The Media Convention, ‘Media Musings’ held on 20th March to mark the occasion of the 10th Anniversary celebrations of Amrita School of Communication started with a brisk inaugural address in which the Dean of Amrita School of Engineering, Dr. Sasangan Ramanathan, succinctly summarised the idea behind a journalistic education, the ability to ask ‘why’ even under difficult circumstances.
The keynote address was delivered by Prof. M. D. Nalapat, Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian who described India as a democratic society with a colonial style of administration. He spoke of the need to empower civil society using technology to create a horizontal society that flattens outmoded hierarchical structures. Touching on human rights, he spoke about the need for universalization and an inclusive approach that encompasses a broad range of human behaviour and activities. He stressed the danger of extremism and the importance of contextualizing communication and adopting perceptions that unite people globally.
Prof. Sunit Tandon, Director General, Indian Institute of Mass Communication, placed the discussion for Round table 1 Debate or decibels, in context by giving a snapshot of the broadcast industry from its initial years to the onslaught of the private channels in the 90’s and the birth of an advertising driven revenue model. Attributing the aggressive style that some programmes adopted directly to this business model, Tandon humourously compared news debates to ancient gladiatorial contests.
Dr. Uma Vangal, Professor and Head, Media and Entertainment, LV Prasad Film and TV Academy, speculated on the possibility of these media enactments with predictable plots taking over and filling the gap caused by the decreasing number of social rituals. She also felt that television is part of the diversionary tactics employed by the corrupt and powerful to keep the public from engaging with them in a meaningful way.
Mr. Bhagwan Singh, Executive Editor of Deccan Chronicle, said that what contributed to the popularity of these toxic programmes was the need for people to belong to the so-called intelligent, literate, well-read audience who supposedly watches these programs.
Mr. Amit Baruah, Resident Editor, The Hindu talked about how decibels got results and pointed out the Nirbhaya case that resulted in the passing of a law as an example. Terming the rhetoric heard in these shows as ‘hysterical’ and ‘right wing’, Mr. Baruah said that even though they contribute to unscripted and uninformed television, these shows contribute to bottom lines by being much cheaper than real news.
Prof. Nalapat felt that these debates contributed to the destruction of ‘the mystique surrounding the ruling classes’ by holding them accountable for their actions and felt that much like the country itself, television was only a ‘work in progress’.
Talking about the quality of television debates, Tandon remarked that they reflected the existing quality of political discourses in the society itself. Making a case for low cost regional television which contributes to diversity of views, he insisted that there was still a market for intelligent and informed debate on television at the local and national level. He also emphasized the need for Public Service Broadcasting.
Dr. Vangal stressed the need to recapture the development agenda which has been hijacked by NGOs for image building purposes and felt that development itself will be better served through the Public Service Broadcasting model.
Answering a question on social media, Prof. Nalapat expressed concern about the possibility of geo-political strategies and external agenda at play in social media platforms owned by the West. Prof. Tandon, answering a question on why competition has had a bad effect only on media, said that it was because information was not free in India, despite the RTI act. Media compete to please people in power, not because they are armed with information.
Round table 2 Online Media: Challenge or Opportunity threw up interesting comments on access, challenges and opportunities to the journalistic profession, the power shift in content generation, evolving market models and the value of curated content.
Mr. Bhagwan Singh commented on the disruption of privacy and the risks of unguarded online behaviour. There was also a discussion on the interesting effects of online media: shrinking private space and expanding space for freedom of expression.
Prof. Tandon commented on how despite the assumption that online media cannot be controlled, countries like U.S have evolved control mechanisms for intellectual property rights and corporate copyright. Observations on plagiarism and the problems with sourcing and attribution led to discussions on media literacy.
The 10th Media Convention provided a rousing forum to discuss the burning issues facing all forms of journalism and media today. The students were exposed to many ideas and issues regarding their future professions and left the event with a lot to think about.