New on my other blogs

"Gandhi is dead, Who is now Mahatmaji?"
Solar scam reveals decadent polity and sociery
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen


29 September, 2012

Towards a Media University


India is going through a media boom. According to the annual report of the Press Registrar, which does not give a full and reliable picture as it is based on voluntary disclosure, last year there were more than 82,000 newspapers in the country, about 10% of them dailies, and their total circulation was around 330 million. The big story, however, is the vast expansion of the electronic media. In two decades, more than 800 television channels have come up. They include about 100 round-the-clock news channels, which have made breaking news and live television a continuous experience. More channels are on the way. Television now reaches about 150 million homes. Thanks to the spread of computers and smart phones, the new media is also expanding rapidly.

The last two decades also witnessed expansion of facilities for training of journalists. However, media institutions have been proliferating faster than training facilities, leading to a steady growth in the shortage of trained media professionals. Since the bulk of the journalism schools are substandard, the quality of available professionals leaves much to be desired. It is not, therefore, surprising that complaints about low standards of the media are widespread. Often long-time readers are heard bemoaning fall in the standards of their favourite newspaper. The ills attributed to the media are myriad. Almost every malaise that afflicts it can be traced to lack of professionalism, even though it is not always identified as such. Take, for instance, the evil of paid news which has been widely debated in recent times. Those who took up the issue vigorously viewed it primarily as a problem concerning politics, but it cannot be divorced from the problem of lack of professionalism in the media. 

With literacy rate and purchasing power on the rise, India’s media and entertainment industry, valued at Rs 652 billion in 2010, is expected to grow at more or less at the present rate for at least two decades more. The print media’s overall growth rate is pitched at 10% a year, with the regional press registering a higher rate of 12%. Last year the Economist reported that India’s newspaper market, the fastest growing in the world, had outstripped China’s, with 110 million paid-for copies. The electronic media market is set to grow at an even faster rate, with the radio forging ahead at 20%. If journalism education does not grow at a comparable rate the gap between the demand for media personnel and their supply is bound to widen, leading to further deterioration in standards.

Fall in media standards is not just an Indian problem. Complaints in this regard are common even in the West, whose media we habitually ape. The rot in Murdoch’s empire, revealed by the recent UK inquiry, is but the tip of the iceberg. It is, of course, a natural consequence of the greed for profit. The journalists who were accomplices in the misdeeds, too, bear as much responsibility for them as the owners. While there may be differences on the cause of the malaise, there can be no two opinions on the need to strengthen the professional foundations of the media and to reinforce professional values to find a lasting solution to the problem. That calls for quality journalism education.

Early Indian newspaper practices followed the British tradition. New recruits picked up the rudiments of journalism during in-house training under experienced editors or senior members of the staff. After World War II, American influence spread and institutions to impart journalism education appeared. Some universities began journalism courses and a college of journalism was established at Nagpur. Later a Hindi-medium journalism university came up in Madhya Pradesh. Newspaper owners evinced little interest in these institutions, and editors, believing that journalism, like swimming, has to be learnt by doing, did not attach much value to their degrees and diplomas. There was also a proliferation of diploma courses, which, though of an elementary nature, helped identify young people who aspired for a career in journalism. Lately new generation journalism schools which provide short-duration courses with emphasis on new technology have come up in different parts of the country. They charge hefty fees which generally limit access to the institutions to youngsters belonging to the affluent sections of the society. On passing out these students can look forward to a good start as their campuses attract corporate recruiters. They can surely be expected to make good media honchos but can they be relied upon to keep in mind the larger interests of the society with the limited exposure that they get to the problems of the oppressed and the marginalized through occasional lectures and short field trips?

While educational reform is a hot topic in India today there has been no serious discussion on journalism education. However, the subject has been discussed keenly elsewhere in the world in the past few decades. In a 2006 paper, evaluating the ideas thrown up in the process, Indiana University professor Mark Deuze, drew pointed attention to a major weakness: they tend to reify and essentialize existing ideas, values and practices within the constructed sequence ignoring the ongoing hybridization and convergence of genres, media types and domains. He noted that most if not all of the media across the world are developing along different but related lines of fragmentation and generalization. Clearly, the media landscape is undergoing complex changes and journalism education needs to be reordered to meet the new needs.

