Saturday, 11 December 2010

A Sakshi of our troubled times

Finally Jagan Reddy and entourage have resigned from the Congress party. But there is an uneasy calm, with everyone involved waiting for his next move. A new party is expected to be launched in less than 45 days. Sakshi TV and channel have benefited from the entire ‘just war’, according to some media observers.
News television in South India is a peculiar animal. It is brazen, it is loud, it is openly aligned with political parties; it practices a no-holds-barred brand of journalism. It will be a poor joke to even talk of journalistic ethics. No one ever claimed anything of the sort.
Since public memory is short, many viewers may have forgotten the ugly footage of Karunanidhi’s midnight arrest during Jayalalithaa’s rule. Such vicious skirmishes are routine in Andhra Pradesh too, though no former chief minister is subjected to similar treatment so far.
In Andhra Pradesh, YS Rajasekhar Reddy’s death has brought twin tragedies to the state – his death itself and his son wanting to be king. As a fond father and loving relative, YSR is rumoured to have been more than generous with favours to family and friends. Just like the unbelievable majority with which he won the state elections, the magnitude of the sums also is said to be unbelievable.
One manifestation of the robust wealth of the family is the media empire they have created out of nowhere, Sakshi newspaper and Sakshi TV. Some 400 to 500 crores of rupees all told to start and further expense till the media house stabilised was available. If not, it is perhaps indicative of the net worth of a politician in power. Eenadu and others washed much dirty linen in public about the nature of investment in the enterprise.
The avowed purpose of the paper and the news channel were quite openly declared during YSR’s lifetime. There are too many powerful anti-Congress media houses; Congress needs its own media house to counter them. The paper was launched with good design and massive print run to outweigh the market leader Eenadu. From the earliest edition of the paper, there was open confrontation between Eenadu and Sakshi. Then the Sakshi news channel was launched with state-of-the-art equipment and very good-looking graphics. Money, as one might guess, was never a problem. Because it either did not get or did not need the small time advertisements that pop-up and clutter the screens of other channels, its screen looked more elegant. The partisan behaviour of the channel was overlooked because that particular malaise was not new to Telugu news channels and papers. When the channel was launched, there was hope that it could be a genuine counterpoint to the existing brand of journalism.
Then, after a glorious electoral victory for a second term, YSR was plucked from the political scene by death. True to Congress tradition, the son Jagan Reddy expected to be crowned as CM. Intense speculation about leadership began even before the funeral was over. Sakshi TV began to orchestrate Jagan’s desire to step in to his father’s shoes. Every second of his public life was put on Sakshi television. YSR’s smiling visage with flower petals showering on it became the second station logo that is fixed on the top right corner of the screen.
Despite the rumoured proximity of Veerappa Moily’s son to Jagan, the Congress high command put Rosaiah in CM’s chair. The Jagan camp began a vicious media campaign ridiculing and jeering everything that the new CM did on the Sakshi channel. Mr Rosaiah was considered one of the most experienced (decades of work as a loyal Congressman) and well-informed finance ministers and was much respected. But for Sakshi he was YSR’s courtier and ‘never in his wildest dreams expected to be CM’, according to one of Sakshi TV reports. The report implied that by default he should have been a Jagan loyalist and ought not to have accepted chief ministership. The weeks of attack on Rosaiah and his repeated complaints in public that Sakshi TV and newspaper were targeting him more frequently and viciously than the traditional opposition papers and channels, Eenadu, ETV and ABN-Andhrajyothi, found no response from the high command.
Jagan began a public mobilization strategy of touring the state to ‘console’ families of those who are supposed to have died of shock and grief on YSR’s tragic death. This he undertook despite the high command and the local party discouraging him. For months after YSR’s death, the son kept up a relentless stream of live coverage of his ‘Odarpu Yatra’ across the state on his channel. The attempt was also to keep YSR’s memory alive in public consciousness so that he can cash-in on it later, a la the Gandhis. Innumerable statues of YSR were erected all over the state.
This strategy was of course supplemented on the channel by direct attacks on rival channels and papers and Telugu Desam party. When Telugu Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu was caught on camera being impatient with a woman petitioner at a public meeting, the channel went to town the whole day repeatedly showing him and calling him Dussasana (the one who disrobed Draupati in court) with sensational graphic/music play-up, interspersed with studio discussions by ‘experts and politicians’.
When serious transgressions and show of public support during the yatras were not evoking any response from the high command, the channel aired a special on the occasion of 125 anniversary of Congress that directly took sideswipes at the party icons, Rajiv and Sonia. In addition to several uncouth titbits about Sonia’s early life in Italy, the programme had references to Bofors. Enraged Congressmen took to the streets, burning Sakshi copies and holding protests in front of Sakshi offices. There was a spate of studio debates on that old chestnut, ‘freedom of speech and expression’.
That week also saw the resignation of Rosaiah and installation of Kiran Kumar Reddy as the Chief Minister. The stage is set for the next round of blackmail through media. Already Sakshi channel is emphasising the fact that Kiran Kumar Reddy never held any ministerial post and that he has no previous administrative experience.
Today, the channel looks like a God channel, with hours of transmission time dedicated to Jagan himself holding forth on how YSR and his family were instrumental in putting the Congress party in power in Delhi.
Most channels and newspapers in Andhra Pradesh have obvious political loyalties. The political parties themselves are fiefdoms built around individuals. Whether Telugu Desam, TRS or Congress, all have feudal, hierarchical and therefore, dynastic inclinations which do not appear to have any desire to democratise. Electoral politics are seen as horse-trading, money-liquor affairs which require enormous amounts of unaccounted for money. Politician-criminals and criminal-politicians have taken over in all parties. Attaining power is all about looting the state exchequer and building the wealth of friends and relatives. It is clear why someone wants to be king.
The tragedy is, the channels and newspapers are being started/used blatantly to promote the political ambitions of one individual or the other. If it is Jagan today, earlier it was Chandrababu. The unemployed lumpen gangs maintained by the politicians are used to ‘astroturf’ spontaneous protests and ‘public response’. The pseudo-events of screaming protestors breaking buses, burning effigies, disrupting civic life are brought in to our living rooms through live coverage, with smatterings of studio discussions. During the 70s and 80s, criminalization of politics was debated much. Now that generation of criminal-politician has understood that media can be used as a tool to promote self and near and dear. We can naively call it democratisation of the media. But what is happening is the systematic undermining of democracy to promote a feudal, caste-ridden, hierarchical system. The ordinary person’s ordinary desire for food, shelter, clothing and education have been invisible on the media over the last several months. Civic administration in cities like Hyderabad has collapsed. At a time when unprecedented rains have facilitated good power generation, there are power shut-downs. Even if any thing is shown/written on these issues, it is deeply coloured by partisan agendas.
The Sakshi saga has some lessons to offer us.
1. If the issue is one of political parties differing in ideology and using the media houses to enlighten people of these differences, it may still be acceptable to an extent. But this is not so. Sakshi TV and paper have begun the attack on a duly elected government belonging to the same party as their owner. The fight here is not ideological, but merely the desire to ‘be king’. This raises an important question about whether politicians can run channels and papers, just as it can be questioned whether individuals with extensive business interests in the economy can be allowed to run media houses. In both cases, when push comes to shove, the media houses resort to blatant promotion of self-interest. In case of the politician, at least the public knows the political connections of the individual. In the case of the business tycoon, without adequate disclosure norms in media, the public has no way of knowing what is news and what is being done to promote business interests.
If political parties run the channels/papers, there is a chance of them serving the ideological agenda of the party, which is also understood as such by the consumer. When an individual belonging to a party owns the media house, as in the case of Sakshi, given the right conditions and the ‘right’ aspirations, the entire political process can be perverted with the help of media.
2. Media houses, by virtue of their origins in partisan political and economic agendas, cannot represent public interest. Public interest is used merely as rhetoric, while personal empires are built through privileged access to power. The media houses, in the name of providing access to grassroots leadership, are actually showcasing local mafias who help strong-arm the local elections. The media houses are abdicating their responsibility to question the antecedents of the so-called local pretenders to leadership, leaving the ordinary citizen to their mercies. In their pretensions to egalitarian access, they are losing sight of what is in public interest and what is not. In such media ecology, which individual journalist can survive if s/he wishes to practice ethical journalism?
Years ago, Justice Sawant as the Chairman of Press Council of India called for alternative ownership models for media industries. Predictably, august media bodies like the Indian Newspaper Society shouted him down. The political class in India seems to be riding on corruption and malleable media. The time has come once again to debate whether business interests and politicians should own and operate media houses in a democracy; whether there is any regulatory framework that can limit the impact of such ownership on general public.

