rumblestrip

Monday, January 07, 2008

Mass Media and Public Broadcasting

– From Citizen to Consumer?



In recent times, one of the radical shifts in mass media programming has been to make the hitherto passive consumers (listeners, viewers, readers) into content providers. In press and television, there is the huge influx of citizen journalism. Most of the sensational images and inputs about events (whether it be riots, assassinations or natural disasters) in recent times were generated by the 'general public' who were at the site. Conventional 'news' and 'analysis' followed these images, more often feebly attempting to give sense and coherence to the event unfolding live before the viewers. In television entertainment, there is a wave of reality shows, where the hitherto viewers have taken over the idiot box to become participants and performers. Instead of watching others perform, everybody is watching themselves on TV now. In radio, it is the 'phone in' programmes that the jockeys are specializing in, where they chat with the listeners and create a community feeling. Today everybody is a media producer. The mobile phone at hand could make anyone into a journalist or filmmaker. In the cyber realm, the Web 2.0 revolution is all about this, where anybody can reach out to everyone; create communities and fraternities that cut across barriers of class, religion, nation and race.



So, in the business of mass communication the monopoly of the 'centres' over technology, content and transmission has become a thing of the past. Earlier, the messages flowed from a centralized institution (newspapers, TV/Radio stations) to the margins (consumers, people). This one-to-many process has now become an instantaneous and affordable many-to-many process today.



But has this shift really helped in democratizing our public and media sphere, creating new and vibrant platforms for the margins to speak up, to find their voice, and to make themselves visible? With this shift, have the public broadcasting systems become redundant? If we take the case of Doordarshan in the post-liberalisation era, the lessons are bleak. Instead of developing its strengths – accountability, reach, responsibility to inform and educate, state ownership etc – it instead tried to compete with the commercial television channels to become yet another one like that. The first casualty was content. For instance, earlier Doordarshan used to give a permanent slot to award-winning films from regional languages. This gave the 'regional' filmmakers an opportunity to make their works available to the nation as a whole. In its eagerness to be market-friendly and 'viable', Doordarshan promptly did away with all such programmes. As a result, it now looks like a poor man's version of the private channels. It is neither good commercial channel nor a public broadcaster.



Is this pattern going to be repeated in the case of radio also? With the entry of the private FM radios, what is going to happen to Akashvani? Will it turn into yet another Mango, Mirchi or Club, or retain its identity and responsibility as a public broadcasting service? The pattern that is emerging is one of segmentation. The public is being segmented into niche-groups to be addressed by different channels. The private FMs are targeting the high net worth urban population, and the state-owned radio will be gradually pushed to the rural and small town populations, where they have a very wide and dedicated listenership now. If the AIR also tries to compete with the new private channels, they would also be wooing the consumer-class. Then who is going to address and give voice to the 'citizens' and civil society, the villages and the peasants, the dalits and adivasis? Will it become the sole responsibility of the Community Radios? Though community radio movement is an 'answer from below', there is also a dangerous kind of compartmentalization at work here. Community Radio is an instance of the margins speaking to the margins from the margins. It is far more important for the margins to speak from the centres and in the mainstream public spheres. So, the segmentation of the audience (read market) is also a segmentation of the public sphere itself. And the crucial question is whether it is going to bring in a new multi-tiered caste system in media.

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1 Comments:

Blogger prasant said...

dear venkiti, i am planning a book on 'kerala after liberalisation'(title not yet decided)for Pulari, including both (local)economic and cultural meanings of globalisation. can you please develop this scribble into an article on 'emerging mass media-homogenisation, hybridisation or marginalisation?' for me to include it in the collection.

prasant, trivandrum

2:13 AM  

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