Changing Face of Indian Media: And here we have the fourth estate sans toilets !!

The many challenges for the Indian media. India needs a journalism curriculum and professional norms suited to India’s unique power context. 

Attending the seminar last week on the “Changing Face of Indian Media: What needs to be done?” at the Centre for Economic and Social Studies in Hyderabad gave me many insights. In many ways the issues and problems in this area are reflective of the issues and problems across areas in India.

Bella Mody of the University of Colorado argued that India needs a journalism curriculum and professional norms suited to India’s unique power context and the need for research to arrive at what needs to be done locally and that domestic authors need to step up to the plate and write textbooks for ourselves.

Apparently 1960s US textbooks are being used to teach journalism in India. The publishers of these outdated books are happy to have developing countries print these on the cheap and sell them. Cut-copy-paste culture sadly exists in this area too.

Journalism is a different ball game post internet. As it is, having a journalism degree pre-internet is like having a degree in under water basket weaving. While the ethics are constant, it’s just a different world now and it seems criminal to use these outdated textbooks. Indian journalism students deserve better.

It was mentioned that journalists were trained on the job in India in the old days by sitting on the bench at a newspaper while getting hands on training. Now, this training has been converted into a business. Most media houses have now set up their own media schools. This kind of profit driven training is along the lines of the grab money and push them out model that is the trend with most training programs today. With no uniform curriculum this method too fails the Indian journalism student.

Ethical issues came up in many ways. Most starkly in the English versus local language media. It appears that more masala in news is encouraged in the local language media. Infotainmentitus plagues the local language media more than the English media. Very few working journalists in local language media appear to have formal university-type training. There are many stringers whose sole qualification is location. Many also serve as advertising agents for the publication. Salary disparities exist between the English and local language media staff. Advertising revenue, too, is higher for English papers as opposed to local language papers despite greater readership.

All this highlights the greater issue of English elitism and the associated prestige at the cost of our local languages and the many who speak them.

Gender issues surfaced too in a number of ways. A hilarious point was made by Volga, the pseudonym of P. Lalitha Kumari, a highly regarded Telugu writer who introduced a feminist perspective into literary and political discourse in Andhra Pradesh and who is executive chairperson of Asmita Resource Centre for Women, an NGO in Hyderabad. In response to the fact that some TV serials have female characters playing “strong” roles like those of mafia dons. She said that this is no big triumph for feminism and that it is merely because TV can’t afford heroes and the graphics to fight villains. Men are expensive, women are not being the take home point here.

And finally, it was said that many daily newspapers do not have separate toilets for women. Toilets have been making the news lately in all the wrong ways. And here we have the fourth estate sans toilets.

As I said, the problems discussed at the seminar reflect the problems of today’s India.


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