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Commercialization of Media and Erosion of Public Sphere

Subhash Dhuliya |

In 1977, Jerry Mander, a former advertising executive in San Francisco, published Four Arguments For The Elimination Of Television. In the book, Mander reveals how the television networks and advertisers use this pervasive video medium for sales. Four Arguments talks about a lot more than just advertising. Mander attacks not only the contents of the television images, but also the effects television has on the human mind and body. His discussions include the induction of alpha waves, a hypnotizing effect on the mind, how viewers often regard what they see on television as real even though the programmes are filled with quick camera switches, rapid image movement, computer generated objects, computer generated morphing and other technical events, the placement of artificial images into our mind’s eye, and the effects that large amount of television viewing has on children and the onset of attention deficit disorder. Mander’s work deals with the “abuse” of television and its “harmful effect” and went to the extent of taking a strong anti-television stand and that too back in 1977 when television was in some kind of infant state in our country but the developed countries had started feeling the “heat”.

“With TV, the viewer is the screen,” said Marshall McLuhan. This symbolizes the power of the television medium which has increased drastically in recent years. With the advent of the age of information, television has become the most potent player in the world of popular culture and has acquired tremendous power in shaping views and influencing every sphere of life. With the drastic increase in the number of television channels and globalization of media, people are being exposed to all king of media programming. Some of these programmes have a strong inherent as well as imposed entertainment dimension, which has not been perceived in conformity with our culture, values and ethos. This trend is reflected in a kind of synchronisation of programming where form is expanding and content is shrinking. The entertainment component of media programming is expanding rapidly to achieve optimum commercial benefit. This trend is becoming dominant obviously at the cost of the public sphere.

Market forces have become an effective instrument in shaping the media content. With the emergence of liberal regimes in the wake of information revolution in the media sector, market requirements and people’s taste’ as perceived by the producers are playing greater role in determining form and content of media programming. Various channels are opting for more commercially profitable programmes. The market competition to capture prime time slots is getting intense day by day. Satellite television received through cable connection has established a dominant position in urban areas. According to some recent market research, some of the privately owned satellite television channels have left Doordarshan far behind in terms of viewership among additional purchasing power segment of the society which is the key to get advertisements, sponsorship and generate resources to run this high priced medium. The process of globalisation in the field of media and culture is much faster as compared to the political and economic sectors. With the advent of new communication technologies, the global flow of information and media programming has become in stantaneous.

Amidst these processes a new media has emerged which is highly urban-centric and does not at all intend to cater to the information needs of wider sections of society. One of the glaring examples of this phenomenon is the Star Plus programme “ Kaun Banega Crorepati” which is said to have stolen the thunder of all other television channels at the super prime time slot of 9.00 p.m. Now the other television channels are bound to offer superior “popular” programmes in competition and are not going to surrender meekly this super prime time slot. Because of fierce market competition, various channels are entering onto the market with highly popular (rather populist) programmes. The first casualty of the inherent tendency of free market to opt for more commercially viable media programming has been healthy entertainment. It has curbed the diversity of human interests and has almost marginalised the public sphere and obviously the public broadcasting. Blatant commercialization has shown little patience with novel voices and fresh visions. The wide range of human interests as reflected in the culture and traditions is not finding adequate expression in the new and emerging media.

The question obviously arises where to put the line separating the public and private. Recently the public sphere of media has come in sharp focus because of its blatant commercialisation. The concept of public sphere is now recognised as an important category for looking at issues of the media, politics and society. It casts light on the structural conditions determining the formation of public opinion through public debate as well as on the relationship between public opinion on the one hand and public policy formation and its execution on the other. Despite differences in views, the public sphere has been defined in relation to the impact and consequences of media in relation to a specific social and cultural setting. The nature of “globalised media” is amply reflected in the form of its negative implications that have already started pouring in. Its “ non-globalised” nature is coming in sharp focus in the form of cultural domination of the west which have only facilitated intensification of one way traffic of various kinds of cultural products.