Monday, 6 December 2010

The Making of a Journalist

This was published in the jubilee souvenir of Potti Sriramulu Telugu University in December 2010

As any wise one will tell you, there are many paths to get there. Be it Nirvana or the newsroom. Often, University-bound academicians assert the importance of journalism schools in making good journalists. One would like to believe, given the necessary sets of abilities, like language skills, commonsense and a healthy curiosity about the world, any one can be trained to be a journalist. And, the training may come from in-house schools, universities, private institutes of higher learning or just self-study. We have all read with great joy famous journalists who have never stepped into a j-school in their life. But then it took us anything between 10 to 20 years to find them shining in the firmament. However, for a profession in a hurry, it is easier if someone endorses/certifies that a given individual is fit for employment as a journalist, a priori.
And this is where the necessity for j-schools arises. The need was discovered as early as the 1950s when first the Hislop Christian College of Nagpur University (Eapen:1991) and later the Department of Journalism in Osmania University were started. Dr Roland Wolseley was associated with Hislop, while Prof DeForest O’Dell (Benner:1980) came to head the journalism department in Osmania, which was started in 1954. Dr O’Dell, who earned his PhD from Columbia University, worked for many newspapers and for Associated Press. He also had a distinguished career as a professor teaching journalism and public relations at several universities in America.
Under Prof O’Dell’s leadership, the Osmania Department began by offering the journalism course to editors and sub-editors of English language papers. The early course structure, curriculum and general orientation were all shaped by the American tradition of journalism education. Later, Prof Govindarajan who earlier worked for The Hindu headed the Department. The department continued to have a blend of faculty experienced in the journalism, advertising and PR industries, individuals with English Literature and creative writing background, and also those who specialised in communication theory and research. Till about the late eighties, Osmania University played a significant role in helping various universities in designing and setting up their media programmes.
By late eighties, according to a survey by Prof K E Eapen (1991), there were some 50 institutions offering journalism courses. The year 1991 also marked economic liberalisation and brought with it the phenomenal media expansion. It was logical that there would be a parallel expansion of j-schools as by then, a large number of media organizations began to look for and recruit graduates from j-schools through regular campus selections.
Till the early nineties, it was the conventional universities with well-conceived and designed courses that were providing recruits for the media industry. Many of those recruits are now in senior positions in their organizations. The expansion in media industry caught everyone unawares, creating a serious supply crunch for a rapidly expanding industry. The nineties saw a sudden spurt and a haphazard expansion of j-schools both in the conventional university systems and the private sector.
Expansion in the university system
In Andhra Pradesh, two new universities with journalism programmes were started in 1983 and 1988. The first one Sri Padmavathi Mahila Viswavidyalayam in Tirupati, exclusively for women and the second, Sri Potti Sriramulu Telugu University in Hyderabad, which is the first university to offer journalism exclusively in a regional language. Makhanlal Chaturvedi Patrakarita University in Bhopal began functioning in 1991 for Hindi journalism. Andhra University started its journalism programme in 1984 and Nagarjuna University in 2003. With the launching of several new universities in Andhra Pradesh, Nalgonda, Telangana and Krishna Universities have launched journalism courses during the mid-2000s.
From the 1990s onwards, there has been both a vertical and a horizontal expansion, with close to 250 universities and colleges offering journalism and mass communication courses.
Before 1990s, most conventional universities were offering broad-based journalism and mass communication courses that would cover a range of subjects like reporting, editing, newspaper management, history, media law and media research. The courses also had a wide variety of structures. Some were two-year postgraduate programmes divided into one-year post-graduate bachelor’s degree (BCJ) and one year post-graduate master’s degree (MCJ). This was the preferred mode as the students after completion of BCJ would go with a degree in journalism and begin working for a media organization. If interested, they would come back to do a masters degree in journalism later. Those who were keen on joining the profession welcomed this flexibility. Some universities began to offer a 2-year MA with a specific focus like TV production. The nomenclature varied from BA, MA, BCJ, MCJ, BJMC, MJMC and so on. The confusion in nomenclature and the need for comparability of courses is forcing several departments to gravitate towards a common 2-year MA in journalism and mass communication.
Another trend over the 2000s has been the vertical expansion of the journalism programmes. Many universities, under pressure to offer ‘job-oriented’ courses began to introduce journalism in under-graduate colleges. This was either as one of the three majors or as an entire programme for journalism. The downward expansion, however, still faces several problems. There is a severe shortage of competent faculty to teach the programmes. If there was criticism about journalism faculty not having professional exposure, these courses are often run by faculty drawn from other social sciences, who have not gone through a formal university-level journalism programme to know the essential strategies for teaching journalism. Apart from faculty shortage, most of the courses also lack basic infrastructure like subscription to a news agency, focussed library, subscription to newspapers and magazines and now TV channels. Such courses are struggling to survive as enrolment begins to rapidly dwindle even in the university systems, as most of these courses are offered under the self-financing schemes.
The upward expansion has been by way of introducing MPhil and PhD programmes. After the passing of the first generation of faculty who pioneered journalism education in India, the emphasis of the academic programmes also began to shift towards communication from just journalism. The communication component of the courses opens up the possibility for those inclined to research to pursue courses like MPhil and PhD. But the universities that have started the research degrees find that the preferred career choice of the graduates after their masters is to join the profession. It is those who cannot for some reason join the profession who opt for the research programmes.
But the horizontal and vertical expansion has also exposed the universities to much criticism as the industry looking for trained personnel finds the system falling short in some way. The earlier focus of the departments on just journalism education catering to a much smaller field of demand was more closely attuned to the industry needs. Today, university systems have not expanded enough to feed the vast markets of varied demands.
The media industries, like all other industries, tend to look for cheap labour. Unlike the legal or medical professions where the education of the graduate is rounded off with on-the-job training with senior colleagues, journalism schools are expected to produce ready-to-use ‘hands’. And unlike the West, the media industry failed to value the liberal education the graduates bring to the job, and therefore, did not bother to build synergies with the j-schools that would have strengthened both the schools and the profession in the long run.
Private Sector
Barring a few exceptions, many private sector training institutions began to offer purely skill-oriented programmes. Several of the media organizations like Eenadu started their own, in-house training facilities. Later entrants into the newspaper and television market also routinely have an in-house training wing that moulds the new recruits into the organization. Some of the establishments like Eenadu select the recruits through a rigorous entrance exam/interview process. But, the concentration of the media houses is really to train a person in journalistic skills. Unlike the university courses which attempt to impart critical thinking about the profession itself by teaching media laws, media economics and industry, media ethics and history, these schools require ‘good hands’ who will deal with basic news production tasks.
Training set-ups that have come up in the private sector like Asian College of Journalism and Symbiosis have acquired a formidable reputation in the market but are prohibitive in their fee structure. Whenever there is a window for expansion of the private sector, there is a parallel buzz in the market that systematically undermines the conventional university systems. The private sector institutions can dictate not just the fee structure, but also which students they can take in. Sometimes the institutes conduct multi-stage, multi-layered entrance process that skims the creamy layer (both intellectually and financially). This is a luxury that the state-run university systems do not have. The universities do not have the flexibility sometimes to design their own entrance exam. Selection of candidates by interview process is virtually impossible in the highly politicised university environment. But a significant plus for the university system is the social profile of the candidates they offer to the market. It is a profile that is more representative of Indian social reality than that offered by the expensive private institutions. For instance, among the trained professionals sent by the state universities to the media industries, there are several who are first generation learners. This is beginning to matter in the regional language media.
Lastly, whether the in-house training facilities of media organizations or the private institutes, there is a technology fetish that they successfully infect the conventional universities with. The measure of good journalism education appears to be largely based on how much ‘media hardware’ the departments can provide. True, in a modern media environment a lot of technology is used. But if the objective of the school is to produce a competent journalist, reporting, writing and editing skills remain fundamental. The need for understanding journalistic ethics and values should be more privileged than the need to be tech-savvy. It is also futile for the schools to struggle to be ahead of the game in a constantly changing, volatile technology scene. No school can perpetually muster such resources.
Journalism and media education has grown into a big industry on the back of a media boom. There are trends in the media education market that are still crystallising into a pattern – if some trend followers start ‘new media’ courses, some others talk of ejournalism. One would think these are just modes of delivery. It is clear that there is a vast opportunity for expansion. Neither the private enterprise nor the state sector has been able to satisfactorily bridge the huge gap in supply. In a market poised for multi-dimensional growth, there is space for conventional journalism degrees offered by university systems and skills training offered by the private schools.
The upside of the situation is that there is a vast pool of talent that enters laterally from varied backgrounds, learns the conventions of responsible journalism and goes on to enrich the field. Over the years, through the thick and thin of market vicissitudes, one can observe that there are various routes through which one can attain great success in the field of journalism. Some have done it through formal training, some through self-learning and some through in-house training. But the formula for the success in the newsroom appears to be good language skills, better understanding of the social milieu and most importantly, great personal integrity that can distinguish the ethical from the unethical.

