MASS MEDIA AND NATION BUILDING
There are four traditionally accepted and broadly defined functions of mass media- 1) dissemination of information, 2) interpretation of events, 3) political education in the broadest sense of the term and 4) entertainment. However in the Indian context the scene has changed so fast over the last two decades or so that all instruments of mass media together have pushed the first three functions to the fringe and the last one namely entertainment with a capital E has come to occupy the core. As a result mass media is fast loosing its inherent capability to influence public opinion and play its role as a strong pillar of democracy and welfare state in the nation building process. While mass media itself, rather than those who own it, are to be largely blamed for this sorry state of affairs, central government- as the paramount guardian of public interest- also need to do some rethinking on the subject. Given below are some suggestions in this respect.
There are now almost a thousand commercial channels available to the Indian viewer. The prime and the sole interest of this medium are to maximise profits. This has put enormous and unprecedented burden on DOOR DARSHAN. Earlier it was the only agency to provide public service telecasting but had no rivals. Now, it has to survive in the face of stiff competition. This calls for a thorough scrutiny of the programme mix being offered by its various channels. It must be ensured that DD doesn’t deviate from the primary purpose for which it was set up in 1959 and takes due care to promote the basic values enshrined in the Indian constitution.
Even catering to the need of entertainment for the masses, some simple steps might be taken. Like showing award winning regional films on DD National in the Prime Time slot rather than during late night hours as is the practice now. There may be many more ideas but the point is that DD should not be run on the dictates of marketing managers/advertising agencies.
Another idea which would require broad-based debate and consultations is that should not the state governments be allowed to have their own channels or at least have access for a regular fixed hours to telecast governments’ respective programmes and policy initiatives! Of course, distinction will have to be made, even before the debate starts, between propaganda and public service.
It is an anomaly that while TV has been opened for private players; a cost-effective and people-friendly medium like Radio is still firmly in the hands of the central government. It is hard to understand as to why community radio remains a distant dream, while private operators have been given permission to run FM stations like Radio Mirchee. This selective approach has turned Radio into a vehicle of popular entertainment rather than a mass education instrument. There might be genuine apprehensions about the abuse of this powerful medium that reaches to far-flung villages and surpasses any other medium, but surely measures can be put in the place to prevent untoward, undesirable and unwarranted happenings on the community radio system.
It might be useful to recall that in 1975, SITE programme was launched for mass education through TV. It was taken up as a pilot project in six states. On the same lines, a community radio programme may be launched as a pilot through some selected universities like Shantiniketan in WB or Annamalai in TN or Guru Ghasidas University in Chhattisgarh.
It is quite obvious that print media in the recent years has developed a pronounced bias for the urban affluent class. Modern printing technology requires heavy capital investment. Not everyone can afford it. This has resulted, on the one hand, in concentration of press power in a few hands; on the other side it has fast eroded the institution of editor and free press has become an outdated notion. Press owners are now more concerned about profit margins rather than their social responsibility. This situation calls for immediate intervention from the government, as it is the custodian of a free press in a democratic society, and also as the instrument for dispensing social justice and creating social harmony and equal opportunity. One immediate step that central government might take is to set up a press commission. It would be also advisable to undertake a review of its advertising policy. The proposed press commission would look at the larger issues like price-page schedule, ownership pattern etc. and will take some time to come up with its findings and recommendations. But in the meantime a revision in the advertising policy of DAVP will be helpful in promoting socially oriented journalism and bring about welcome changes in the media scene before too long. Some suggestions in this respect are as follows-
1. Display Advertisements related to social justice and welfare programmes should be released only to Indian language newspapers. Main beneficiaries of these schemes i.e. general masses read only language papers. Therefore, for example, why should an advertisement about scholarships for ST students be given to ‘Times of India’ or any other English daily published from metro cities?
2. The weeklies and tabloids published from district places and remote towns are often dubbed as Yellow Press, but this perception can be changed through a strategy. These papers circulate in rural areas and thus, have a potential for becoming useful tools to disseminate public information. DAVP may consider giving them display advertisement on a fixed rate- long-term basis and ask for fixed space for publicity of welfare schemes. All newspapers routinely publish publicity material provided by advertisers. DAVP can also demand the same. This will help to curb the rising monopolistic trend and ensure decentralization of print media in the country.
3. Those newspapers, which run regular pages as a matter of policy on developmental issues and Panchayati Raj, be given preferential treatment for DAVP ads. This will ensure greater public participation in designing and implementing public policies in the true democratic spirit, and will also involve the print media in such formulations. It may be made clear that the stories/ articles need not be pro-govt. and that the press will be entitled to its views on the subject.
4. Those newspapers, which promote small regional languages, (such as Bhojpuri, Chhattisgarhi etc.), as a matter of policy and have regular space dedicated to editorial content in a regional language also be given preferential treatment. This will be particularly helpful in the vast Hindi speaking countryside in disseminating information on welfare policy initiatives.
5. Those newspapers, which are published from tribal areas/ schedule V areas need to be given some kind of special treatment, like extra rate over and above normal tariff etc. They might be treated as pioneering industry in a backward area.
6. Similarly those newspapers, which are published from small towns, district headquarters, having population below 1,00,000 should be given some additional advantage by way of special rate etc.
7. Display advertisements and small tenders etc. should be reserved for regional newspapers. At present English newspapers published from metro cities corner the lion’s share of all govt. advertising (mainly released through private advertising agencies). There is no justification in it. The metro newspapers cater to the elite, don’t reach villages and even otherwise have hardly any social concern.
PS: This article was written sometime ago, but the issues raised seem to be relevant even today.