Role of the media
By Nilofar Ahmed
TELEVISION can be seen positively as the most powerful instrument used today for teaching, creating awareness, swaying opinions and the influencing of minds, especially of the young. In fact, the media has provided our country with many outlets for debate and discussion which are necessary.
It has the added advantage of speedy dissemination. But with the electronic media fully entrenched inside each household, it has become extremely difficult to sift and to block out the kind of influence that one does not want to expose one’s children to.
On the surface, the TV channels appear as service providers of necessary information and harmless entertainment. But the actual incentive behind the continuous blaring of sensational information in every household is mainly corporate, commercial greed with little regard to media ethics. There seems to be no concern to play a positive role in the development of the people by trying to bridge the gaps which have been left due to bad governance and lack of vision by the leaders of a predominantly illiterate country.
The engine driving the greed of the globalised, corporate marketing is their advertising lever. It can be argued that advertisers select the kind of shows that a channel produces. Some channels are said to have the policy of showing only the rich and the glamorous in their shows. Recently a programme which showcased the good things being done by citizens was dumped for a dramatised commercial, for a hefty sum, obviously.
Almost all the shows are made for the urban, consumerist population – an easy prey for the advertisers. For the majority of our population it is a daily struggle just to make both ends meet. When they see the lavish cooking shows, which use nothing less than boneless chicken and canned mushrooms, ingredients which are the products of huge corporations, and plays in which females wear Banarsi saris, gold jewellery and full make-up in their daily lives at home, what are the people living on meagre rations of everything supposed to make of it?
With so much social alienation between the economic classes and the urban/rural divide, can they identify with the country our media depicts? How do we expect them to have patriotic feelings or the right values?
I remember watching a popular children’s programme in which an actress, when asked if she would like to give a message to the children, enthusiastically replied, “Khao, piyo aur mazae karo!” (Eat, drink and be merry!). What an opportunity lost.
There were at least 20 children in the studio and hundreds of thousands watching in their homes. A little friendly advice could have motivated the children to care about the less fortunate, to study better, to be respectful towards their elders, to be honest in their dealings or not to litter and throw garbage all over the place. Insights and inspiration for nation-building could have been given. But do media persons care?
Some secular people, in their desire to become ‘modern’ and ‘international’, have gone overboard and thrown away all the norms of propriety of values, dress and behaviour and have started aping blindly those countries which do not share our moral, social and religious norms. The result of this will be that we would have fallen between two stools: neither can we ever be fully westernised nor will we preserve the good values which are an essential part of our heritage.
The conservative elements representing Islam should also be selected with care. Some of these obscurantist, so-called ‘scholars’ are so generous with the belittling of women and their wajib-ul-qatl (liable to be given capital punishment) fatwas that if they had their way there would be beatings and bloodletting in every household. Character assassination, especially of women and scandalous exposures, which go against Islamic values, should be kept in check. The rights of the minorities should also be highlighted, keeping in mind the example of the Prophet (PBUH). Instead of indoctrination of conservative ideas, media ethics based on Islamic values need to be developed.
Once I had the idea that I would try to see a certain media mogul and give him suggestions about how he could play a positive role in changing this country for the better. He could help the non-literate in absorbing certain concepts, such as traffic rules, which they had never had the opportunity to learn.
TV channels should display some ethics and corporate social responsibility by trying to include the rural and the poor population in their audience and plough back some of their profits in trying to bridge this divide. Some time should be dedicated to nation-building, developmental programmes, from adult literacy to awareness of traffic rules, environmental issues such as garbage disposal and conservation of water, moral values such as honesty, respect for other people’s rights such as queuing up and not elbowing out people who were there first.
There can be shows about good techniques in farming, hygiene, nutrition, respect for women, benefits of cooperation and good social values in daily life. There should be follow-up reporting on issues like the earthquake or flood stories, instead of being covered only when they make sensational news.