Eapen, K E. (1991). Journalism education and textbooks in SAARC countries (July 1991) retrieved on 25 October, 2010 from

Benner, V. S. (1980). DeForest O’Dell. The USGenWeb Project retrieved on 25 October from

Facing the Truth or Facing the Music?

Posted on Mediawhistle site on July 27 2009

Back in 2007 when the now famous/notorious show The Moment of Truth was launched by Fox network in the United States, Mike Darnell, the President of Alternative Programming at FOX is quoted by TV Week as saying, “This is going to be the talk of the town and knocked out of the park. You’re either going to love it, or think it’s the end of Western civilization.” Now we have a clone of The Moment of Truth in the form of Sach Ka Samna. Interestingly, there is an eerie similarity to public response to the show here in India with that of the US audience.

It is indicative of the universality of concerns of ordinary people who subscribe to everyday standards of morality. There appears to be a general consensus that certain sets of social relationships are inherently capable of providing social stability and therefore, desirable. And a show that targets this moral framework is a threat to stability.

What is it about such shows that gets under the skin of people? Firstly, of course, the novelty of the ‘boldness’ and the hard ball ‘honesty’ of the show. Unlike the soaps and serials on television, reality TV genre finds its primary claim to credibility from the fact that it is presenting real people in their real roles – not a constructed visual presentation to represent a fictional story.

Be that as it may, in a show like Sach Ka Samna, it is evident that the process of putting together the show itself has a significant bearing on who gets to be on the show. If it is Kaun Banega Crorepati or Sa Re Ga Ma kind of show, it is the intellectual equipment or talent of the individual that gets them on to the show.

To get to be on Sach Ka Samna, the contestant has to have a colourful personal history (real or fictional). What the ‘ordinary moral viewer’ might consider a deviant and undesirable social profile. That is only a part of the story. The contestant also has to be daring enough to bare all in public for a price with his immediate family bearing witness. The price is large enough for someone to take a shot at it (Assumption: for the right price you can get some people to do ANYTHING). The worst part of the deal is, the lie detector will decide the truth of the matter. In KBC and SRGM the viewer can assess the veracity of the judgement. The structure of SKS therefore also can compel individuals to answer to suit the perceived ratings requirements of the show (anyone who has done social surveys knows how self-reporting works). If they don’t, there is always the lie detector.

Both in The Moment of Truth and in Sach Ka Samna the questions are similar. The focus is on intensely personal issues of money, sex and relationships. With minor variations, the questions probe infidelity, adultery and emotional betrayal. And the lie detector will decide if the participant is speaking the truth.

The severe and swift negative response to the show both in US and in India is from people who believe that the show is attempting to naturalise such deviant behaviour. The viewers whose personal experience of society around them does not indicate such behaviour as widespread enough worry that the television show will project this as the norm rather than as an exception.

One may argue that worse things are being shown on films and soaps. Why such uproar only about SKS? Both soaps and films are understood to be works of fiction and are seen within that framework. The USP of reality shows is that they are ostensibly about real people and real situations. However, the audience is not consciously aware that even a reality show is a function of pre-selection of content (of contestants and what they say) and form. The lingering close ups of the wife when the husband is confessing to cheating on her are not an accident. They borrow heavily from the familiar conventions of dramatic narration on television. It is this aspect of pretended reality done up like drama that is problematic about such shows.

Those who read it like drama leave it at that. Those who read it as reality protest. Ultimately, how real is the reality show?

Saturday, 27 November 2010

The new moral universe?

In this new game of privatising public resources, media has to be an important ally. Only an insider can create a credible smoke-screen that makes the mafia look like the saviours. It is clear now that the media honchos have been willing and quintessential insiders, says PADMAJA SHAW

Posted Friday, Nov 26 16:13:29, 2010 on the website The Hoot

This post-Diwali season, the fireworks continue on media. Till now, we were witness to media sending up the likes of Raja and Chavan to come down in a shower of sparks, but now some of the greats of Indian journalism themselves have taken off too. Only, we don't see much of a shower of sparks. Their former colleagues and friends have closed ranks and are killing the story by ignoring it.

Just this week also marks the significant quotable quote from Mrs Sonia Gandhi about our “shrinking moral universe”. ‘Shrinking moral universe' is a good turn of phrase. Just look at the performance of the elite media on a range of issues. The real debates (whether about the economy, development, displacement or media content itself) are increasingly found on-line and not in the mainstream media.

The political and business interests in India have prised open the ‘license raj', promising to bring dynamism and efficiency to our polity and economy. Today, ‘license raj' that was like gully cricket is replaced by high stakes IPL ??" the new economy. The new economy has spawned new entrepreneurs who are aggressive, sure-footed and know how to tweak the system to deliver. The outrageous speed at which the politician-business nexus has systematically privatised public resources like land, water and spectrum over the last decade is unprecedented in independent India. The political class is giving away at throw away prices what does not belong to them. Land, water and spectrum are the wealth of the nation that belongs to the people. The surplus generated for the corporations from this bonanza is being systematically reinvested to further consolidate their hold over political power.

In this new game, media has to be an important ally. Only an insider can create a credible smoke-screen that makes the mafia look like the saviours. And it is clear now that the media honchos have been willing and quintessential insiders. Media persons have become mediators in this process. The Radia tapes are testimony to the extent to which the movers and shakers in the media are complicit.

One had the hunch about this complicity when looking at the coverage given to people's issues at other times. A leading ‘star' anchor (who is also the owner of a bouquet of channels) calls the Union Environment Minister arrogant when he took a stand on the Posco issue. The strategy for the channels has been to promote the corporate interests aggressively, resist regulation and when disaster strikes, do wall-to-wall bleeding-heart coverage. Claim TRPs. Claim most viewed status. Make fake stars out of dishonest journalists.

As part of their overall nexus with corporate power, the big media reduces the distress caused to the victims of this unsustainable development of the economy to a law and order issue. The prime minister's statement labelling the displaced people's protests as the single biggest threat to our democracy got the greatest play on corporate media. Barring a few like Outlook again, no media house had the courage to question it. Neither did the media houses ask the PM, how he would characterise the activities of his party, the ministerial colleagues hand-picked by him and the media mafia. Were they the harbingers of democracy? While the Barkha-Niira Radia story was breaking invisibly, while Madhu Koda was allowed to walk free, and Raja was cajoled into a temporary exile, only to be patted on the back by the PM a day later in public, one could see a fast moving scroll on news channels telling us that ‘Twenty ‘naxals' were shot dead'. The law, of course, will take its course in our idyllic democracy. The extreme structural violence of this system needs the extreme fair play only our deeply deliberative judiciary can provide. A few generations may live and die without food, shelter and education, but what the hell … The ‘new moral universe'.