At this juncture of development of communication, the future is blurred. Total clarity on the issue will be too utopian to expect but as of now even a pragmatic vision seems missing. Can the various cultures which exist on our planet with their numerous shades co-exist in any healthy manner? Rather, one way information onslaught has become a problem which should be tackled immediately at least for a large number of developing societies. Prof Nicholas Garnham contended in a recently published article over the issue of line of demarcation between public and private that “ the distinction operates normatively as well as descriptively. The conceptualisation of the boundary between the public and the private has shifted historically and it should be examined how the boundary has been mobilised to exclude both topics for debate and action, and social actors from legitimate participation in the public realm. The key argument here is that we can only clarify what the protagonists are actually talking about if we go behind this apparently simple distinction and begin to unpack the range of meanings, both descriptive and normative, that these terms mobilise and the thoughts and associated problems, from which those different meanings are drawn. In particular, in current debates about the media the concepts of public, and private as its opposite, are mobilised in three ways. First, around the cocept of the public sphere within a general institutional debate about the practice of democratic politics in general. Second, in a debate about the content and practice of the mass media, which focuses on issues of privacy. Third, in debates about media regulation which in the face of technological convergence and the growth of the Internet, turn on the distinction between the rights and obligations attaching to public and private communication respectively. In each case two issues are at stake. Where to draw the boundary between the public and private both generally and within specific spheres of social action, which in its turn depends upon how we choose to distinguish the public from the private ? And the extent of relative normative valuation to attach to each sphere- that is to say, do we regard, for instance, the private as a sphere to be protected against the encroachment and domination of the public or on the contrary do we regard the public as a sphere of superior shared social values to be fostered at the expense of selfish, corrupting private interests . Because both the boundaries and the relative evaluations are in fact mobilized both for intellectual analysis and political debate in shifting, confused and often matually contradictory ways, it is necessary to unpack the roots of these distinctions and evaluations to clarify their entailments. One of its salient dimendions equally open to the access of all public sphere is citizens. Another important dimension is for whom and for what purpose standards of public sphere are being defined? The process of formation of public opinion in any society is largely governed by these standards in context of the role of media. Debates over the evaluation of the political implications of talk shows, or other kind of current affairs programmes, has in part turned on the difference between those who stress the populist and emotive nature of discourse as dangerously anti-democratic and anti-social. The primary challenge is how to enlarge the reach of the media to those social segments which are denied legitimate information needs. The media gives rise to cultural incapacities which in turn create barriers to full and effective access to the public sphere and maximally can lead to the elitist defence of rule by experts.’’

While regulation of the network was considered legitimate, any regulation of the messages passing over the network was and is regarded as in illegitimate infringement of individual freedom, autonomy and privacy. Again, the infringement of the right to free speech cannot be detached from the overall environment in which communication media operate. The thinking on the subject has been influenced by standards set by the Western society without much attention being paid to the specific situations in the developing countries. This kind of standardization is irrational and non-pragmatic. The Internet has created an entirely new communication environment and some of the issues posed by the new situation demand immediate attention. The Internet has created new versions that are going to bring about fundamental changes in communication and media scenario. But in terms of accessibility, it remains highly uneven and does not give developing societies any chance to take a long leap forward and stand on their own in the face of powerful Western media giants. In the new environment, new type of conflicts are bound to occur. For instance, websites on the Internet do have the individual addressability and the nature of communication on the sites does facilitate a series of private individual transactions of the market mould because of its general accessibility. But despite Internet being a tool of public communication, its rights and responsibilities are associated only with those who control and use it. The control and use of new technologies require different set of regulatory mechanisms in differing political, economic, social, and cultural environment. The view that is taken on the issue will make a difference to the normative evaluations of the activity and any resulting regulatory policy that might be enacted. This is an issue which has to be dealt within the national domain. Regulatory mechanism has to be evolved for globalised media within the parameters of national interests. This has been the pattern all over the world and we are no exception to it.


Alternative Concepts

In the existing media market situation, private interests dominate over the public ones. The situation we are confronted by today cannot be left to the market forces alone. The term public and private and the differential valuations applied to each in different situations register deep unease over the conceptual difficulties that arise from this set of distinctions. These distinctions were developed as a result of complex conceptual, difficulties cultural and political history . They exist within the sphere created by history and are operative within those parameters . The market is set up as a threat to the public sphere the way in which the market and public sphere maps onto the public and private divide. The existing dominant global media systems are colonizing the life world and thus destroying the space of the public sphere. The public sphere is distinguished from the private sphere of the market on the grounds that individuals pursue their private, competitive interests in the market, whereas in the public sphere their actions are oriented to reaching uncoerced agreement on the common good or public interest. The public sphere as perceived before the advent of the present information revolution has under gone a redical change in relation to the dimensions of the issues being debated today.