Both the apprenticeship scheme and the short-duration course evolved when print dominated the media. Essentially, they prepare a newcomer to the profession to meet current needs. Most editors are quite content with these systems which prepare the newcomer to internalize what the seniors do and fall in line. With technology transforming the media at a pace unknown in all its history, the time has come to think of a new mode of journalism education to produce media personnel to meet not just today’s needs but tomorrow’s as well. The fast pace of television and the new media does not permit slow induction of the newcomer as in the print media. He (or she) must come in well equipped, ready to go full steam ahead straightaway. Since the boss may well be a product of the old school and not quite familiar with new technology, the new entrant may have to be an innovator and not a mere imitator. In the circumstances, we need a well-rounded programme of media education to produce personnel with a range of skills to handle complex tasks. It must take into account the social, economic, political and technological environment in which the media functions. 

While academic studies relating to journalism have been scarce in India, we can benefit from the prodigious labour of Western scholars. However, we must recognize that adoption of Western models has its pitfalls. The current state of the economic and communication models of Western origin does not commend them as good examples to follow. We may take from the Western experience what is appropriate for our conditions but we must explore the possibility of developing a new model of journalism education which will best serve our interests as well as those of other countries with comparable political and economic conditions.  

When a journalism school is oriented towards a specific medium, it is likely to turn out products with the kind of skills needed to succeed in that particular area. In recent years, around the world, there has been an increasing tendency among journalists to move not only from one institution to another but also from one medium to another and from one country to another. We, therefore, need a pattern of education that prepares the individual to work in different environments. The emergence of a converging media landscape further reinforces this requirement.

The media is linked with the society in a way no other industry or profession is. This unique relationship enables journalism to play a role as an agent of social transformation. Journalism education must give entrants to the profession a clear understanding of what they can do, how they can do it and why they should do it. Contrary forces are at work in modern society, some driving towards globalization and some towards regionalization. Some Western academics have identified corporate colonization of the newsroom as an issue that demands attention and suggested that journalism curriculum should cover commodification of news and matters that come under the label of infotainment.  

Whether generalist or specialist, the journalist must have a broad knowledge base. This can only come through exposure to a wide range of subjects. A multi-disciplinary university environment offers the best chance for providing such exposure.  In the age of technology-driven media convergence, qualified journalists alone cannot ensure quality. Trained personnel are needed in the technical and managerial departments as well. Setting up of facilities to train the personnel required for every kind of activity in the media industry in one location will make it possible to develop adequate infrastructure to impart practical training. All this suggests the time has come to think in terms of a Media University.   

A full-fledged university is an ambitious project which has to be planned carefully after assessing the current requirements as well as the needs of the immediate future in consultation with representatives of the industry and competent professionals with practical knowledge of the working of various sections of the media. While this may take time to materialize, Kerala, which is teeming with jobseekers, has to devote urgent attention to expansion and modernization of the existing journalism training facilities so that it can benefit from the burgeoning national media market. -- Media, bilingual monthly journal of the Kerala Press Academy, September 2012. 

26 September, 2012

Reign of Terror in Koodankulam: Fact-finding team's report

A three-member fact-finding team which visited Koodankulam and neighbouring villages says in its report that the law-enforcing machinery has been behaving in a way which has no place in a country that calls itself democratic.

“If people who have resisted and protested peacefully for a year can be charged with sedition and waging war against the nation in such a cavalier way as has been done here, what is the future of free speech and protest in India?” the team asks in its report released today.

The team comprising  Mr. B. G. Kolse Patil, former judge of the Bombay High Court, Ms Kalpana Sharma, senior journalist, Mumbai and Mr. R. N. Joe D’Cruz, Tamil writer, Chennai, visited Idinthakarai, Tsunami Colony, Vairavikinaru and Koodankulam and recorded the testimony of witnesses regarding police atrocities of September 10 and 11.

The following are excerpts from the report:

From individual testimonies of people in Idinthakarai it is evident that many people have been injured. We saw people with burn injuries when they came in the path of the tear gas shells that were fired. Others had injuries from the lathi charge. In several cases people had to get stitches on these wounds. But the most important issue that appeared repeatedly was that people were afraid to step out of the village to seek medical help for fear that they could be arrested.

 Villagers complained about the desecration of the Lourdes Matha Church in Idinthakarai, where police had reportedly broken an idol of Mother Mary, and had urinated inside the church premises. Broken pieces of the idol were shown to the team.

