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The media scene in India is changing very fast, especially in the past decade. On one hand, new media are emerging and affecting the existing ones. On the other hand, the consumption patterns of the media users are also undergoing a lot of transformations. Post independence, the development of media was rather slow and unexciting. For twenty five years after independence, the growth of media such as print, cinema and radio followed a gradual and uneventful path, progressing slowly and steadily. Pressures of urbanization, growing literacy and development in technology did not affect the media significantly. The scenario was such a sad one that neither inter nor intra- media competition existed. This obviously translated into the fact that there was no strategy or planning on the part of the media. Essentially media marketing itself was an alien concept for most of the newspaper owners and the sole television operator – Doordarshan.
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The first strains of change on this static environment were observed in the early eighties. These changes were introduced through technology: the development of grafting techniques in press and in electronics. The implications were two fold. On the first level, the reach of media was expanded and on the second level, the people were given more choice. Introduction of glossies among print titles, the expansion of the television network, establishing a radio commercial channel suddenly made life more exciting and entertaining for the vast majority of the urbanites. It was now, for the first time, that audiences were getting segmented by the titles introduced, new markets were opening up and a large number of people were coming under the media exposure. Another interesting fact during this time was the development of a new relationship between the media and the audiences.
Media patterns changed once again when sponsored programs on television became a regular feature. This initiative, along with the development and popularity of home videos changed the entire equation. People stopped frequenting cinemas, since the same films were conveniently available at home. Magazine readership also declined in favor of videos. Television, however, maintained its regular set of viewers during the period. It became a veritable obsession with the people. Programs such as the Mahabharat and the Ramayan were the opium of the masses. Now, television delivered important audience segments such as women, the rural affluent and children. At about the same time, easy access to technology and developing markets pushed publishers to add on new editions as well as supplements.
THE GLOBAL BEGINNING
Another change in the media environment came with the “Invasion of the Skies” in the early nineties. Satellite television found its way into India through CNN and the Star Network during the Gulf War. The monopoly of Doordarshan came to an end and there were multiple channels, giving the Indian viewer a choice of programs he had never been exposed to before. This, needless to say, introduced heavy competition among the channels and thus the programs’ contents also improved.
Finally, Doordarshan had to deal with the fact that it was not the king of the skies any more: for the first time in India, the television viewer had the choice of deciding what to watch from over 50 channels. Faced with heavy competition, it had to revamp and introduce new channels in the metros and in regional areas. The competition became intense even within the satellite television players with the influx of regional channels and more and more international quality programming. It was realized that only those players who can adopt a market-savvy, strategic approach to differentiate their programming from the rest shall be able survive the media jungle.
Developments in wireless technologies and their decreasing costs have created opportunities for faster deployment of telecommunications services. This speed is critical for developing countries especially in rural areas, as the role of telecommunications in development is more significant for them. The uptake of wireless technologies has been rapid in most developing countries. For the most part, these have been cellular networks that operate in the licensed bands. The unparalleled growth of mobile service (operating in licensed bands) in almost all countries of the world has been driven by both technology as well as deregulation. While the rapid spread of such networks is unprecedented, it has so far been limited to urban and semi-urban areas.
Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE): It is considered to be one of the biggest techno-social communication experiments in education and rural development. The one-year experiment (August 1975 – July 1976) aimed to provide direct broadcasting of instructional and educational television in 2400 villages in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Rajasthan. Over 500 conventional television sets spread over 335 villages in Kheda district, Gujarat was also part of SITE. Satellite technologists had called SITE as
leapfrogging from bullock cart stage to satellite communication, which did not discriminate between rural poor and urban rich for information and communication. It had given 50 years communication lead to rural poor of the country. SITE provided telecast for rural primary school children in the age group 5 – 12 years studying in grades 1-5. Rural adults viewed television programs on improved agricultural practices, health and family planning. They were also able to view news. Television was considered as window to the world. Both quantitative (survey) and qualitative in-depth (anthropological holistic study) evaluation indicated modest gains in some areas, whereas no gain or negative gain in other areas. The one-year duration was thought to be too little for any positive results. Based on the experiences and positive gains, INSAT satellite was launched in 1981. Since then a series of INSAT satellites have been launched and used for nationwide television telecast for education and development. The sad part is that, in spite of best efforts, satellite television has been used for entertainment more than rural development.