The market, which was considered in the field of media till now, challenge to protect and nurture the public sphere out of the shadow of the market. It is in this background that market is considered as a threat to public sphere but at the same time it would be irrational to segmentise the media in terms of public and commercial sphere. There is a lot of common but largely undefined areas between the two and elements of being public and commercial are primarily a difference of degrees. In recent past this difference has widened a lot that generated the debate on the erosion of public sphere of the media. With the introduction of new technologies and domination of commercial interests, media’s role as means of expression of public thoughts is shrinking and more constraints are developing in the way of free and fair interaction between the media and the public. In most of the developing countries inadequate research and database also often prove a handicap for media, even if it is prepared to experiment and create some space for altermative concepts of programming. This is a reason because of which national media is attempting to be a carbon copy of dominant media concepts of globalised media control by the West. Despite the intense debate on the issue of public broadcasting, the developing countries tend to follow the developed world and are not trying for any kind of leap-frogging. But graphic imagery of public broadcasting has undergone a change in the new situation and some substantial steps are expected in the near future-but nothing can be predicted in relation to the impact and consequences of the scenario which is yet to be unfolded fully.

In highly developed societies public broadcasting has been staging a comeback and its space in media set up has been increasing. The main reason for public broadcasting coming out of hibernation has been the very nature of media programming people in developed societies were subjected to. In the United States (being cited because it is a highly developed information society), there are several studies that look at the long term effects of violence on television.

Television can be a powerful influence in developing value systems and behaviour. Unfortunately, much of today’s television programming is violent. Several studies have found that children may become ‘immune’ to the horror of violence, imitate the violence they observe on television, and identify with certain characters. However, this does not mean that violence on television is the only source for aggressive or violent behaviour, but it is a significant contributor. According to one estimate, by the age of 18 a youngster in the United States will have seen 200,000 acts of violence on television. Some studies indicate that children who watched a lot of TV violence at 8 years of age of 30, including hitting their own children. In America, children watch an average of three to four hours of television daily. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests children watch no more than two hours of television a day. Even in that recommended time frame, they will have witnessed 8, 000 murders and more than 100,000 other acts of violence by the time they finish elementary school.

Another study undertaken in the United States, titled The National Television Violence Study, discovered that 47 per cent of the violent acts shown resulted in no observable harm to the victim, only 16 per cent of violent shows contained a message about the long term negative repercussions of violence. On television, perpetrators go unpunished in 73 per cent of all violent scenes and only 4 per cent of violent programmes emphasise an antiviolent theme. The study found 44 per cent of the shows on network stations contained at least some violence, compared with 59 per cent on basic cable and 85 per cent on premium channels like HBO and Show Time. According to a survey conducted by US News and the University of California Los Angeles with many top-level Hollywood figures, 63 per cent of the Hollywood Elite say the industry glorifies violence. That is because violence is an effective promotional device. There are logical reasons why so many promotions feature scenes of violence. Promos have only a very short time to show something interesting enough to attract the viewer. Most promos contain several scenes thus complicating efforts to explain the plot in 10 or 20 seconds. With so little time, the easiest things to feature are those that requires little time, the easiest things to feature are those that requires little explanation: violence and sex.

Intensification in the Flow of Images


In our country also a trend is emerging in advertising which glorifies some kind of violence. Recently a number of advertisements have appeared on various television channels showing certain amount of violence, some daring actions and a certain amount of defiance for the rules, specially in the promos of automobiles. A recent study by the National Council of Educational Research and Training has documented growing aggressive behavioural tendencies among children as a result of viewing certain programmes laden with violence, aggression and jealousy. Commenting on the subject Mr Krishna Kumar argues in his article published in the Hindustan Times that,” cinema and television have made a substantial contribution to the creation of an unkind, volatile ethos. Bombay films have glamorised certain kinds of violence, certain other kinds of violence they have trivialised. Television has enabled cinema to reach our living spaces, making horror and brutality a homely affair, Watching scenes of cold blooded murder and rape since an early age allows children to develop a kind of derangement which hinders them from coping with the deep anxieties they carry. Why has the Indian State been so easy on the violence depicted in cinema and television? One answer is that it could not cope with the speed at which these media grew. Regulation of the media has proved far too complex for the bureaucracy to handle. The Prasar Bharati initiative was not allowed to work either. Vested interests of both the State and the market wanted it to fail. With Hollywood cinema determined to appear in Indian languages, we can only expect greater intensity dictum-‘if it bleeds, it leads.”

