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From The Independence Period To The Present – Of Using Media Space To Advocate Social Change

Posted on 23 May 2011 by Aakanksha Shahi

Indian media scene has witnessed spectacular growth. With this newfound energy and excitement, media has also explored a whole new dimension of its power. And this realization has dawned not just due to technological advances but through some recent initiatives taken by them as the fourth estate of our democracy.

Moreover, this realization was not a moment of enlightenment rather a gradual process. However, it is to be noted that this power is inherent in media. Media has always had the power to influence, impact, propagate and mobilize. It won’t be wrong to say that media in India, at least, was started with this idea of media as a tool for social change.

This power of media to bring about a social change or transformation is called as media activism.

Social Responsibility Theory of Press

  • This Theory proposed by Siebert, Peterson & Schramm in 1956, emphasized the need for an independent press that scrutinizes other social institutions and provides objective, accurate news reports.
  • It said that media should promote cultural pluralism-by becoming the voice of all the people-not just the elite group or groups that had dominated national, regional or local culture in the past.
  • This theory was initially practiced in United States of America in the 20th century and is characterized by private media ownership. The social responsibility theory is an outgrowth of the libertarian theory. However, social responsibility goes beyond “objective” reporting to “interpretive” reporting. It is the press, therefore, that must be the “more alert element” and keep the public informed, for an informed populace is the cornerstone of democracy.
  • The Canons of Journalism, adopted by the American Society of Newspaper Editors also addresses these same obligations when it calls on newspapers to practice responsibility to the general welfare, sincerity, truthfulness, impartiality, fair play, decency, and respect for the individual’s privacy.

History of media activism in India

  • It was during our freedom struggle, when our leaders felt need to firstly, inform and educate the masses and then mobilize them to fight against the injustice they were being subjected to, that indigenous newspapers, radio stations came into existence. Most of the radio stations, which lasted for a brief period of time, were operated secretly. Pamphlets and street plays formed important tools of social communication as well.
  • For example, the object of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the social reformer in setting up a newspaper was ‘to lay before the public such articles of intelligence as may increase their experience, and tend to their social improvement’, and to ‘indicate to the rulers a knowledge of the real situation of their subjects, and to make the subjects acquainted with the established laws and custom of their rulers’.
  • Also, Lokamaya Tilak’s newspaper Kesari and Mahatma Gandhi’s Harijan are examples of media that were revolutionary in their approach and changed Indian mindsets on relevant, important social issues. Thus, media was a significant element during the pre-independence era and worked relentlessly to expose the brutality of the regime and awaken the masses to their rights and power.
  • After independence, media remained active for a few years. The introduction of television gave rise to broadcast news, which was faster and more impactful. Programs like krishi darshan and aamchi maati, aamchi mansa aimed at disseminating useful information to the farmers to improve their produce. Also, the then government control broadcast industry featured news bulletins at prime times and at regular intervals on the
  • All India Radio (AIR). Although there were a few programs of entertainment, the media during this time was largely used to improve to the India’s social-economic-political condition by empowering the masses with relevant knowledge. Thus, the media once again was summoned as a powerful medium of social transformation.

Scenario Post – 1991: India

  • After liberalization in 1991, the Indian media industry welcomed foreign partnership and then emerged private channels and many more newspapers. From here on, the Indian media scenario has been chaotic and vibrant, expanding and impacting.
  • In this scenario, the media apparently altered its agenda and social change and responsible journalism was now, limited to a handful of media. Indian Express has for long retained its value of serious, relevant journalism.
  • Magazines like Dharamyug, Illustrated Weekly of India were famous for their courage to raise social issues and question the authorities on misgovernance and misplaced priorities. However, by large, the media ignored its role as social change catalyst.
  • With the new millennium came in more private 24-hour news channels and niche newspapers and magazines. Once again, the media realized its power and took it as its responsibility to take up matters of public concern and in larger, public good.

Activism of elitism?

  • However, many critics argue that such media activism is highly skewed and inclined towards the elite. It is only the urban cases which are pursued by the media while the majority of the rural problems are ignored and remain unaddressed. Along with this ignorance, media turns a blind eye towards people and issues incompatible with popular notions and ideas.
  • Indian national media as being highly ‘brahminised’ and supports his argument by citing glaring ideological hypocrisy and disparate in coverage of some recent, important news events. “The elitist middle class who thronged with candles for Jessica and Priyadarshini Matto did not come out of their houses in support of the parents and relatives whose sons and daughters were brutally murdered in a real life psycho thriller case of Nithari serial killings… Nithari appeared as cover story with a sensational element of a thriller, but it never attained the dimension of a campaign

In conclusion, a democratic contour is absolutely necessary for media to be fair and balanced such that the fruits of its activism be shared equally by everyone in the society. For that however, periodic assessment and in-depth analysis of the nature and motives of such media activism is necessary.

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