In the Tsunami colony, the fear was palpable. Most houses were locked as people are afraid to return to their homes. Several villagers showed us their houses where windowpanes had been broken, cupboards ransacked and doors damaged allegedly by the police who entered the village on September 10. Thereafter for several days, a police force camped in the village. As a result even today many of the residents of the village are afraid to spend the night there and instead sleep in the tent outside the Lourdes Matha church in Idinthakarai.

Fear was also evident in Vairavikinaru village where villagers showed us evidence of the destruction to houses when the police party raided the village on September 10. Nine people were arrested including a 16-year-old boy and a 75-year-old man who is practically blind in one eye. The people we spoke to kept repeating that they did not know what they had done to invite such treatment from the police.

Villagers in Koodankulam are even more terrified as they live closest to the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project. On September 10, a large police contingent entered the village, arrested 34 people, broke into houses where the frightened residents hid, and destroyed property and vehicles. Now, villagers said they are so afraid that they lock their doors after dark, many cannot sleep and are fearful when they hear a vehicle entering the village.

In all these villages, one common factor was that each of those arrested was charged under identical sections. These included 124A (sedition), 121A (waging war against the state), 307, 353 and 147 and 148.

The other more disturbing testimony was from the women in all four villages. They spoke of the abusive and sexist remarks of the police when they came to their village and also when some of the women went to the police station. One disabled woman gave evidence of physical molestation and another, who was part of protest on the beach near the plant, spoke of police chasing the women into the sea and making obscene gestures.

Despite this situation, villagers expressed their determination to oppose the project. However, they repeatedly asked why no one from the government or from the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited was prepared to hold a proper public hearing where they heard the apprehensions of the villagers and presented their point of view. They asserted that as the people living closest to the nuclear plant they had a right to question and to know all the facts.

Although we did not have the time to independently verify some of the things the villagers told us, we could conclude the following based on what we saw and heard:

1. We believe that our findings raise a matter of great gravity given that they endorse widespread reports about violence against women, children and the elderly by the police. The actions of the police also include acts of looting and damage to public and private property and open intimidation. Most importantly, they represent acts of illegality that cannot be challenged by the victims as the perpetrators of the crimes are the
police themselves. We urge the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, State/National Commissions for Women, and the National/State Human Rights Commissions and the Hon'ble Supreme Court to take serious note of these violations and act to restore normalcy and a sense of justice.

2. That sections like 124A, 121A had been irrationally used to charge those arrested on September 10. Villagers showed us notices from the police with identical charges irrespective of the age of the person arrested, including four juveniles and several senior citizens.

3. The public humiliation and beating of young boys and old men is bound to leave deep wounds in the psyches of the victims and those who witnessed it. Mothers and husbands have seen their sons and husbands beaten and dragged off by the police.

4. So many women spoke about the abusive language and sexual gestures and actions of the police that we do not doubt their version.

5. The action of the police has created a fear psychosis in the area. There are police barricades at the entrance to Kudankulam and some of the other villages. When you go on the road you can see the massive presence of the force. People feel as if they are under a state of siege.

6. The desecration of the Lourdes Matha Church in Idinthakarai by the police is a dangerous and deplorable act.

7. The injuries that we saw were real and not imagined. The fact that people have little or no access to health care and are afraid to step out and seek it is a serious matter. Many said they did not dare step outside the village to seek medical help for fear of being arrested or attacked by the police.

8. The damage to homes in the Idinthakarai Tsunami Colony are also real and not imagined, as alleged by the police and mentioned in newspaper reports. The fear created by the police in that and other villages where they attacked is also there for all to see.

9. The fact that people feel helpless about reporting these atrocities is another reality that does not require further confirmation. Repeatedly we were told that people did not know how to seek justice when doing so would mean going to the very police that had attacked their homes and arrested their people.

10. The refusal of the authorities at the Juvenile Home to allow us to see the boys in their custody further strengthens our fears and suspicion that the boys had been badly beaten and traumatised.

We believe the use of force against peaceful protestors was extreme and totally unjustified. People have the right to hold a peaceful protest and even if the police have to disperse them, there are ways to do so without injuring people. Why was no effort made to negotiate with the leaders of the movement before lathi-charging a crowd in which there were so many elderly people, women and children?