But can the steady flow of images watched nightly from television screens across the country be dismissed as simply entertainment? If the sheer volume of absorbed images is considered, how can what is shown on television have no effect on one’s own mental images? And if new mental images are created, shouldn’t it be logical to say that they can have an effect on behaviour? Each year children read less and less watch more and more television. In fact, people spending more time watching television is increasing and with much faster speed in a country like ours. Watching TV is a passive event. The audience remains completely immobile while viewing the box. Most viewing experiences are both quiet and noninteractive. All attention is given to the images. In order to receive stimulation from the television, the audience must be passive, and accept the predetermined flow rate of the images. The picture on the TV changes every five or six seconds through using various production techniques that are getting more sophisticated day by day. One researcher refers to these events as jolts per minute, noting that as time is cut up, the brain is conditioned to change at the expense of continuity of thought. Adults and children are conditioned to instant gratification and crisis at many levels. Children absorb millions of images from the television just watching it for one session. And what are they watching? With ever-growing number of channels, the choices are expanding. There is much more to watch! Sky is not the limit!

People in developed countries have developed a feeling of frustration over the excessive entertainment loaded with violence and sex. Some 80 per cent of Americans feel that TV violence is harmful to the society and that there is too much of it in their entertainment, according to a study. In several developed countries the situation is heading in a different direction. People are showing more maturity in understanding images bombarded by media as compared to initial phase of the development of new media of information age. In some developed countries public broadcasting stations are presenting provocative public affairs programmes about the vital issues of the day. It is being realized that television can provide high quality public programmes. What do viewers mean by quality programming?

An American research project was conducted on the documentary programmes about topics such as nature, history, science, and biography and included focus groups with documentary viewers in Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Portland, Oregon. To stimulate discussion, viewers were shown a series of clips from a variety of documentary programmes. Viewers were able to rate the programmes. The first significant finding from this research is that it is difficult to separate the issue of quality from the programme topic. When asked if the would prefer seeing a programme on a topic of high interest with low quality versus a programme of high quality on a topic of low interest, viewers overwhelmingly chose the high interest topic over quality. Topics that held the highest interest for viewers in order of importance were the following : Nature, Biographies, Medicine, Science, History, Movie Making, Archaeology, and Military. Viewers also expressed an interest in seeing programmes that were timely and new. Viewers generally favoured a strong topic with weak production over a weak topic with strong production. Findings of the survey reveal a clear edge of quality “public’’ programmes over “pure’’ entertainment. In a culturally diverse country like ours there is a lot to offer in documentary formats to attract audience and encourage inter-cultural understanding and make television more informative and educational in context of our national perspective without compromising the medium’s inherent entertainment dimension. The real challenge is to produce informational and educational programmes of entertainment quality.

Public broadcasting in a developing and diverse society like ours is dominantly targeted at the underprivileged sections of society, which are vital to all our programmes of national development. These sections are information-poor and have to be familiarized with a wide range of issues, such as new government policies and programmes for development, literacy, health education etc. One of the biggest challenges the development programmes have been facing right from the independence has been total lack of information among those people at whom they were targeted. The lack of awareness on the part of the masses has been exploited by the corrupt sections of government machinery to scuttle several development programmes. Media with the help of new technologies can spread awareness about development programmes of the government. The application of new technologies in this direction will make people more demanding towards the implementation machinery and can facilitate development of effective feedback mechanism and better monitoring of implementation of various programmes by the political leadership. An in formed citizenry is the best guarantee to ensure better implementation of all development programmes. All these objectives can be achieved only through public broadcasting. This sector needs more attention specially keeping in view the massive expansion of information and communication sectors. At present these sectors are dominantly governed by the commercial considerations resulting in proliferation of media with little relevant content in relation to information needs for national development.


Market Pressure

In a developing society like ours an analysis of products of television cannot be carried out exclusively from a study of audience shares among additional purchasing power segments of the society. Rather there is an urgent need to increase the actual reach of media to the people who are not part of the ‘market,’ and commercially are not a viable proposition. In any given social system and its institutions, it is imperative to understand the process behind the selection of media programmes. The process generates what the market requires. The so called market forces ignore those segments of society which are outside its defined parameters of any kind of media activity. This process is not limited to an in-depth study of each of the phase of television production, but also takes into account the evolution of external contents – political situation, cultural situatin, of communications media and the dynamics of the media market . Representation of the public sphere has declined drastically during the recent years – the period of boom in media and information technology. There is an urgent need to understand what is implied by these concepts within the ambit of the communication media. The television programmes can work as spaces where society discusses its objectives and their significance. If this be so, the issue is to see how and in what way it can be achieved within the canvas of production of the audiovisual world, finding ways to resolve the contradictions that are implied when making television products conditioned by communication policies close to their respective target groups while at the same time, making productions which are competitive in the audio-visual market. The contradictions of communication systems are being sharply defined on the issue of granting a high degree of autonomy in the editorial field, but with strong financial and structural dependence on the industry. This kind of autonomy by its inherent nature is bound to be hijacked by commercial considerations. Television tends to give higher priority to market pressures and economic factors than to cultural aspects; and more so in the situation the country is facing today. The process of reconciling them is difficult and often incompatible and this leads to a lopsided development of the media that we are witnessing today This becomes clear in the tendency of the programmes to take up popular, rather populist, issues that guarantee an audience, choosing participants for their ability to express themselves lucidly or for their extraordinary personal experience. Media industries in our situation cannot be left totally at the mercy of the market forces and certain regulations have to be enacted to ensure a certain semblance of order.

