Friday, January 30, 2009

Media and National Integration

Excerpts of speech at Seminar on "Media and National Integration" organised by the Department of Communication and Journalism, Osmania University on 30th Jan, 2009

It is not just the Indian polity that has become fragmented. The fragmentation is not limited to just poltics. The Indian political system alone, unfortunately, is the system that is exposed of fragmentation. Today, we can see fragmentation in Executive and fragmentation in Media too, but this is least exposed, because it is they who speak about it. Politicians and political parties come out openly when they speak about caste, community, region, sub-region, language, and the list goes on.

Take for example the Executive, is it not the fact that, in bureaucracy various caste, linguistic, regional and sub-regional groups exist. Is it not the fact that in bureaucracy too, and even lower levels of administration the linguistic groups, the regional groups and the community groups exist. There are instances where the political administrators had to take a cautious approach while taking decisions on appointments of Advocate General, Director General of Police, Chief Secretary and various other crucial positions.

Is media not fragmented? Don’t we have newspapers that have caste, community and regional favorites? You have News television channels that, though do not come out publicly but vouch for a particular community, not to serve immediate interests but to serve the larger political interests. You have newspapers that claim to don the role of vanguard and trumpet to be independent yet pursue the agenda discreetly.

The fragmentation of media has become so serious that there are very few visible options left to conclude that a particular media house, newspaper or television is independent. Even if somebody is genuinely independent, it has become very difficult to prove its independence.

Amid all this comes the news value. Commitment towards to the society, …commitment towards the Nation, and finally, commitment towards the National integration. Today every literate home needs a newspaper, when it comes to television set literacy does not matter. Circulation figures and television ratings apart, no media in this country wants to compromises on National Integration. Unity in diversity is the most popular phrase among the netas or neta-turned editor / owners of television channels or newspapers.

Nobody wants to compromise on the Unity of the Nation. Like philosophers say, religions are the path to reach the God, they can be many but the God is one. Media philosophers say agenda (of media) may be any but India is one. Here comes the conflict. How can you have an agenda that is divisive and yet say I am for unity? And nobody is prepared to accept that the agenda they are pursuing is divisive. Nobody is prepared to accept that the agenda they are pursuing disrupts the national integration.

So what do we do? Do we live with it? Certainly not. We cannot afford to accept divisive politics, it can be by anybody, media, executive or the legislature. A cautious editorial approach, that identifies the agenda of those pursuing divisive politics, is the way out. It is only possible when you have qualified independent editors (which again is a point for big debate). Independent editors who ensure that it is always Nation first.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Why ban opinion polls when you cant ban opinions

Presented to the Parliament Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances and Law and Justice on the Representation of the people (second Amendment) Bill, 2008
By R Shailesh Reddy, Channel Head, Zee 24 Gantalu – Zee News Limited on 24th January, 2009.

After going through the background note on the Representation of the people (Second Amendment) Bill, 2008, it is understood that the Election Commission proposes “restriction on publishing the results of poll surveys” which includes Opinion poll and Exit Polls.

Opinion polls and Exit polls published by the newspapers and telecast by the News Channels are often done by reputed professional agencies. The period of publishing and telecast of Opinion polls begins well before the publication of notification by the Election Commission and the close of the last phase of the elections.

The primary objection of the EC appears to be that the Opinion polls are “motivated and are not impartial”. I the days of multiple manufactured public opinion, there is little scope to influence the voting population. Multiple manufactured public opinion, because there are eight Telugu daily newspapers with a combined circulation of more than 20 lacs ( the actual figure could be more considering the claims of various publication houses) and close to 10 telugu news channels with over 80 percent penetration to the C&S homes. Every newspaper publishes the Opinion polls and News Channels telecast them. The EC rightly pointed out “the results of elections have been vastly different from the result predicted”. Vast majority of the voting population is exposed to more than one Newspaper and News Channel, thereby leaving little scope for the voter to get influenced. In a way, multiple opinions will help the voter take unbiased and independent decision.

Restricting the publication or telecast of Opinion polls infringes upon the right of freedom of speech and expression guranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Leaders of political parties often claim during media conferences and ‘near advertorial’ live shows on television about the possible outcome of elections. There is no bar on claims of the leaders which is likely to have equal quantum of influence on electorate as like the opinion polls. While this right of freedom of speech has been freely exercised by the leaders of political parties it is not justifiable to restrict the media, which often disseminates the opinion emanating out of a scientific methodology followed in conducting and analyzing the results of the Opinion polls.

Strong democratic practices should often be strengthened and not barred for questionable credibility and imaginary influences. Opinion polls, I believe, are part an parcel of the strong democratic practices.

The EC should instead issue regulatory guidelines to streamline the publication and telecast of Opinion polls.

To dispel the apprehensions that Opinion polls are “motivated and not impartial” publication / telecast of any such opinion poll should be mandatorily followed by a claimer. For example, A box on Page 1 with specific font size, the details the agency employed to conduct the survey, sample size vis-à-vis actual size, methodology adopted, period of survey, etc,. would enable the reader / viewer judge the credibility of the publication / TV station and the Opinion poll published / telecast.

The Election commission should look at certifying / registering the agencies involved in conducting Opinion Polls. This would avoid fictious and fly-by-night agencies conducting surveys for the specific purpose of the media houses that are suspected to be taking biased stance.

Finally, media houses survive on credibility. Any loss of credibility would seriously affect its businesses. No business house would risk its business and credibility by manufacturing a public opinion which is far from the opinion in reality.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Can this man change the world?

Can this man change the world? This is the question many people ask, expecting an optimistic answer, while discussing the history Barack Obama would be creating on 20th January, 2009. The words "Yes! We can" became more popular than "either with us or with them". The words of Barack Obama became more popular than the words of George Bush Jr. The Americans heard the words of Bush Jr in the year 2001 biting their nails and fuming with anger and gave a mandate for its president to launch and attack on Afghanistan which the White House called "attack on terrorism". The Americans in the year 2008 too heard the words of Barack Obama with tension on their faces and concern in their hearts when he said "yes! we can".

But can this man really change the world. Can this man really change the way the Americans see the world. What Obama needs to do to change the world and can he really do it? What does change mean to the Americans and the rest of the world. Here are few changes and I believe that without bringing in change in these preceptions the change is incomplete.

Can America stop thinking that they can invade and attack anyone in the world they feel like? American thinks so because nobody can confront it in the battlefield . Millitary expenditures of the USA is more than that of the combined world. Therefore, no affected country would like to confront the mighty US in the battle field and would like to attack in a manner, America calls "terrorist".
America now faces the threat of a 'nuclear terror' and 'bio terror'. The nuclear and bio-terror threat is primarily from the lumpen elements of the countries that are fighting US agression, the countries that developed nuclear weapons as deterrent to possible attack from the American and the Western nations. Can Obama change the way countries like Iran, Afghanistan, Libiya and Iraq look at the United States?

After the Russians pulled out from Afghanistan terrorism stopped in the former Communist Republic. Can Obama pull out its forces from Afghanistan and Iraq and send a message across the globe that he is serious in ending terrorism?

This is the change that one who is affected by terrorism expects from a country that claims itself to 'end terror'. I quote Noam Chomsky from the book 'Perilous Power', " ... under Reagan administration pressure, the United Nations passed resolutions on terrorism; the first major one was in December 1987, a resolution condemning the crime of terrorism in the strongest terms, calling on all the states to work together to eradicate the plague and so on - a long, detailed resolution. It passed, but not unanimously. It passed 153 to 2 with one abstention, Honduras abstained. The two who voted against it were usual two, the United States and Israel".

All the best Mr President. All the best Barack Obama.