Similar clever coverage is being given for the I&B Ministry's ruling for showing programming with adult content after 11pm to protect younger audiences. CNN-IBN brings serial producers, advertising people and film-makers to tell us about ‘freedom of speech' and ‘public opinion'. The debate was heavily loaded in favour of, ‘today's children are more mature, know everything from the net and therefore even pornography is ok on prime time. We must have choice'. The minor point of how many TV-viewing children have access to the net outside urban India is not worth dwelling on. And no one asked if there are other sources for objectionable content, is it necessary to provide it on prime time for children? (Years ago, when the Soviet Republic fell, one Western commentator hailed it as a victory for free speech because now all the Russians are free to buy and read ‘Playboy'). The channel is clearly telling us not to obstruct its profit run and its TRPs and telling us regulation is a threat to our democratic future. The new ‘moral universe'.

The signs were all there, but it would have been considered mean to crib about them. Take for instance the recruitment in major English channels. It has been rumoured for years that those with a good deal of social capital are preferred over others. If they belong to a well-connected political or bureaucratic family, the cocktail circuit, then they would have an established network of information that others would take years to build. They would also have the self-confidence to deal with the political and economic elites on equal terms. As for training, they could always be shipped to top j-schools abroad for tagging and for honing their skills (without really re-arranging the moral compass to suit the needs of journalism). Perfect arrangement. Dynamic journalism. Lay a thing or two on the old, unrealistic middle-class hang-ups about journalism.

But this arrangement didn't figure-in the personal ambitions of the new ‘journalists' coming unravelled. It takes a deep ‘moral universe' to resist all the opportunities that stare at you ??" the power to influence the most powerful in the land; the power to shut critics up; the power to bend policy to help friends in high places; each success adding to the sense of invincibility. Since regulation is anathema, here too, how far one can go was never really debated or defined. Just like the politician, instinctively one knew one had to brazen it out when caught. Public memory is short and forgiving in this ‘new moral universe'.

The crux of the issue is: In this much-celebrated democracy of ours, the real decision-makers are the corporations and the media who never face an election, who are not accountable to the people or any sovereign constitutional authority. The politicians are placed and replaced at the whims of the corporations and the media, not the ballot. The big media has for decades fooled people into believing that they speak for them. It stands exposed today as the ‘dalaal' helping to sell people's welfare to the lowest bidder (L1) among their corporate friends. The ‘new moral universe'.

Do they still deserve the right to invoke the constitutional guarantee of ‘freedom of speech and expression'? Ironically, it is the need to protect the rights of publications like Outlook that the freedom of the press has to be defended and protected. Should there be a regulation that separates wheat from journalistic chaff?

Trend-spotting in print media

There’s something exciting unfolding on the print media scene. Two of the leading English language newspapers, The Hindu and The Times of India, are on a value-addition drive. PADMAJA SHAW is pleasantly surprised at the quality of the Crest edition. Padmaja Shaw

Posted Thursday, Nov 18 23:27:15, 2010 on the website THE HOOT

It is just over a year since The Times of India launched its Crest Edition (broadsheet) that comes out with Saturday dateline. The Crest edition over the past months has persistently demolished all stereotypes about the ‘popular’ strategies that The Times adopts. It is priced at Rs 6 and except for the anniversary edition (every other page carried a full page ad), has not carried much advertising. Again, except for the anniversary edition, one does not recall any sleazy bikini shots in it. But in the anniversary edition, there was a charming image of Sharmila Tagore in her ‘first bikini of Indian cinema’ on the cover page. The anniversary edition was on the whole delightful celebrating all firsts in all kinds of fields of achievement.
Somehow, over the year, one expected a loss of coherence but the edition is getting better, providing excellent in-depth reading material on diverse fields, from pharmaceutical industry, film industry, social trends and social issues. Week after week, one gets to read critical, in-depth pieces on a range of issues. The 32-page edition is a much-needed addition to weeklong reading on current issues and trends. The edition has lived up to its own promise: ‘Crest is for the curious mind; it hopes to be every intelligent reader's guide to politics and policy, art and culture, environment and education, and more’.
Of the 32 pages this week, just one and half pages are taken for advertising. One does not know the economics of how a 32-page edition with so little advertising is possible, but as a reader one would certainly welcome the effort. Earlier one had only the Outlook news magazine to bank on. Now the weekends give us something more to look forward to. That the ToI group finally acknowledges the existence of a reading public who are sorely disappointed with the mainstream media for not providing adequate depth and diversity is the real thing to celebrate here.
On the contrary, the Hyderabad Times is full of cinema and page 3. Photos and gossipy writing dominate. One wonders if there is much readership for it, except for those who are featured on it. Some useful content like science and medicine get lost in the melee of celebrity journalism.
Adding fuel to this perpetual perceived thirst for cinema news in Andhra Pradesh (the biggest producer of films in the country) is the new Cinema Plus Sunday (tabloid) supplement launched by The Hindu last week in Hyderabad. In addition to some four pages of film reviews on the weekend releases, there are ‘itsy-bitsy’ news items on the Telugu film industry, some on Hollywood. The supplement also carries the weekly TV/film listings, along with interviews with stars, curtain-raisers on under-production films. The last page carries a delightful nostalgia piece on yesteryear cinema titled ‘Blast from the past’.
The purpose of the supplement is unclear from the content so far, as except for the interviews, much of it has already been a part of its other week-day supplements. Is it to match the competition in providing fluff or is it to out-class competition by providing ‘intelligent’ stuff on cinema?
Coming from the Hindu stable, one expected the features to be meatier, with more informative write-ups on the film and television industries. There is no serious, regular critique of television fare on regional channels in the English newspapers that reach opinion-makers. The very size and weight of the Telugu film/television industry demands an informed debate about it and its social impact.
The other new trend is The Hindu carrying full front page ads under its masthead (Et tu, Hindu!). It has happened several times lately. Actually when the page is folded back it’s all back to normal, but somehow, it is dismaying to receive The Hindu this way. The same feeling one gets when one catches a Bharatantyam dancer dirty dancing in a pub!

Reporting Ayodhya-II

In Hyderabad both Eenadu and Deccan Chronicle bent over backwards to maintain balance. One defining feature of Eenadu was the effort it took to present both the sides for almost all stories. PADMAJA SHAW and NAGAMALLIKA G examine Ayodhya coverage in the leading English and Telugu dailies. Padmaja Shaw and Nagamallika G

Posted Saturday, Oct 23 00:03:21, 2010 on the website THE HOOT

Comparative coverage

How do different parts of the country cover the news? How do English and regional language newspapers cover the same story? Over the next two months the Hoot will report the outcome of a two month qualitative and quantitative newspaper survey in five states.

In states and cities with substantial Muslim populations, handling coverage of the Ayodhya judgement before and after it was delivered was something the media paid special attention to. This series began with Gujarat, when the English newspaper studied chose to be proactive in defusing potentially communal responses, but the Gujarati newspaper monitored presented the outcome of the verdict as a triumph for the majority religion simply through presentation, and the use of the colour saffron.

In Hyderabad both Eenadu and Deccan Chronicle bent over backwards to maintain balance. Both have traditionally been the leading Telugu and English newspapers in the state, though lately Sakshi has been showing a circulation surge, overtaking Eenadu. Both are broadsheets of 18 pages or thereabouts, on an average.

The coverage in Eenadu was meticulously impartial, matching story per story and within stories taking care to balance. One defining feature of the paper was the effort it took to give both the sides for almost all stories. In every story there were side heads with the Hindu view and the Muslim view. For eg., in one of the stories pre-judgement, the views of Manmohan Singh, RSS, VHP as well as the head of the Darul Uloom, Deoband, asking for peace, were all covered equally.