A series of steps have been taken in recent past in this direction, which are reflected in the forms of various regulations enacted and some other under consideration. The fierce competition between networks encourages programmes with a wide audience appeal, and which are far from assuming commitments in context of public sphere of media. This kind of situation, created by market forces is a most difficult challenge to meet for Doordarshan keeping in view its status of the national public broadcaster. This status of Doordarshan does not allow it to enter the market thought it has been making half-hearted attempts now and then. But such attempts have led it to a “neither here nor there situation.” The national broadcaster should not panic in the face of ups and downs of a volatile market but win a loyal viewership by the sheer force of informational, educational and healthy entertainment value of its programming.

Lost Opportunity, New Efforts

The biggest challenge before the national broadcaster is to carve out a significant place for itself in the emerging media market and to strike a balance between the public sphere and the ever-changing concept of entertainment. Privately owned television channels do not face this kind of situation, as there is greater amount of clarity in context of their” market projections”. They can allow themselves to be governed solely by market forces and the dominant and salable concept of entertainment even to the   extent of their programmes being addressed to the Lowest common Denominator. Doordarshan is handicapped by the lack of alternative media concepts and this responsibility should be shared by professionals in the field of art, literature, culture, cinema and other creative areas. The national broadcaster can only be expected to be a bit more sensitive on the subject which, tragically it was not when it was required the most during the initial phase of globalisation of media and when international media players were entering the Indian market. At that point of time, Doordarshan was commanding a monopoly in the sky. Though in the initial phase consumers were bound to incline favourably to wards new channels, Doordarshan failed to present its distinct character and kept on trying to follow the new entrants and thus entered into the market war zone of the choice of the commercial outfits. Even today there are moments when people get fed up of the excessive entertainment programmes but altermatives are not there to meet the demand.

Efforts are being made to position the National Public Broadcaster in relation to market situation in a way that it is able to discharge its social responsibilities. An extensive exercise is already underway to chalk out a twopronged strategy for the Public Broadcaster. The premise of this new strategy is to cater to information and entertainment needs of all sections of our society through broadcast of various kinds of programmes through different channels of Doordarshan. This strategy is targeted at striking a right kind of balance vis-à-vis its role as public broadcaster and at the same time not lose out ground to commercial channels in the fast expanding market of entertainment. The Public Broadcaster can do this job even by providing healthy entertainment programmes that are capable of commanding loyalty of viewers and capable of generating revenue. It can very well be achieved even without joining the rat race in the media market which keeps on surfacing now and then with much lesser loyalty factor. The new strategy and vision is amply reflected in the report of the Review Committee on the Working of Prasar Bharati (see documents section of the journal) and another bill that is in the drafting stage- the Information, Entertainment and Education Bill and some other bills aimed at evolving a regulatory mechanism. The Review Committee has placed the entire question in the right perspective as it pointed out “as a public broadcaster, advertising revenue should not be the only yardstick for judging the performance of Prasar Bharati. Alternative indices-related to audience size and share, programmme content and impact, channel reach and loyalty-are more meaningful and must be used. Once the vision and framework of Prasar Bharati are clearly defined, then, within these, revenue maximisation should be an important goal. Through this recommendation the committee has placed the broad objective of the Prasar Bharati, with its constituents-Doordarshan and the all India Radio-in the national perspective and a certain amount of clarity has emerged regarding how the Public Broadcaster is going to face the challenges of the market while at the same time discharging its social responsibilities. The mission of Prasar Bharati as defined and articulated by the committee further clarifies the following point –“ Prasar Bharati will aim to provide, in the most efficient manner possible, media content of the highest quality that will empower and enlighten the citizens of India, and audiences outside the country, through original and relevant programmes which inform, educate and entertain whilst ensuring a sizeable audience and reach.”

