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A New Media Theory for India?

Submitted by lakshmi on

As the largest democracy in the world, India has a very strong democratic media structure with a fairly free press.  It has thousands of newspapers and magazines; over 800 feature films are produced every year, and a few hundred documentaries reaching millions of viewers every week; hundreds of radio and television channels; millions of listeners and viewers using them; and several million  Internet connections,  and social media such as YouTube, Face-Book and Twitter.  But India needs many more media units and a widespread media culture extending to all corners of the country since our media diffusion rate is far behind that in many countries.  There is also a need for a strong media policy.  
Some people are of the opinion that India should have a new Normative Theory for media based on the needs of a nascent nation with just 65 years of existence as a politically democratic nation, and as a socioeconomically and culturally independent entity. Media in a new nation should contribute substantially to nation-building through communication support irrespective of political ideologies that engender party politics.  This should not be wrongly interpreted as kowtowing to government policies or as a policy of placating those in power at any given time.  
Historically, India is an ancient nation with a 5000-year-old civilization, but certain wrong attitudes have taken strong roots in people’s minds as far as basic issues are concerned.  A dispassionate analysis of the social structure in India and people’s attitude to fellow-beings will reveal a very unscientific handling of human relations. There are myths that do not support the democratic spirit; they simply extol the virtue of monarchy and central authority.
Constitutions says all men (and women) are created equal and they are entitled to the same privileges of life-sustenance, equal protection and treatment.  All people are nurtured by the same Nature according to certain universal principles of gravitation, geology, biology, ecology, physiology, physics, chemistry, sociology and human relations. This underlying principle has not yet become part of the thinking process or the intrapersonal system of a large number of the elite and the masses.  
As we have seen elsewhere when we discussed the democratic participant media theory, the press/media is crucial to the building of a democratic society. Education and Communication/Information are two strong pillars along with the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. All these pillars of democracy are essential for holding the roof of a democratic society. But the continued sustenance of democracy depends on the free press/media.  All liberties are protected by the free media; if the media fail in exposing the faults and frailties of the other wings of government, the democratic system will fail. Our hoary past is sometimes a disadvantage because wrong rules evolved in times of ignorance about many things, if will harm society and pull it backward. Such rules cannot continue for long.
For example, it is silly to hold the ridiculous view that some human beings come from the head, some others from the torso and the large majority  from the  belly  or the feet of the Creator. We know that humans come from the bodily union between the male and the female of the human species.  
There is, of course, a great need for people with different skills to do essential services in society, but Chandaal’as, S’udras and other so-called “lower-caste” sections of society are not to be considered specially suited for certain types of work but as essentially human just like others; they are not to be treated as people born to do all the dirty work and confine themselves to certain areas of the town, living as Untouchables who can even “electronically” pollute others by merely crossing their path or being seen by a high-caste biped! Indians have not completely gotten rid of this ancient mindset even in the 21st century.  
In modern democratic nations, a Brahmin may work as a scavenger or sweeper if forced by circumstances, and a Chandaal’a can work as an administrator or a high-ranking army man, provided he or she satisfies all the requirements of the job. All beings are equal before the eyes of God and Mammon! But invariably we ask for “caste” and “sub-caste” at the time of kindergarten or primary school admission. 
 The socioeconomic status of the applicant is not as important as his or her educational background or physical and mental fitness to do a particular job. And for school admissions, for heaven’s sake, it should be made mandatory for every educational institution to drop the query about caste and sub-caste of a candidate who comes to the school as a knowledge-seeker! 
Look at another example. Why are the poor dying in  thousands when an uncontrollable flood sweeps away their quarters and why only dozens from the privileged classes and castes die in such natural disasters?  The answer is: Because, the poor as a rule are quartered in more precarious circumstances in dilapidated homes. We have not yet felt the need for protecting the poor from the ravages of Nature, again because of the callousness of the high caste, the rich and the privileged who live in safer environments and have the power and the privilege to allocate the necessary funds .  
What is needed is this realization and the implementation of an educational policy that promotes equality, fraternity and liberty of thought and expression.  This is where the media of public communication have to become imbued with the principles of service to society.  And this will happen only when media are directed by people who are willing to look at the new society in India as a society where all citizens have equal human rights.  Currently we see how the rich and the privileged in India are manning (“womanning” too) the majority of the media organizations? 