Even in the special stories where there was a story on the archeological evidence about Ram Mandir there were two versions reported. One given by BB Lal and the other by D. Mandal with proof of Ram Mandir before Masjid, and as an Islamic structure respectively. Another special report gave a straight forward chronological history of the issue from the British time. Yet another story gave the Hindu Muslim debate in a table format. An edit page article also gave a detailed historical chronology of the Mandir-Masjid issue. One feature that caught the attention was that while the reports generally spoke of peace and calm, there were coloured box items with political leaders’ aggressive statements. For example, Advani, Digvijay Singh, a few RSS leaders and Owaisi gave some biting comments after the judgement. The box made it more prominent.

There were three articles on the media in Eenadu, all negative, stating that media should not broadcast provocative programs and another stating that media might be kept away from court. The third spoke of the chaos and confusion with around 600 journalists at the HC venue, with no one getting a clear picture of the verdict. Not a very flattering image of the media.

One interesting story on 2nd October declared that the paper would like to clarify the data on the actual land which is to be divided, as against the projection by the media channels and papers which were misleading by stating that the entire land was to be divided into three (2.77 acres) while the fact was that only 1500 sq yards were to be divided.

Though Deccan Chronicle did not go in for mechanical matching of stories giving the Hindu and Muslim points of view, the paper took a specifically secular stand by having more pieces critical of religious extremism, including editorials.

Both the papers in general have presented Ayodhya news in a neutral manner. Though Eenadu, with its preoccupation with local political agenda, gave less prominence to the story by way of fewer front page items and fewer editorials, Deccan Chronicle gave more prominence to the issue by giving several more front page stories and editorials. The rule of thumb is that regional language papers have more stories, and shorter ones. The Hyderabad papers conformed to the rule. On Ayodhya, Eenadu carried 103 stories a third of which (33) were briefs. DC carried 73 stories none of which were briefs. ( Note: Quantitative sampling in this study was for every alternate day. Results are indicative.)

English newspapers editorialise more than their regional language counterparts. Eenadu carried just one editorial on the issue and two special reports, two analyses, and two edit page articles. The Deccan Chronicle carried 5 editorials and 9 special stories that included a couple of edit page articles. On any given day, except the day of judgement, Eenadu had other stories on its front page, equally or sometimes more prominently. Eenadu is actively pursuing several local stories such as the Emaar-APIIC scandal, Jagan yatra and the internal dissentions in Congress party. The display and the prominence given to other stories is not matched in the case of Ayodhya issue. There were just 6 front page stories.

Though DC also did the same, there was more emphasis through display and size of news stories on the front page. There were 14 front page stories in DC.
The run up to the event had the paper emphasising the need for restraint and security issues. On 23 Sept, the originally expected dated prior to judgement, the paper gave a special full-page curtain-raiser. The page carried stories from Ayodhya with the perspectives of the local people, both Hindus and Muslims; a story critical of Hindutva politics, accompanied by a brief summary of the legal history of the issue; an interview with Kalyan Singh (“Does any one have the guts to remove the idols from there?); six boxes, one each for Uma Bharathi, LK Advani, MM Joshi, Ritambara, Vinay Katiyar, A Singhal, describing their participation in the Babri demolition and enumerating the IPC cases they are still facing.

The editorial on 19 Sept also emphasises the need for tight security measures, as the assurances give by the Sangh Parivar cannot be trusted. The editorial cites the earlier written assurance given by the Parivar before the demolition of Babri Masjid, and how they violated it.

On 28 Sept, the editorial comes up with an interesting take on the relief from bulk SMS ‘freeze’ because of Ayodhya and why it should continue. SMSes quoted: ‘get Rs 1,00,00,000 after 21 years. No risk. Pay Rs 545 daily for 11 years.’

The headlines of the news stories tried to accurately reflect the substance of the stories. For instance: Hyderabad Hypersensitive: IB (18, Sept); Advani assures BJP restraint (19 Sept); Twin towns live in uncertainty (23 Sept).

On the day of the judgement itself, the banner headline read: Judges divide land to unite India (1 Oct). Other headlines on the day followed similar vein: Uneasy queries answered; Centre wary, wants no let up in security.

On the day of the judgement there were 24 stories and one editorial. The coverage was given five full pages. There were no stories critical of either side, there were two stories with the Hindu perspective and one story with Muslim perspective. Much of the coverage on 1 Oct and 2 Oct came out of the extensive extracts from the judgement itself. However, the extracts were divided up thematically/ issue-wise into readable bits.

In the editorials on 1 and 2 October, the paper praised the judgement as the best under the circumstances and that Hindus and Muslims must share and protect their common heritage. In the editorial on 2 Oct, it praises the government for handling the issue well and has much praise for the ‘aam admi’, who it says cooperated with the administration. Citing the photograph published on page 1 on 1 October, which shows a Hindu and a Muslim sharing a happy moment in Ayodhya, it said it was the snapshot of the way Indian citizenry reacted to the verdict.

On October 2, the story titled: Congress wary of buoyant BJP, speculates about Congress party’s anxiety about BJP vote bank consolidation ahead of Bihar elections. It quotes Gadkari as saying that the masjid will be built on the banks of Sarayu. And also underlines Congress’ refusal to react to Mulayam’s statement on the judgement.

On 3 October, in a full-page coverage and display, two extensive stories were carried, one says: Ayodhya tempts politicians again; another says: Celebrations in Karsevakpuram is premature. The first story is severely critical of the BJP and also the motives of the various political players involved in the issue/ attempting to profit from it. The second story, despite its headlines, merely reports and quotes the activities at Karsevakpuram. One of the quotes is someone saying: bring on the bricks, as soon as they listen to the judgement.

On both 1 and 2 October, edit page and special stories raise interesting issues. Antara Dev Sen’s piece, Ram Lalla, a resident of UP, presents an incisive review of history and the ironies of Indian law and life in the context of Ayodhya judgement. On the edit page, Insaniyat over insanity on 3 October recounts historical instances of sharing disputed religious places all over the world and hails the Ayodhya judgement in that context. In Ayodhya that unites us all, Muzaffar Ali spoke of the need for architectural celebration of the common heritage in Ayodhya.

Over all when one looks at the coverage of Deccan Chronicle, one gets the impression that the argument in Ayodhya judgement was not really between the Hindus and the Muslims but between secularism and fundamentalism. The fact that more attention was paid to the Hindu point of view reveals a sense that the Hindu groups have shown themselves to be aggressive enough to physically demolish a monument and continue to posture aggressively. The coverage had few stories of Muslim point of view. The stories are mainly from the ‘oldest litigant’ and leaders. Statistically, there were four stories critical of the Hindu viewpoint on the issue, but none that were critical of the Muslim viewpoint.

The paper has taken an unequivocal stand against extremist politics on religion and has played its role as market leader in providing balanced, non-provocative coverage through out the period of analysis.

To return to Eenadu, a good featurewas that it tried to give positive stories in its coverage. There was a human interest story of the conditions in Ayodhya and the common man citing a tailor, a cyber café owner and some householder all talking of being left alone and asking for peace. A clear indication of not wanting strife comes up in the story. Another story gives a rare case of a Muslim in UP who wants to read the Ramayan at the time of the verdict. Of course, all these also indicate the insecurities of the Muslims, who want to avoid trouble.

