There are 364 TV channels in India. They are competing for more and more viewer attention. For that reason at the moment 60 new channels are being launched every year. This number will also go up in no time. Very recently Rupert Murdoch, the media tycoon of the world, has declared that he would further invest $100 million in India to start six new regional TV channels. This new venture of Murdoch is fraught with danger so far as regional media'sfreedom is concerned. Because regional media in India are doing their job with very small capital and in almost each case hard news with regional bias is telecast, local issues are dealt with and the sentiments of local people are reflected in these media.
The modern concept of ?Infotainment? is not there in the present day regional electronic media. Of course, in the name of ?Infotainment? whatever is going on in the electronic media is nothing but trash. But then with large amount of investment the big players in this field are capturing the minds of viewers. If Rupert Murdoch comes he will capture everything overnight with his money-power. Then the question of journalistic freedom will take a back seat and people will be deprived of indigenous information for which they always wait. Rupert Murdoch or for that matter his Star Network will never satisfy people'sdemand or aspiration rather they would go with their own agenda which is nothing but motivated propagation of news, views and other entertaining programmes.
Technologies are now providing opportunities to citizens to create their own media slots. While the democratisation in the media is a welcome development, the information overload pushes all sorts of communication making citizens wonder what is true or credible. It provides extended opportunity for information manipulators to squeeze informed and credible journalism. With media owners dressing up unqualified and uncommitted people as journalists, there is increasing danger of anarchy engulfing independent, impartial and accountable journalism.
When we say sky is the limit, it means that we are hinting at something unlimited. In fact the world of internet and electronic media remain in that area. Taking advantage of this situation the driving force behind electronic media is trying to not only control the sky, but to subjugate the whole world with a definite motive. ?Cultural invasion? by this ?force? has become so obvious that it is hardly very difficult to understand this motive. Marshal McLuhan, the world famous person in the field of electronic media, once said, ?It is not important what you telecast on the screen, but it is very important how you telecast them.? His argument was that they are after creating a uniform world culture through electronic media. May be for this reason the news readers in Indian channels are always in formal English dress i.e. suit, boot and neck tie, etc. In private channels even girl news readers are compelled to wear this dress. Although the above dress is totally un-Indian, still this dress is insisted upon and we are now habituated to see this kind of un-Indian. Is it not an invasion on Indian dress culture?
As they did not face any effective protest or agitation against such motivated propagation of foreign dress, they have stepped forward and now they have started indulging with ancient cultural dress of India. For example Balaji Telefilms of Ekta Kapoor has produced Mahabharata all anew and it is being telecast through 9X channel. The producers claim that it has been based on well researched script. Hence they think that this Mahabharata would be better than the former one produced by B.R. Chopra. It may be or may not be. At the moment we are not concerned about that. We are concerned rather very much worried about the dresses the characters of latest Mahabharata are wearing. These dresses are all ancient Greek and Roman dresses. One can easily imagine that how an average would react to it? Yudhisthira, Arjun, Bhim, Draupadi, Kunti etc. are all appearing on the screen in Greek/Roman dress ? is it not a fantastic nonsense? Mind you, this is not produced in any foreign country. This is produced in India and produced by an Indian. What message they want to send to the people? Actually they are out to destroy our ancient cultural heritage.
There is plethora of such examples. In almost all serials telecast through different TV channels, one can notice that adultery is a very common thing in Indian society. As if all husbands and all wives are involved in pre-marital and extra-marital sex. As if we do not have any healthy social relationship. The most unfortunate part of the story is, viewers enjoy watching these serials. Hence this is going on uninterruptedly. We Indians are not even aware of this ?cultural invasion?. What a shame!
This has to be stopped. This is not the problem of India alone, other countries are also suffering from this cultural and ethical invasion. Recently International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) launched a project called Ethical Journalism Initiative. This has been launched in India and globally. The message of the campaign is that as the IFJ said, ?Politicians should not meddle in journalistic affairs, but governments can contribute in building an enabling environment for media freedom by removing obstacles to press freedom and improving the status of people in journalism.? Governmental action in this country is inadequate, stuck in compartments and therefore ineffective while the status of people in journalism continues to deteriorate. Healthy regulation that promotes information freedom but make media owners accountable to the principles of democratic values would have also to take into account the need for improving the status of mass media.
With truth becoming increasingly victim to mass hysteria manipulated by vested interests, journalists have to work amidst rising insecurity and threat to practice of responsible and committed accountable journalism. The Central and state governments have to realise the futility of continuing to treat mass media regulation and status of journalists in compartments. The Press Council of India has become ineffective in promoting accountability mainly because its orbit is restricted to print media. The Working Journalists Act leaves out the media personnel outside the print sector. The Information Technology Act is left behind by ever changing technology developments. Government is stuck with draft Broadcasting Bill that has serious defaults.
?In such a situation good journalism is the continuing victim. The rise of media ownership concentration is threatening media independence. This shows that compartmentalised regulation will vacillate between media anarchy and concealed censorship.? This opinion has been passed in a resolution of National Union of Journalists (India) in its national executive committee meeting held at Haridwar on 9-10 August, 2008. Hence, NUJ (I) thinks, government should come forward with a Convergence Bill covering all aspects of mass media to promote media freedom within accountable journalism and improved and secured status of professional journalists.
(The writer is a former member of Press Council of India.)