The hype created by certain kind of television and other media programming has proved to be short-lived on numerous occasions. In the ultimate analysis it is going to be the content and quality of media programming that would decide viewer loyalty despite the fact that a programme loaded with “ cheap entertainment” elements may attract a sizable chunk of audience instantly. But there is no denying the fact, that with the media boom its ‘consumers’ are also becoming ‘mature’ in choosing programmes to the best of their choice and interest and above all to take care of their information needs.

Quality Programmes and Loyalty Factor

Some programmes generate a kind of bandwagon effect and there is a tendency to jump for the same kind of media programmes because of often overrated impact on the revenue market. But this should not be allowed to become the governing factor in running the public sphere of the media, specially, Doordarshan and All India Radio. Various studies have pointed out that the media programmes heavily loaded with cheap entertainment elements have an inherent tendency to lose their ‘popularity’ while informational and educational programmes are capable of sustaining loyalty of their audiences.

To meet the challenges of the unfolding media scenario, a series of measures are being taken and efforts are being made to strike a balance between commercialism of media and to cater to the basic information needs of a diverse developing society like ours. To evolve an integrated approach the government proposes to address the issue through some regulatory mechanism for convergence between information technology, communication and entertainment sectors. The purpose is not to impose any kind of restrictions on the media but to make it compatible with our culture, values and the information needs and not to leave this vital sector solely in the hands of the market forces. Taking this factor into consideration there is an urgent need to protect the public sphere and learn from the Western experience.

The convergence of communication, information technology and broadcasting has become imperative taking into consideration the major advances made in the three areas in the recent past. The proposed IEC Bill- Information, Entertainment and Communication Bill-is expected to take care of this dimension. It will help in creating a new situation, which in turn can introduce new elements in the very concept of entertainment and its impact on the society and hopefully will facilitate emergence of alternative concepts of entertainment. There is wide and intense discussion and debate on the issue. There is a need to evolve a certain kind of regulatory mechanism for the media programming and systems in relation to its role in the areas of information, communication and entertainment. The proposal has been made to set up a Convergence Communication of india (CCI), a regulatory body which will have the powers to grant licenses, assign spectrum, enforce license conditions and act as a content regulator. The Communications authority is expected to play an important role in the vital new areas of telecom, information technology and broadcasting. The authority will function as a regulatory mechanism for telecom, Internet and broadcasting and also voice, data and video with convergence becoming faster. According to media reports, the convergence bill seeks to institute such a body with wide ranging powers in telecom, Internet and broadcasting . The authority will make recommendations to government on laying down conditions for new services in voice, data and video and handle other regulatory issues related to frequency allocation. It will also address the vital issues of terrestrial TV and direct to home TV broadcasting . The report further says the ICE Authority will have the power to regulate Indian web sites as it will be vested with powers to decide on issues such as inter connectivity and spectrum management. The authority will also have the powers to manage the spectrum or allocate radio and telecom frequencies, ensure technical compatibility and effective inter connectivity.

These measures can ensure to a certain extent a significant role for the National Broadcaster and thus can prevent the dangerous drift towards blatant commercialism as reflected in a number of channels having registered their presence in our media market.

The Authority is proposed to have three sections dealing with the transmissions (carriage) and programming (content) and the office of the spectrum manager. There is a need to introduce a broad code to regulate programming and advertisements to protect our national integrity and our unique cultural heritage and bring them as close as possible to be compatible to our values, ethos and traditions. The proposed communications bill envisages the setting up of an apex regulator, the Communications Commission of India, on the lines of the Federal Communications Commission of the US. The challenge for regulators is to develop consistent and relevant regulators, which do not inhibit the growth of the sector, but rather encourage technological innovation. Convergence will make it necessary to ensure adequate spectrum capacity that needs to be regulated. Even in a country like the United States need was felt to enact a communication decency act in 1997 which could not be made operational as it was declared a violation of constitutional provisions of free speech. In the United States, the First Amendment gives sweeping powers to media and again situations are not comparable as the need for such regulatory mechanism in a diverse and developing society like ours entirely different and accordingly our concept of free speech- from constitutional as well as pragmatic point of view.

