The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, January 12, 2003

Myths about media
Gobind Thukral

Media and Society—Challenges and Opportunities
edited by Vir Bala Aggarwal. Concept Publishing Company, New Delhi. Rs 300.

INDIAN academicians, scholars and practitioners of journalism rarely look at the theory and philosophy of the media. Nevertheless they are all consumers. In the West, whole lot research goes on endlessly. Schools of mass communications, universities, media institutions and academicians are deeply involved in probing the role of the mass media in shaping society. Newspapers, newsmagazines, radio, television and the Internet are all being observed and extensively written about. In fact, newspapers, magazines and other organs of mass communication carry regular columns. Some major newspapers are under scan on a daily basis. Recently, The Washington Post did not do justice to the massive demonstration against the war on Iraq. A media watch group consisting of academicians, activists and lay readers, besides well-known media personalities, mounted sharp criticism. As a result, later demonstrations across Europe and America were "properly" covered. The media clearly has emerged a powerful institution and the need to understand its role, whether as propagandist of the ruling elites or as the protector of people’s rights in all its dimensions, needs to be watched and written about. The written world is just not gospel truth and the media is not sacrosanct. This myth needs to be done away with.


The book under review, which is a collection of articles presented at a seminar held at Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla, in October 2000, is such an attempt in this regard. Normally, such seminars are forgotten the day these are over and its credit goes to Vir Bala Aggarwal for taking pains in collecting the articles and presenting these in the form of a book. What kind of mirror is the media to society is a point of debate. Does it tell the truth or invents lies and half-truths on behalf of the governments, politicians, ruling elites and of course the owners/publishers? How it shapes society? These are some vital questions. First, the media is not monolithic. Second, it is not a voluntary institution. Owners/publishers and even editors have interest in profits and power. It is essentially the capitalism that drives the media. If French language was spread more by newspapers and military barracks than by schools, it can be safely asserted that the spread of Hindi language to the newspapers (growth was over 500 per cent in two decades ending 2000) and films, the another medium.

The mass media is no longer seen as the purveyor of neutral information and contemplative comment. There is an increasing apprehension that idealism and liberalism have deserted the profession to a great extent. Now both the print media and television journalists are impatient to unload the precooked and packaged news and views (largely the products of the new consumer culture who are concerned with trivial issues) almost in an attacking fashion. There is an alarming sameness about all this, and the reader or viewer is left with no insight to form his own opinion; he has either to lump it or leave it. There is no dialogue between those who write or telecast and those who read and view. It is strictly one-way traffic.

While modern technology has brought in live television, more vibrating radio and much better produced newspapers, poverty and illiteracy have limited the reach of the media. The Press reaches one third of India’s households, while TV reaches 47 per cent of the population. While satellite TV channels are free to telecast news, only the AIR can broadcast news. FM radio stations, which are now going into private hands, can broadcast entertainment programmes. The state broadcasting stations have functioned by and large as mouthpieces of successive governments, criticism in and outside the Parliament notwithstanding.

The book has interesting contributions from some veterans of the field like Radhye Shyam Sharma. M.R. Dua, Jaishri Jethvaney, Shyam Khosla and Ravi Dhar. While the first part of the book deals with the contemporary media landscape, the second part takes up media and deployment issues. The attempt has been made to touch upon major issues concerning the media in this country. While discussing issues such as media and conflict (Jethwaney) or global civil religion (by V.S Gupta) or dot journalism (by Sheetal Thapar) or rural development (by R. S Dalai), there is an effort to place ideas in some context. There is another good contribution by Aggarwal on the Indian language Press, which is witnessing a revolution. However, few articles have been dealt with a touch-and-go approach. For example, the issue of relationship of newspaper owners and journalists with the government has not drawn full attention. One fundamental issue how mediapersons adapt, and are adapted to the demands of the system, needed more attention in such a book.