The two most dangerous characteristics of the Indian society are religious obscurantism and perpetuation of the caste system.  Swami Vivekananda, Jyotiba Phule, Pandita Ramabai, Mahatma Gandhi and B. R. Ambedkar and many other great men and women of India have tried their best to do away both these dangers from Indian society.  Unfortunately, their efforts have not succeeded as we can see how castes and sub-castes continue to fight against one another even in the 21st century. Inter-caste marriages have become fatal! Independence of thinking and choice is denied with vengeance and retribution. What is the lesson we can learn from the tragic events occurring in different parts of the country? We have not yet learnt the art or science of looking at others with the democratic spirit of “live and let live.”  Life is sacred and it belongs to every individual, man or woman. Every human being needs protection of his sacred possession—LIFE.  Governments have to give this privilege to every citizen who respects law and order, namely, THE PROTECTION of LIFE.  Governments’ capitulation to communalism and religious obscurantism is the most dangerous thing that can happen in a modern democracy.
The big Indian media —newspapers, magazines, the electronic media and even the social media  (as proved recently in the Muzaffar Nagar communal violence in U. P.) have lost their political judgment and economic independence in recent years. They are firmly wedded to their profit-oriented, commercial activities, including non-media or extra-media interests.  They have grown into mammoth organizations—”behemoths”, a term used by Anthony Smith while describing big media in the Western world.*
Oligopolistic groups are controlling the media all over the world and India is no exception. This has serious consequences for media’s independence, unfettered adherence to truth, and unbiased communication. According to Altschull**, the media are no longer independent actors, although they  have the potential to exercise independent judgment. The general trend in the media reflects the  interests of those who finance them. The media should re-assert some of the independence which they usually claim  as their great asset and heritage.  They should use their independent judgment and resist the efforts of “managers of news and controllers of information,” according to McQuail.
Anthony Smith, The Age of Behemoths: The Globalization of Mass Media Firms, New York: Twentieth Century Fund, 1991.
J. H. Altschull, The Agents of Power: The Role of News Media in Human Affairs, New York: Longmans, 1984.
Denis McQuail in his forward to J. V. Vilanilam, Reporting a Revolution, New Delhi: SAGE, 1989.
In this context, it is relevant to cite a reader’s views about newspapers in India, although they are not quite applicable to all newspapers of the country all the time. We have to admit that generally speaking, Indian newspapers have lost some of the qualities they used to have during the pre-1947 years. As the reader observes, political news gets major attention now. One may add that inaugurations and dedications by government ministers and senior bureaucrats, with ministers’ and officials’ pictures and speeches fill two or three pages every day. Views from the public are confined to the feature, Readers’ Letters and an Open Page in some newspapers.  Some others do not give any attention to readers’ opinions.  There is very little news from rural areas and small towns in most newspapers unless there is some crime or natural disaster in those areas, mainly because most newspapers are produced in metropolitan cities, industrial towns and suburbs of large cities.
But it is the small towns and rural areas that need the most attention because the large majority of India’s teeming millions live and work there.  Their miserable conditions of living and working are to be discussed in newspapers on a daily basis, with follow-up reports on what actions remain to be taken  owing to official indifference. Reports about schemes and projects launched by the Central and State governments for people’s welfare are to be followed up until they are completed.  Such surveillance is expected of all media but unfortunately, there is no sustained reporting about people’s problems and their solutions. Our media are not doing this because the media owners look upon the media for selling more of wanted and unwanted products. The media in rich developed countries have a different set of priorities and those priorities are not our priorities.
What is really happening in the media world of developing countries is media owners’ competition to project the impression that we are in the path of development. Our media tend to forget that substantial percentage of our population is still poor and miserable, eking out their existence with an income of half a U. S. dollar a day! 
Thousands of new media units have to emerge in all parts of India—not huge conglomerates but small units started by people in each Panchayat so that people’s problems are brought to the public sphere and development efforts are supported by media units. Our national and local problems are too big to be left to a few media or media professionals.
Most of our media workers concentrate their attention on politicians and their activities, with an occasional glance at the rural areas, especially when some crime occurs there. Globalization takes away the national character of media fare and media experience. Let us not forget that poverty is still the Number One Problem in the world.  All other problems emerge from poverty and hence our communication strategy and policy should not ignore the fundamental causes of poverty. 
The other major problem confronting the world is denial of human rights.  There are constant violations of human rights in the world, particularly in the historically under-developed regions, nationally and globally. The violations including unbalanced gender relations and suppression of the weak, the meek and the poor by mighty, the haughty and the rich. 
Whatever that be, it is only proper to be concerned about the following:
•    Concentration of media ownership and monopoly
•    Cross media ownership and conglomeration with non-media business
•    Quality of news and information
•    National security and international insecurity
•    Vitiation of social order through social media
•    National culture and international intrusion
•    Decency, morality and cultural norms
•    Media in the service of national development and in the interest of national poverty and attendant miseries.
•    Recognition of communication as a human right.
•    Small-scale rural media without competition with existing urban media, purely as service to the people.

Dr.J. V. Vil’anilam