Any kind of programme or advertisement code cannot be compared with highly developed democratic countries taking into consideration entirely different social and cultural environment and social systems. There are numerous occasions when curbs in different forms were imposed even in these free societies. Now the situation in our country does require some kind of regulatory mechanism to meet the existing and especially the emerging communication situation. Media is allowed to function as much as possible as a self-regulated system but there are times to initiate measures at governmental level. Indian society has always been governed by self regulating systems in relation to religious, social and cultural structures and traditions.

The sub-continental media market is not only full of entertainment programme of questionable value but also deals with the sensitive news sector. A number of foreign channels have already entered this sphere and some more are to follow. The news packaging of these channels is becoming region-centric and attracting a sizable chunk of audience . The news channels have a direct bearing on the political events in the region. The factor of the news channel acquires   The factor of the news channel acquires added importance keeping in view the volatile political situation that has been created by emergence of fundamental terrorist forces that are well entrenched in our immediate neighborhood. Robin Day, a television journalist for a decade and a half, says in his article published in the Encounter back in 1970 that, “the fact is that television’s dependence on picture (and most vivid pictures) makes it not only a powerful means of communications, but a crude one which tends to strike at the emotions rather than at the intellect. For TV journalism this means a dangerous and increasing concentration on action (usually violent and bloody) rather than on thought, on happenings rather than issues, on shock rather than explanation, in personalities rather than ideas.” This tendency of the television medium has grown a lot since 1970 when these comments were made.

Most of the urban areas of the country are hooked to 30-40 channels through cable connection. The number of television channels is increasing day by day. On the one hand international networks are entering with region specific programmes and on the other hand channels in regional languages are also on incline. Television penetration at present is estimated to be 75 sets per one thousand while personal computer and fixed telephones are estimated to be 3 and 22 respectively. By 2008, the figures for television, personal computer and telephones are estimated at 225, 20 and 125 respectively. India has an estimated 69 million TV homes of which 22 million are cable homes. Besides, there are 26 million telephone connections and another 1.8 million cellular subscribers. All these numbers are growing fast. If a single conduit is going to deliver multiple content, then there will be a strong need for legislation to ensure harmony in a field which may experience initial difficulties.

New Definitions and Redesigning

According to FICCI’s Arthur Andersen report, India has a very strong legacy of entertainment industry. It holds the record for producing the maximum number of films, large volume sales of music titles, and it is fast emerging as the global hub for production of TV and radio content. The report further says that the total turnover of this industry, which at present is estimated at $3.5 billion, is expected to go up to $20 billion by 2005 with export revenues of $4 billion. Given the inevitable convergence between entertainment and telecommunication, the potential of this sector is unrivalled. While technology drives this revolution, there is no disputing the fact that “content” is what will fuel the fire of convergence. The report further observes the entertainment industry is unique compared to any other Indian industry, let alone foreign, considering the diverse tastes and cultures the industry caters to. The report suggests that the Indian entertainment industry, currently valued at Rs. 15,400 crore, will grow to nearly Rs. 60,000 crore by 2005. According to the report, Indian film exports, worth Rs. 450 crore in 1999, are estimated to rise to nearly Rs. 12,000 crore by 2005: the Indian music market currently paged at Rs. 1,250 crore, is projected to touch Rs. 2,200 crore by 2005, and TV software revenues are expected to soar from the present Rs. 1,200 crore to Rs. 9,000 crore in 2005.

The public broadcasting in our country is largely left to All India Radio and Doordarshan. They are now covering almost the entire country. Private satellite channels have already established their strong presence in the overall media set-up of the country. Broadcasting uses television, radio, satellites, microwave, videotape and the Internet to distribute its programming. All these technological and other developments suggest that it’s time for a fresh look. Any redesign effort begins at the level of concepts- how the organization is now perceived, the services the organization expects to provide and the vision for the future. From these concepts new approaches can be developed. But it is a challenging job taking into consideration the nature of media market and dominance of cheap entertainment and commercial interests. Most importantly, the image must suggest the qualities of the organization. In this age of technology and science more knowledge is available to more people than ever before in history even though its distribution remains highly uneven. Television in particular has an immense power that needs a direction at times through regulations. Television has the potential to be a powerful medium of information and entertainment and if used properly, can be a useful tool for education, especially in this information powered age. But, the way this medium has developed it has been dominantly accepted as a medium of entertainment. Now in the wake of commercialization of the media it is creating new definitions of entertainment some of them quite disturbing. The information explosion as manifested in the television boom has generated fierce competition and resulted into vulgar and highly distorted projection of reality.