The other research says that access to satellite TV is of surprising value to the lives of rural Indian women and villagers in general. School enrolment among girls, family planning, hygiene, awareness about diseases and many more such milestones have been achieved by the electronic media. The newly ‘wired’ women also has become less accepting of spousal abuse, a bias in favor of having boys declined, and they look more likely to be able to spend money without a husband’s permission. However, shows on satellite TV tend to focus on urban areas, where women’s status is higher and are shown leading extravagant lifestyles. The rural people are not able to associate with those programs and shows. Customization as per rural needs has recently begun and has been appreciated even by the urban crowd. People are getting exposed to a set of attitudes that are more liberal, that are more favorable toward women, and they are changing their minds in response to that. Change is inevitable. Government has taken initiatives to start many such programs to generate awareness, some ran for years, others could never come out of papers and the rest bombed after the take off. Few project initiatives were:
Country wide classrooms
UGC, CEC and 17 other universities where media centers are located
10,000 programs produced and telecast on National TV till date
School Television in India
CIET and 6 state Institutes of Educational Technology
Programs produced and run on national TV till date
HRD, I&B, Prasar Bharti, IGNOU
The program runs 24 hrs and is handled by IGNOU
Reached out to backward communities, distant education and counseling
Namma Dhwani (voices)
Educational and development oriented informal programs
Gujarat Community Radio
Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan, DMC, Ahmedabad
Non- formal education and social issues, esp. for women
Jhabua Development Communication Program
Literacy, health and non- formal education, watershed management
RADIO AS A MEDIUM
Radio, as a mass medium, is particularly suited to communicate in the local dialect and idiom, thereby establishing a personal connection between the broadcaster and the listener. That has not, however, been achieved in India because of the bureaucratic stranglehold on radio. Development, as a process meant to empower the poor, reduce exploitation, and oppression by those having economic, social, and political power. It also means an equitable sharing of resources, improved health care and education for all. One of the major components and driving force of rural development is communication. Conventionally, communication includes electronic media, human communication & now information technology (IT). All forms of communications have dominated the development scene in which its persuasive role has been most dominant within the democratic political framework of the country. Persuasive communication for rural development has been given highest priority for bringing about desirable social and behavioral change among the most vulnerable rural poor and women. Initially, the approach lacked gender sensitivity and empathy of the communicators and development agents who came from urban elite homes. Added to these constraints is political will that still influences the pace and progress of rural development. Communication has been seen by a large number of development planners as a panacea for solving major social ills and problems. Apart from development, the introduction of communication in the educational process for open and distance learning is seen as step towards improving the quality of education and bridging the social and educational gap (Agrawal 1993). However, experience indicates that those rich who could afford to have access to private resources have hogged the advantage whether development or education. In this respect, it seems that communication technology has, in no way has helped the poor for improving their socio-economic condition.
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ALL INDIA RADIO (AIR)
India presents huge challenges to any broadcasting institution that aspires to serve the whole nation. All India Radio (AIR), the state-run monopoly, was expected to take these challenges on and help build a modern nation state with an egalitarian social democracy. Approximately 303 news bulletins are aired daily, of which 93 are intended for national listeners, whereas regional stations originate 135 news bulletins daily. In addition, there are special bulletins on sports, youth, and other major events, such as the annual Haj to Mecca by Muslims or the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad. More than 80 stations in the AIR network broadcast radio dramas in various languages. Forty percent of the broadcast time, however, is set aside for classical, light, folk, and film music. The External Service, set up to act as a cultural ambassador, airs 65 news bulletins in 16 foreign and eight Indian languages. In addition, magazine programs on sports and literature; talk shows on sociopolitical-economic issues; and classical, folk, and modern Indian music from different regions of the country are broadcast. But the results have not been that healthy, the reasons being many folds. AIR’s heavily bureaucratic ways have been the major impediment to innovation and creativity. In a highly pluralistic society with incredible linguistic, caste, and class differences, AIR has attempted not to offend any group. Controversial social and community welfare issues take a back seat while popular film music dominates. Regional language radio stations beam programs to the whole state in a formal dialect, which renders it stiff and official. As a consequence, most people find AIR boring.
Radio for Rural Development: Popularly known as “Radio Farm Forum”, it was one of the earliest efforts in the use of radio for rural development. The experiment was carried out from February to April 1956 in five districts of Maharashtra State by All India Radio (AIR). Rural listener groups were organized, who would listen to radio broadcasts twice a week at 6.30 p.m. for half an hour. The group then stayed together for discussion of what they had heard, the discussion lasted usually, about half an hour. The summative impact evaluation indicated positive outcome of radio rural forum. Impressive knowledge gains as a result of radio listening were reported across illiterates and literates, agriculturists and non-agriculturists, village leaders and others. However, over a period of time the project withered away and could not be operationalized for large-scale implementation in one form or the other. Lack of political will and indifference of bureaucracy killed the rural development project even before it could help poor to take advantage of radio broadcast.
Satellite radio for education
EDUSAT, according to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), is the first exclusive satellite for serving the educational sector. The satellite has multiple regional beams covering different parts of India, which theoretically enables programs to be broadcast in relevant local languages EDUSAT can provide connectivity to schools, colleges and higher levels of education and also support non-formal education including developmental communication. But it is a matter of concern that, over a year after the satellite was launched, much of its capacity is lying idle.
Community Radio Initiative: In post media liberalization phase, Government of India, announced the policy for community radio broadcasting which was expected to focus on issues relating to education, health, environment, agriculture, rural and community development. In the absence of true community radio in India, a number of NGOs are using innovative methods for non-formal education through audio.
School Audio through cable has been in operation in Budhikote village, Karnataka, since January 2002. The School Audio project is a spin-off of the ‘Namma Dhwani’ cable audio service.
In the Kutch region of Gujarat, the Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS), an independent organization of rural women, focuses on adolescent girls’ education, basic functional literacy within sangathan members and development of context specific educational curricula on different issues for literates and neo-literates.
Shivpuri, MP launched a radio station, Dharkan 107.8 FM, to give educational messages through humor featuring Ms. Adivasi as a difficult mother-in-law arguing against exclusive breastfeeding.
Vandana Dube, the station’s first manager, helps to produce programs on hygiene, health and the importance of education. She said that listening groups, which have formed throughout the district, are having a major impact. In particular, more women are now contributing to important debates on caste discrimination, female foeticide and female empowerment – issues that concern them directly.
There is no single ideal format for educational radio. Innovative programming offers some very effective approaches to non-formal education over radio. Recently, AIR agreed to a proposal from Sesame Workshop India to provide airtime on national and regional radio channels for locally produced versions of the universally popular ‘Sesame Street’. The programs would be aimed at pre-school goers, and would also provide under-served children with access to educational media, especially in rural areas. All the same, it has been amply proved that radio – rightly used – can improve educational quality and relevance, lower educational costs and improve access to education, particularly for disadvantaged groups. It is most effective when supported by trained facilitators, group learning, group discussion, feedback and the use of multimedia approaches.
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