The reign of terror that followed September 10, resulting in a palpable fear in all the villages, is condemnable, as is the desecration of places of worship by the Police. These villages have no choice but to live in close proximity to a facility that they believe puts their lives in danger. Is the government planning to continue terrorizing them to force them to stop expressing their concern?

The targeting of women by the police through abusive language and physical molestation has to be condemned in the strongest terms. Why were male policemen allowed anywhere near women protestors when women police were also present in strength?

Although we have attached a list of 56 people who have been remanded, many more people cannot be traced or have been reported missing. Furthermore, the police appear to have deliberately lodged those remanded in jails far away from the area, thereby making it virtually impossible for the families to visit them.

After two days of listening to testimonies and viewing the damage done to homes and vehicles allegedly by the police, we have to conclude that this kind of behaviour by the law-enforcing machinery has no place in a country that calls itself democratic. If people who have resisted and protested peacefully for a year can be charged with sedition and waging war against the nation in such a cavalier way as has been done here, what is the future of free speech and protest in India?

25 September, 2012

Silent Emergency: People's hearing on fabricated cases

A people’s hearing on fabricated cases will be held at the Constitution Club, New Delhi, on Friday, September 28, and Saturday, September 29.
Justice Rajinder Sachar, Dr Binayak Sen and Saba Naqvi are among the members of the jury.
The following is a communication from the organizers of the event:
The nightmare of the infamous Emergency of Mrs. Indira Gandhi was supposed to be over in 1977 when it was lifted after two years due to large scale public protest. Political parties, institutions and individuals who defended Emergency were discredited. The sigh of relief evoked a hope for a functioning democracy in India.

But today, we are entering a similar phase of authoritarian governance without any formal declaration of Emergency. This Silent Emergency has regulated, controlled and restricted all space for democratic public protests against ruling governments. Custodial deaths and encounter killings have become a routine phenomenon. Rape, murder, loot, torture and arrests in Manipur, Nagaland and other north eastern states as well as Kashmir have even crossed the excesses of the Emergency period. Many discriminatory laws have been enacted to silence the Media without a censorship. Several discriminatory laws were enacted to enhance and strengthen the power of the State over civil society and crush dissent.

Laws to facilitate corporate control and loot of the resources of people are being enacted. This has also become a major reason for violation of the human rights of Adivasis, Dalits, minorities, farmers, fisher people, workers, activists and human rights movements. The human rights defenders who take up burning issues of the people are being targeted. False cases are being fabricated against activists, people’s movements, media, theatre activists, minorities, self-determination movements, Dalits and Adivasis in a major way. Thus thousands of innocent people are languishing in Indian jails without any trial.

In the context of the Silent Emergency in our country we would like to invite you to attend the ‘PEOPLE’S HEARING ON FABRICATED CASES’ which has the following objectives:
  • To defend fundamental rights, human rights and the Indian Constitution to preserve our democracy
  • To popularize some of the most brazen cases of fabrication of false charges against political dissidents and members of the Muslim, Dalit and Adivasi communities
  • To facilitate further legal action for freedom of these innocent people
  • To generate pressure on the mainstream media to play a more socially responsible role
  • To generate pressure on the institutions of Indian State for the release of undertrials.
The Programme:

The organizers expect the participation of around 50 victims, their family members or friends whose testimonies will be heard by a jury comprising of judges, lawyers, journalists, human rights activists and artists. After listening to all the presentations the Jury will report their observations and conclusions with clear recommendations for various institutions of the Indian State.

Solidarity Youth Movement – Kerala, Indian Social Action Forum – INSAF, PUCL, AISA, SIO, Right to Food Campaign, KSMTF (Kerala Swathantra Matsya Tizhilali Federation), PPSS (Anti Posco Movement), ICR, Focus on the Global South, Justice for Maudany Forum, Visual Search, Moving Republic, SAHELI, Pedestrian Pictures, National Campaign Against Fabrication of False Cases,, Jamia Teachers Solidarity Assiciation, Jamia Student Solidarity Forum, Bharathiya Muslim Mahila Antholan, National Adivasi Alliance, Kabani - The Other Direction, Human Rights Alert, Dalit Human Rights Movement (DHRM) – Kerala, Forum for Democracy and Communal Amity, Action for Social Equality, INSOCO - Indian Solidarity Committee for freedom democracy & human rights, Center for Harmony and Peace – Varanasi, PUDR, Socialist Front, Student of Resistance.