Thursday, January 03, 2008

A Journey to Social Responsibility.

Happy New Year 2008. 'MediaYug' got this article to start its dedication to show the path of social responsibility in media content. We always think about a media who, show interest in news. Though the definition of "man bites dog" is totally narrated in presentaion these days. But the erosion of values and change of ethics damage the intellectual development and the moral of society. So lets start our journey to good from the present status.....

Indian Media: Growing Absence of News
by Venkata P S Vemuri



DO Indians really want a free media? Do they see media as the conscience keeper of the country’s democracy? If we journalists think we know the answers, we better stop and think.

A recent BBC World Service poll on press freedom says the world opinion is divided on the issue. When it comes to India, the poll results are baffling. Fifty-six per cent of the respondents in 14 countries think freedom of the press is “very important to ensure a free society.” Forty per cent (mostly from India) believe that social harmony and peace are more highly valued “even if it means controlling what is reported for the greater good.”

In India, 72 per cent of the respondents say the press is free (the universal percentage is 56). However, only 41 per cent back press freedom, while social harmony is a higher objective for 48 per cent. Sixty-four per cent feel news is reported accurately in the private media; 57 per cent insist that media owners’ views get reflected in the news reported; 55 per cent want to have a say in what gets reported as news.

This means nearly half the Indians surveyed in the poll agree that press in India is free and that the private media reportage is largely accurate. In the same breath they say that media owners influence news and that the people should also have a say on what is news. Then comes the flip. This nearly-half of the surveyed Indians also say social harmony figures higher as a priority than a free press and it is fine to regulate the press if it ensures the harmony.

What to make of thAis? Is there a lurking feeling of disenchantment with the media? Our media has its own share of sting exposes and aspirational stories, but if it is popular, it is largely so because of the emphasis on stories related to crime, cinema and cricket. Some of us say traditional journalism practiced is dead; that we have lost our sting; that we no longer make corrupt or ineffective governments quiver; that we no longer stand up for the poor; that we have turned into infotainment caterers from news producers. Then we inflict ourselves with the logic: If the people are not interested in serious stuff, we cannot be, too, if we are to survive in the business. That, in sum, is where our so-called century-old, passionate history of the Indian free press is perched today.

Leaving aside for a while the debate on how new values and story selection criteria have changed over the years, the point to ponder, with reference to the BBC survey on media and democracy, is: The Indian media today is friendless. Has its friendship with India’s economically powerful and politically dominant class ended? It was this friendship, which shaped the media’s nationalistic role during the freedom struggle. The friendship influenced the media’s developmental role in the nation-building years. The friendship turned sour for a while as the media searched for an alternate friend among the impoverished during the Emergency years and the period of social activism. The friendship regained in the initial years of globalisation.

Today, when India is capitalist by choice and democratic by compulsion, the media’s friend no longer needs it. This friend, the politician-investor-industrialist-advertiser, has a corporatorised self with globalised morality. This entity caters to its clientele, the rich and the upper middle class directly through official policies or the market, without help from the media. This friendlessness currently shapes the media’s role as a peddler of infotainment. In western academic terms, this friendship is analysed with reference to Gramsciian thoughts on hegemony and Habermas’ definition of public sphere. In the West, the debate on free media and democracy is credited with keeping public service broadcasting alive enough to contrast with private media journalism. The Glasgow School of Thought in the UK or the generation of critics that Herman and Chomsky spawned, thanks to their ‘propaganda model’ to analyse media, have kept the debate alive not just within academic circles but in the public area as well. If they have not been able to instill a sense of self-correction in the media, they have not been completely ignored, either.

In India, the private media experiment, in broadcast journalism in particular, was at the expense of public service broadcasting. The boredom with Doordarshan was so extreme and the desire for the private world of news and entertainment so great that the democratic and/or civic aspect of the change was overlooked. It was, therefore, a no-holds-barred entry of the private media into the country. In retrospect, it was the entertaining effect of live, hard, news images that attracted the viewers to private news television, if their sudden, current, shift to entertaining news needs a sort of an explanation.

In the West, the transition from print to audio-visual journalism was an elaborate affair, just as organised as the latter’s growth and consolidation was. The media thus had sufficient time not only to experiment with news production and presentation, but also to implement corrective measures (forcibly or otherwise). In India, just as the overnight shift to capitalism caught the economy unawares, the shift from single-channel broadcasting to multi-channel, digitised and live broadcasting was too dramatic, leaving neither the viewer nor the producer with the time to introspect upon the change. A decade or so later, the Indian media is still trying to decide on what is news: the partially robed Mallika Sherawat or the forcibly disrobed Assamese tribal, Chameli?

The absence of a strong public service broadcaster in India and the use-and-throw attitude of the prosperous classes towards the media partly explain the dominant, private media’s lack of faith in social endeavours. As citizens and journalists, we Indians are still nowhere near where it is possible for the people to look up to the media for carrying on informed public discourse. Rather, the evidence is mounting that the private (commercial) media is least interested in engaging in civic discourse or to serve the public good. In this relationship, the citizen is faithless to the media. Is not the reverse equally true?

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1 comment:

Tessa said...

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