The entire media scene is dominated by television at present. It is deeply and widely influencing political, economic, social and cultural life of people. A kind of stage of media saturation has been achieved in a number of highly developed countries and the results have been mixed. It becomes imperative for the developing countries that they take into consideration experience of those countries and opt for leap-fogging instead of following the same path and repeating the misdirected development of media. It is more important for diverse countries like ours that were fully assess the implications of the emerging communication scenario and intervene on time.

In Lieu of Conclusion

In 1977, Jerry Mander, a former advertising executive in San Francisco, published Four Arguments For The Elimination Of Television. In the book, Mander reveals how the television networks and advertisers use this pervasive video medium for sales. Four Arguments talks about a lot more than just advertising. Mander attacks not only the contents of the television images, but also the effects television has on the human mind and body. His discussions include the induction of alpha waves, a hypnotizing effect on the mind, how viewers often regard what they see on television as real even though the programmes are filled with quick camera switches, rapid image movement, computer generated objects, computer generated morphing and other technical events, the placement of artificial images into our mind’s eye, and the effects that large amount of television viewing has on children and the onset of attention deficit disorder.

Mander’s work deals with the “abuse” of television and its “harmful effect” and went to the extent of taking a strong anti-television stand and that too back in 1977 when television was in some kind of infant state in our country but the developed countries had started feeling the “heat”. Now with the advent of full-fledged information revolution and accelerated pace of process of globalization, Mander’s devastating critique deserves some attention. The situation may not be that bad but Mander’s observations are worth looking at as they are based on West’s experience with television.

“Since television images move more quickly than a viewer can react, one has to chase them with the mind,” Mander says in the book. “Every advertiser, for example, knows that before you can convince anyone of anything, you shatter their existing mental set and then restructure awareness along lines, which are useful to you. You do this with a few very simple techniques like fast-moving images, jumping among attention focuses, and switching moods, Television programmes, commercials, news reports and talk show are all designed toward blind acceptance by the viewer. Because, after all if you see it with your own eyes, it must be true, it must be real. Flashing images on the video screen. Reality inside a box, Television offers neither rest nor stimulation. Television inhibits your ability to think, but it does not lead to freedom of mind, relaxation or renewal. It leads to a more exhausted mind. You may have time out from prior obsessive though patterns, but that’s as far as television goes. Television technology produces neuron-physiological in the people who watch it. It may create illness; it certainly produces confusion and submission to external imagery. Taken together the effects amount to conditioning for autocratic control.”

At the heart of Mander’s arguments, lies advertising. His arguments are based on the premise that “television is advertising.” It is difficult to accept Mander’s argument that television is only advertising and nothing else but the way and direction of programming it has acquired, advertising has definitely become the most important player in the business of television. It is an integral part of the total package of globalization- one creating space for the other. Media and specially television is creating spaces into which other products may fit in. That is a major dimension offered by the present process of globalization. It is a medium whose purpose is to sell, to promote market, In the words of writer Charles Bukowski: “(America is) not a free country-everything is bought and sold and owned.” Sales by definition, is the process of convincing someone to purchase what they don’t need. Advertising tries to convince someone that the solution to a problem or the fulfillment of a desire can only be achieved through the purchase of a product. “IF we take the word need to mean something basic to human survival- food, shelter, clothing; or basic to human contentment- peace, love, safety, companionship, intimacy, a sense of fulfillment; these will be sought and found by people whether or not there is advertising,” Mander writes, “People do need to eat, but the food that is advertised is processed food: processed meat, sodas, sugary cereals, candies. A food in its natural state, unprocessed, does not need to be advertised,” he says, “Hungry people will find the food if it is available.”

Television commercials and television shows both promote the purchase of commodities. Advertisers and television networks don’t want viewers to go out and search for the answers on their own. They want to provide the answers on television. Television is promoting a lifestyle. It is a virtual reality that advertisers and networks seek to promote in order to gain additional revenue. While watching television, the viewer is not seeing the world as it is. He or she is looking at a world created by advertising. Television programmes are put together with the conscious attitude of promoting a consumer society. But what makes television different from other forms of advertising, is that the viewer has absolutely no control over the images. The images flow at the pace of the advertiser; the viewer just watches passively. Bothe the viewer’s mind and body do not react, and cannot react. Mander calls television imagery a form of sleep teaching.

Sure you can change the channel, but you’re really only watching more of the same. Mander says, “Since there is no way to stop the images, one merely gives over to them. More than this, one has to clear all channels. However, when you watch television, the only way to escape the images is to turn the machine off.”

Unfortunately turning off the machine called television is not merely a mechanical action. It is much more than that!





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