Another front page article is on the great change one has witnessed in the last two decades. A picture of school children in a tree formation accompanies the story. A positive story which talks of the change in the attitude from last time and how all political parties too are happy with the verdict of sharing the space. Then there was an article is on an atmosphere of bonhomie in AP state.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Religion without social conscience

Hyderabad has become a peculiar practitioner of religion. It all begins with the rains. First the Mahankali jaatra. Followed by Ganesh puja, followed by Durga puja.
When we were growing up in the 50s and 60s in Hyderabad, only Mahankali jaatra used to be held, the most famous one being the Ujjaini Mahankali of Secunderabad.
I do not recall loud drum beats and prolonged processions. People used to take offerings to the temples and yes, used to sacrifice animals and chickens in public. One day evening the Potharaju procession would be on, which was fun to follow around, culminating with the oracle event.
But the modern day avatars of the festivals interfere with the existence of others who may not want to participate. Take the Ganesh festival. It was a delightful family celebration, most fun for children. It was fun to pick the cutest figure and bring him home for worship. The lesson in botany would follow, as we actually used to hunt and find the leaves and flowers for the puja. Fun to hear the story of over-eating till one's tummy went bust. We would religiously get our books marked with kumkum for better grades!
Now it has taken on a monstrously polluting street avatar. It is polluting lakes; the sound pollution during the ten days of celebrations is unbearable. No one is worried about blocking traffic which may well include an ambulance or two. No one is worried about disturbing the old and the sick. They seem to be making some of the loudest drums these days. And they beat unconcerned late into the night disturbing school children, office goers, the elderly. And all this is done with money collected from you, me and the neighbourhood shopkeepers. Everyone, including the administration wait with bated breath for those days to pass. From social insesitivity, pollution of lakes, sound pollution, we also have thought pollution - leading to religious muscle flexing. One wonders whom the drums really mean to keep awake?
Now Durga puja, the latest entrant into the game of going public with what was private worship, is on in Hyderabad. It is past midnight and I can hear frenzied drumming outside. I hope Durgaji is pleased with all the energy being expended to show how much we love and revere her. Each of the processions would have several dozens of able-bodied young men, who are telling us that if society doesn't show them a better way of channelling their energies, this is what society will get from them. Sleepless nights from July to October.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Live TV and dubious judicial logic

Whether a self-proclaimed custodian of God can go to court claiming land in His name and whether Indian courts can endorse such ownership of land was not explored by any channel. But it is heartening to see self-restrained broadcast media and vibrant English newspapers doing a fair job of one of the most difficult news events of recent times.

Posted Monday, Oct 04 14:37:07, 2010

I have been following the relentless media coverage on the Ayodhya issue over the past few days. I must confess, mostly NDTV, CNN-IBN and occasionally, Times Now.
It was interesting to see the anchors of all the three channels earnestly assuring the viewer that this time around they are going to play it by the book and not fall for unverified information and its spin by interested parties. That was an admission of guilt in itself, and a conscious effort to ‘behave’. One caught the anchor on IBN-7 repeatedly exhorting restraint and removal of the live visuals of the chaos outside the court.
When the lawyers emerged from the court, things appeared to be thrown out of gear. The post-judgement coverage on these channels initially was completely high-jacked by the Hindutva brigade of lawyers who emerged out of the court waving victory signs. The media brethren swarmed them and transmitted live whatever they had to say without any filter. The drama of the court prohibiting people from entering the premises, putting the judgement on the website, etc., proved unnecessary in the end as the events unfolded. Restraint flew out of the window. Studio experts were compelled to give unexamined opinion before they had the time to think or read the judgement, based on the lawyers’ statements amidst jostling media persons.
The large number of politicians, academicians and more importantly, legal experts who were on various channels were perhaps as surprised by the verdict as were the anchors. But none of them, neither the experts nor the anchors, raised the two issues that are problematic in the judgement. The judgement under Issue No. 12. of its brief summary states that the ‘idols were installed in the building in the intervening night of 22/23rd December, 1949’. Every Hindutva lawyer triumphantly declared that the court accepted the thesis of the deities ‘appearing’ there. This happens to be the oldest trick in the book for religious goons of all hues. It is surprising that the High Court takes something like this to be a claim to legitimate enjoyment of a property if enough people devoutly believe it or can be mobilised to use the place for religious purposes. Does the High Court judgement set a precedent for legitimising the innumerable attempts at land-grab by planting deities in the middle of the night and claiming that they have ‘appeared’ there (virajmaan huye)?
It is also fascinating that the Indian courts actually admit cases filed on behalf of someone called ‘Ram Lala’. There are precedents to this cited in the judgement. The court, in all its seriousness, in its judgement summary on page number 18 says, ‘The instant suit was filed on behalf of the deities and Sri Ram Janm Bhumi through the next friend, praying that the defendants be restrained not to interfere in the construction of the temple of plaintiff nos. 1 and 2 on the ground that the deities are perpetual minors and against them Limitation Laws do not run.’ The case is on behalf of God himself, he has the advantage of perpetual infancy and some laws of the land do not apply (No laws should apply, if you ask me). Ordinary petitioners must be identifiable entities.
CNN-IBN anchor, Rajdeep Sardesai, repeatedly attempted to raise some questions through the reporter on location, Bhupendra Choubey, but either the audio failed or the reporter could not hear what the anchor was asking. One could not get any substantive response from the lawyers, other than the triumphalism of the victors, once again rendering the coverage more sensational than measured. The question whether a self-proclaimed custodian of God can go to court claiming some land in His name and whether the Indian courts can endorse ownership of land based on this principle was not explored by any channel.
The judgement by Justice Sharma further says, ‘This court is of the view that place of birth that is Ram Janm Bhumi is a juristic person. The deity also attained the divinity like Agni, Vayu, Kedarnath. Asthan is personified as the spirit of divine worshipped as the birth place of Ram Lala or Lord Ram as a child. Spirit of divine ever remains present everywhere at all times for any one to invoke at any shape or form in accordance with his own aspirations and it can be shapeless and formless also’. While the other justices did not go quite so far, this is an amazing judgement under a secular Constitution. One always believed that the courts arrived at judgements based on hard scientific/historic/forensic evidence. Now we have courts telling us that gods can go to court through ‘next friends’, and ‘holy’ places are juristic persons. Indirectly, the judgement is also endorsing the beliefs in Agni, Vayu and Kedarnath, in addition to Ram Lala, in the process effectively giving more power to the self-proclaimed representatives of the gods!
Media as neutral observers of events are expected to raise the questions that are central to any debate. But live television has its own dilemmas to face. More so, when covering incendiary issues like Ayodhya judgement. The commercial news channels have made a conscious decision to provide sober coverage and therefore seem to have treaded lightly.
When one contrasts the coverage in the next day’s newspapers, The Times of India, The Hindu and Deccan Chronicle, have all given more well-rounded coverage. The Times of India’s headline, “2 Parts to Hindus, 1 Part to Muslims” has already invited some criticism, enough for the paper to give a rejoinder asserting the accuracy of its headline. But the ToI coverage had several features, both pro and con, and opinion pieces. Notable is the piece by Dileep Padgaonkar, “The Muddle Path”, taking a critical look at the judgement and incisively addressing both the issues raised above. The Hindu also carried an accurate banner headline, much like the ToI and carried a well-argued piece, “Force of faith trumps law and reason in Ayodhya case” by Siddharth Varadarajan. The Deccan Chronicle, while putting a positive spin on the judgement with its banner headline, “Judges divide land to unite India”, had the unique item that gave brief profiles of the three judges on page 2, “Men who delivered the ruling”. The profile of Justice Sharma helpfully tells us that, “The judge, who can always be spotted in a white dhoti-kurta or white shirt and trousers, is a vegetarian who cooks for himself – and occasionally for colleagues and friends. He stays with his elder sister.” All three papers carried security stories from all over the country. All the papers also carried chronology of the issue in different ways in addition to curtain-raisers all the papers ran in the run up to the judgement. The print media had the advantage of time lag to do more varied coverage. The question is, whether the coverage was fair.
And should fairness mean that the media be neutral in every news report, or should they reflect the broad spectrum of opinion in the country? If the later is true, then the print media have successfully reflected the various shades of opinion. The news reports largely gave news and the opinion pieces reflected opinion on Ayodhya judgement.
In the case of broadcast journalists, the distinction between news and opinion is constantly blurred. Broadcast newspersons are too eager to take a position, infuse emotion, express their personal opinions and worse, to exhort the viewers on how to or how not to respond to the events.
The viewers of English news channels also see other channels like the BBC and CNN and find the exhortations on Indian news channels condescending. It is an insult to the intelligence of the viewer to assume that s/he needs guidance from the anchors on issues of the day. The experts on the panels ought to be the vehicles for this. However, an impression of neutrality deficit comes from two strategies of the anchors. One is the long-winded, opinion-laden questions that are shot at the experts; the second is the cosiness of the relationship between the regulars on news channels and the anchors. These two lead the viewer to believe that the debates are an elaborate web to frame issues in a certain way. The regulars like Ravi Shankar Prasad and Swapan Dasgupta have a mind set and world view which gets a free hand on the channels. There is also a temptation among channels to bring in people of polarised opinion to create an environment of inevitability to certain arguments and ideologies. After the Ayodhya judgement, one had the renewed good fortune of seeing Uma Bharati, Shahabuddin, Sheshadri Chary and to be enlightened by their opinion on the judgement. How many Hindus and Muslims accept these figures as representatives of their community’s aspirations?
In a 21st century emerging India, the completely unscientific/theocratic framework of this case was debated by the media, the politicians and the legal community. The English print media were able to raise these issues first this time because of the admirable restraint shown by the live broadcasters. Irrespective of what else the court has used as the basis for its judgements in this case, the question of whether a court defending a secular Constitution can invoke Agni, Vayu, and Ram Lala also needed public scrutiny.
It seems somehow more incendiary for the broadcast media to debate the issues of whether the mobs who demolished the Mosque should be punished, whether it is desirable for a secular democracy if the higher courts endorse the dubious logic of faith and belief being superior to legalities. It is the nature of the beast – it has this problem of immediacy, and impulsiveness. It comes in too soon after an event. It sometimes needs to stand back and let reason take precedence over emotion.
It is heartening to see self-restrained broadcast media and vibrant English newspapers doing a fair job of one of the most difficult news events of recent times.

Response to the Shoma Munshi extract

Response to the Shoma Munshi extract

I have several bones to pick with the author of the book about the Jensen and Oster study which she seems to quote with enthusiasm in this extract. PADMAJA SHAW has trouble accepting the links put forth here between soaps and development.

Posted Sunday, May 23 16:17:27, 2010

Read the excerpt from Shoma Munshi's ‘Prime Time Soap Operas on Indian Television' that's posted on The Hoot.

It is interesting to see that the much-maligned positivist tradition of research pioneered by Wilbur Schramm, Daniel Lerner, Everett Rogers and others is back with a bang (or did it ever go away?).

I have several bones to pick with the author of the book about the Jensen and Oster study (which she seems to quote with enthusiasm in this extract. I have not read the rest of the book):

Ø How is the causation established in the Jensen study? Since it is an empirical survey, was there pre-soap and post-soap exposure data on ‘women's empowerment' that was compared?

Ø Since it was between 2001 and 2003, what were the sizes of the families where men were helping women? What was the geographic location of the respondents? Close to major cities like Delhi and Chandigarh? Were women in this sample wage earners in the outside world?

Ø Was there already a declining trend in fertility (as is the case in a large number of Indian states since the 1990s), specially in states like Tamil Nadu?

Ø Also, since these are cable households, the sample has to be from the rural upper and middle classes with disposable incomes and with already established interactions with the outside world ' in 2001, certainly innovators and early adopters as the diffusion model would tell us. Women from such households are more likely to be educated and therefore more autonomous in some respects?

Ø Social researchers have established the link between women's education and decline in fertility rates ' also women with better SES (socio economic status) profile will do better. Women can be better educated where there are schools accessible. Where a conducive social environment exists for women's education. Of the states chosen for the Jensen study, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Haryana also happen to be three of the top five Education Development Index states in India, the other two being Kerala and Gujarat, according to the data provided by National University for Educational Planning and Development. Several states in India have failed to provide for basic educational infrastructure. Then, how much of female education and empowerment can be credited to the soaps? Or are we happy with the innovators and early adopters among the audiences?

Ø There may be intervening variables like expanding urbanization, migration of men, changes in social and economic equations within the family structure that could well have given the findings, even without the intervention of the soaps. Were these considered in the study as a significant factor?

Ø How can the analysis glibly imply introduction of cable TV has resulted in decreases in fertility and increases in the enrolment of girls into schools? Taking both Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu as an example, both AP and TN are high on cable density and fertility is declining in both but AP has performed the worst as far as education is concerned. It stands 28 among the states in literacy (with the BIMARU states). It is also performing quite poorly in other indices of women's empowerment. Education infrastructure like schools in the neighbourhood for girl children is obviously a prerequisite for literacy than introduction of cable television.

Ø “Smriti Irani [Tulsi] and Sakshi Tanwar [Paravti] as drivers of long term economic growth. Now, that's a thought!”, says a channel boss. One would like to thank one's luck that soaps seem to have a natural ‘novelty life cycle' and disappear from screens as soon as the audience figure out the game plan at work. Even within their ‘life', for a year or so the soaps are dragged on while the producers try to keep the audience interest up.

Ø One of the most insidious things about the passages is the assertion that only satellite television is capable of delivering transformation, (while citing Hum Log as a success!). There is no need for public service advertising, no need for state television. They cannot match the pull of a bedecked Smriti Irani. We have forgotten ‘Udaan' and several other shows on Doordarshan that were avidly watched and provided role models for women to get educated and live a life of dignity.

Ø The advent of satellite television has taught some Indian women to lose sensitivity to what's fashion and what's trashy dressing; taught some to think that doing well is to be ostentatious; taught some that to be traditional is to be clannish; taught some others to navel gaze and become body-centric when what's needed is a humane understanding of society and the happenings in our surroundings. In a three year soap, there may be an ‘empowering' dialogue or two that we can all quote with conviction. But exceptions don't prove the rule. It's the garish sets, jewellery, inherent lack of social goodwill and intrigue that are ever present in a subliminal way.

Ø It is unfortunate that AK Ramanujan is invoked to support something that has very little to do with what he was talking about ' he was talking about women's stories in folk tales, we are talking about synthetic media kitsch that is concocted week after week, not always based on lived and inclusive experience of a society.

Ø Back in mid 20th century, the mainstream media messiahs came up with the media formula for development: 10 newspapers, 5 radio receivers, 2 television receivers, 2 cinema seats for 100 population. UNESCO, which was greatly influenced by the scholars, also promoted the formula. Of course, now per capita telephones and ICTs are added to the list of ‘media minima' recommended by UNESCO since 1960.

Ø This ‘input orientation' carried over by the structural-functionalist school into media theory without acknowledging the social/economic structural issues in development has been much debated and discredited over the years. The scholars asserted that the media through ‘modernising' content form everywhere would be the trigger for development. The assumption being that it's the lack of imagination that keeps a population poor, not the systemic constraints.

Ø The media market in India has seen an extraordinary expansion, with foreign players thrown in for spice. But the last two decades have seen an extraordinary growth also in poverty, crime, religious fundamentalism, and corruption. Can media research afford to gloss over the existential reality and ask only questions about media's role in some nebulously defined social ‘transformation'?

Ø What really amazes one is, when it comes to impact of violent programmes on impressionable young minds, the scholars from the positivist tradition would dismiss the link citing the impossibility of establishing a causal relationship between violent behaviour and viewership with the existing tools of research, and invoking genetic propensity, impact of family and environment (anything but media!) as the possible reasons. But for ‘women's empowerment' here, a giant leap of faith is being attempted to sell soaps shown exclusively on satellite/cable television (and not on state TV) as the panacea for the emancipation of women in the backwaters of India.

Ø In Telugu, we have a saying ' trying to tie the bald head and the knee cap together …. Not going to work!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Women Against Violent Entertainment (WAVE)

Many ideas and the original inspiration for the WAVE campaign are from my brother, who is, surprisingly, a senior corporate executive.
The title WAVE (Women Against Violent Entertainment) is really to create a mexican wave across civil society against violent programming that targets women. Let's look at what the Mexican wave is all about from Wikipedia:
"The wave (British English: Mexican wave; also stadium wave) is achieved in a packed stadium when successive groups of spectators briefly stand and raise their arms. Each spectator is required to rise at the same time as those straight in front and behind, and slightly after the person immediately to either the right (for a clockwise wave) or the left (for a counterclockwise wave). Immediately upon stretching to full height, the spectator returns to the usual seated position.

The result is a "wave" of standing spectators that travels through the crowd, even though individual spectators never move away from their seats. In many large arenas the crowd is seated in a contiguous circuit all the way around the sport field, and so the wave is able to travel continuously around the arena; in discontiguous seating arrangements, the wave can instead reflect back and forth through the crowd. When the gap in seating is narrow, the wave can sometimes pass through it. Usually only one wave crest will be present at any given time in an arena. Simultaneous, counter-rotating waves have been produced."

We take this strategy and build a movement against violent programming on media that targets women. When I announced this campaign at a film festival yesterday morning, a young student came to pin me down angrily saying 'How can you stop such programming? It helps high light how women are victims of violence'. All of us understand dramatic, thematic necessity and the need to show violence to high light social problems. But the problem comes when in the name of social problems, violence is packaged to entertain or serve prurient interest. In soaps and long running serials, the drive for TRPs compels the channels and production houses to invent bizarre techniques for victimizing women. This is entirely gratuitous.

The broadcast code in India prescribes some dos and donts which the channels either do not know about or do not care enough about to implement. The Cable Networks Regulation Act provides for a system of monitoring programmes on private television channels, that includes district and state monitoring committees with significant civil society participation. A recent Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in Andhra Pradesh High Court has however made the Police Commissioner specially responsible. The PC is now attempting to constitute a monitoring committee to comply with the court directives. Any citizen who believes in democracy also knows that the police force cannot be an instrument for control of media. The problem went to the courts and then to the police because firstly, the state government did not take the trouble of implementing the Cable Regulation Act, secondly, the civil society complains in the private domain but does not seem to have a coherent strategy to crystallise public opinion. WAVE campaign is a strategy to rectify that.

The objective of WAVE campaign is to:
1. make people watch entertainment with more critical awareness
2. build social consesnus against violent behaviour
3. make people aware that being entertained by violence is perverse
4. make people aware of the connection between the TRPs and ad revenue
5. make people object to TV channels and production houses against violent programming that targets women
6. make people object to advertising and corporate support that makes violent programming that targets women possible in the name of TRPS
7. develop a Corporate Social Irresponsibility Index against corporations that support violent programming against women

What you need to do:
1. Whenever you wince at a gratuitously violent shot, scene, sequence, don't just forget it. Write to us at:
2. When you write, mention the show, the channel, the time, the products being advertised
3. The last item is crucial. We need to know who is financing violence against women.
The email ID is

What we propose to do:
1. First, we will write to the channel with your objections
2. We will also write to the production house
3. We will alert the Corporation that is advertising on the show.
4. We will inform the regulators


Saturday, 27 February 2010

A new approach to TV debate

Posted Monday, Mar 01 10:30:22, 2010 on the Hoot

The public information scene in Andhra Pradesh in these days of big expansion of media in the private sector could be a copybook example of what Habermas considered the ‘structural transformation of the bourgeois public sphere’. In this transformation brought about by corporate media, instead of being shaped from critical rational debate and reflection, public opinion has become the manufactured opinion of polls and media experts. According to Habermas, the link between the debate in public sphere and people’s participation in the political process is broken, making the citizen a spectator/consumer of politically manipulated news and entertainment.
However, on a reverse trend, while all of us addicted to the English news channels were plumbing the depths of the earth-shattering controversies like the one around the release of MY NAME IS KHAN, a quiet but significant change in strategy was being tried out by a relatively new Telugu news channel, HMTV.
The demand for a separate state for Telangana is one of the biggest issues to hit media headlines in Andhra Pradesh since the demise of YS Rajasekhar Reddy. The frenzied live coverage of events during the last two months has inspired public interest litigations against the media.
In a significant second judgment that escaped much media scrutiny, the High Court of Andhra Pradesh passed restraining orders on 10 January against several Telugu TV news channels, preventing them from showing repetitive footage of controversial acts and statements that whip up hatred between Andhra and Telangana regions ( The judge invoked Rule 6 of the Cable TV Networks Rules 1994 punishable under Section 16 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995. The judge put several Telugu news channels on notice for 6 weeks. He directed “the channels not to transmit programmes which create panic in the minds of the people of this state, programmes which are not verified properly or the speculative ones and also not to hold such debates which are of no use to the public.”
Amid all this, a new kind of programme took shape on HMTV, a 24x7 news channel. The channel first aired the programme called Andhra Pradesh Dasa, Disa on 20 December 2009 at prime time in the evening, when the issue of statehood for Telangana was at its most controversial. Each of the shows (running into its tenth edition) telecast on weekends ran for over 4 to 6 hours at a stretch. The channel received overwhelming public response and viewership, encouraging it to continue the experiment. The first edition was telecast live from Hyderabad, but the later nine shows have been from various major district centres of Andhra, Telangana and Rayalaseema areas. Each of the episodes drew intellectuals, students, community members, labour representatives and others.
The channel gives airtime to any speaker who wishes to express her/his views on the show. The central theme is the political future of Andhra Pradesh state. The show begins with the anchor introducing the theme with the latest developments, and the Chief Editor, Mr Ramachandra Murthy, setting the context and explaining the rules of engagement in the show. Each speaker is invited by the Chief Editor by name and asked to speak for a defined length of time. The speaker gets uninterrupted time. In Telangana area, a person advocating united Andhra Pradesh is given time to speak in detail first. In other regions, a person from Telangana is allowed to present the argument in support of separate state for Telangana.
At a time when opposing points of view are shouted down, whether on a TV show, at a public meeting or in our legislatures (sometimes resulting in physical assaults), the participating audience of the heavily attended shows listen intently and wait for their turn to rebut. The anchor and chief editor intervene firmly, only if any one resorts to personal attacks or digresses from the issue at hand. There is no attempt to cut short, interrupt or provide distorted summaries of the speakers. No famous last words of the anchors reasserting their own views on the issue. The show is for the viewer and without insulting the intelligence of the viewer, the whole spectrum of views is aired.
For a TV audience tired of listening to bickering politicians, wannabe intellectuals and self-important anchors who feel they are steering the fortunes of the nation, it was a revelation to hear the ordinary people’s take on the issue. The clarity of thought, articulation and confidence with which each speaker presented the ideas and the decency with which others listened helped reaffirm one’s faith in democracy. It is a lesson for our worthy legislators that the search for a solution is possible through discussion. The viewers got to know both the complexity of the issue and the historical background to it.
The show is in some senses a conventional talk show but has broken many conventions of the standard ratings-driven talk shows with much success. The show has opened the possibility for television to
• become a public access medium, providing a forum for democratic debate
• facilitate a genuine, critical rational debate even in the present media scene
• provide truly useful information and perspectives on issues of importance
• facilitate informed decision-making by citizens
The show also debunks the myth that today’s audiences have a short attention span and have no appetite for serious information. The show goes to prove that audience is thirsty for useful information that helps them understand contentious political issues. They also respect well-founded views with which they may not agree, following the Aristotelian dictum: It is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
Whatever the final outcome of the movement for separate Telangana state, the maturity of Indian democracy was demonstrated time and again on many occasions in the past few months in Telangana.
One such event that deserves mention is the Vidyarthi Garjana rally held at Osmania University on 3 January 2010. The High Court, after much hesitation, gave permission for the rally to be held from 4 pm to 6.30 pm. Only after the leaders gave written assurances the High Court allowed it. Over1,50,000 students from all over Telangana converged on Osmania campus. They were allowed in only after verifying their identity cards. The sea of students listened to speeches, shouted slogans, sang, danced and dispersed by 6.30 pm without a single untoward incident. It was an extraordinary demonstration of the democratic spirit of the educated youth in India that media forgot to celebrate because there were no clashes to report.
The Andhra Pradesh Dasa, Disa programme of HMTV provides one more cause for the celebration of the democratic spirit, as far as media scene is concerned.