Hail the new world order!
In the recent past, two issues have received major media coverage in India – Clinton’s sexual escapades and the rising price of onions. Both of these, in their own ways, illustrate the changes taking place within the Indian society and politics. While the ‘Clinton affair’ underlines the globalisation of information, the ‘onion story’ reflects our union with the global market. The primacy of the two is a consequence of our entry into the world market and the various goings-on in the name of liberalisation.
The reasons behind the record shortage of onions and its irrepressible price rise are yet to be clarified. But there should be no such complaints about the Clinton affair. Today, most Indians know more about Clinton’s sex life than, perhaps, his or her own. The Clinton affair stirred the urban middle classes so extensively that most journalists wrote special articles and features on it. Taking off from the American president’s escapades these articles went on to discuss issues like human relations, problems of working women, sexual exploitation of women in the work place, man-woman relationship, psychological development of women etc. At another level, newspapers gave their readers minute by minute updates – when will Clinton deliver his testimony, what is DNA, why Monica didn’t wash her clothes, how many times they made love in the office, etc. The coverage by TV channels was not lagging behind. Continuous updates and latest video clips were aired with monotonous regularity. It appeared as if a long awaited revolution was about to take place.
The Times Of India conducted an opinion poll on whether Clinton should be punished or not. The poll showed that Indian women felt Clinton should be forgiven. In its report (20 September 1998) TO1 concluded that Indian women have dual standards. They said that on the one hand Indian women feel Clinton should be forgiven, and that even Hillary should forgive him. On the other hand they would not forgive their husbands in a similar situation. When asked if Indian leaders, similarly indulgent, should be forgiven most answered in the negative. The TO1 considered this to be the reflection of double standards. But what conclusions can be reached by removing an incident completely from its context and evaluating it in terms of a simple “yes” or “no”? Needless to say, this is an illustration of how a completely useless issue can pushed to the centre stage.
It is important, however, to analyse why the Clinton- Lewinsky adventure made the Indian middle classes so restless. There are two clear reasons. First, the Indian middle class is going through a serious process of cultural change. Second, over the years, the priorities of the Indian Press have gone through a fundamental change. Few facts, from the American society and their resonance in India, point towards this trend.
* Today, profits from the American pornography market can wipe out the debt of any third world country.
* The arms lobby in 1994 had proudly announced that 231 million arms are in the hands of civilians, that includes youth and children. Thirty-five thousand people were shot dead in 1995.
* A new trend of children involved in violence is increasingly visible – children involving in mass killing of their friends, neighbours and teachers.
In India the demand for porn literature, violence and arms is growing. The trend of Indian children resorting to violence is also increasing. In 1997, in Delhi alone, 12 children were arrested for murder, 16 for rape, 11 for ransom related kidnapping and 85 for theft. Two chilling facts are common to these juvenile crimes. The culprits knew the victims. The culprits are from well-off families.
The changing character of the Press is perhaps the most significant development of our times. Newspapers are now a ‘product’. They are no longer concerned with the development of society. Nowadays, their market is defined by the information they carry. And the value of the ‘product’ is not decided by its utility but by marketing strategy. In this framework of ‘marketing of a product’, there is no space for the marginalised who are rapidly disappearing from the newspapers. Naturally the Clinton affair dominated the Press and media. People dying of cholera in Andhra Pradesh is not saleable. Nor are the devastations wrecked by floods all over north India. If they found a mention, it was only to add variety to the ‘product’. The rising price of onions did affect the Indian middle classes. But the coverage was to only add to the variety and increase saleability.
The Clinton affair signals the dawn of a new global culture. A culture that needs sensations to spread. Market-driven globalisation and consumption are its foundation. Increasing violence against women, children and the vulnerable are its necessary ingredients. Be prepared, we are entering into a new world order.
Did you know we have a new Prasar Bharati Bill?
Immediately after coming to power in the centre early this year, one of the main concerns of BJP was the Prasar Bharati Bill. Prasar Bharati is the most controversial Bill that we have ever had. It was first passed by the Parliament in 1990 in order to respond the growing need and changing scenario of communication in the country and world over. The first amendment to the Bill was done during the first debate in Parliament. An amendment to include the proposal to create a 22 member Parliamentary committee was introduced by the Congress and included in the Bill. BJP opposed the move as they felt it would curb autonomy.
Though passed in the Parliament, Prasar Bharati was never implemented. After a long silence, in 1995 the government got into action after the Supreme Court gave a verdict that airwaves were public property and an authority should be set up to regulate them The central government prepared a new Bill called Broadcast Bill and introduced it in the Parliament. But a lot of objections and questions were raised against the Bill. Big media barons saw it as the government’s attempt to control and regulate their market, which they lately acquired because of the phenomenal growth in communication technology. Others also objected, saying that, when Prasar Bharati was already there, what was the logic of introducing a new Bill.
Most of the debate on the Broadcast Bi 11 is confined around technology, foreign channels and equity. Questions of representation and participation were never addressed. Yet, it was the first time that so much heat generated around the Bill. It shows the growing importance of communication and media. Ironically, alternate media activists did not take any interest in the debate and by and large remained aloof from it. This only reflects that people in the alternate circuit failed to formulate their concern and strategy to intervene in policies. Probably they feel they have no role in policy formulations. This is definitely a cause for concern. Various movements, from women’s movement to concern for child labour have demonstrated that constant vigilance has helped them to widen the issue and mobilise public opinion. If alternative media wants to create a mass awareness around the communication, it will have to be more vigilant.
Facing strong criticism, the government sent the Broadcast Bill to a joint select committee. Meanwhile, the government amended the Prasar Bharati and introduced it by an ordinance in October 1997. A ten member committee headed by a Chair Person and supported by a Chief Executive Officer was supposed to be constituted in this new Bill. It removed all monitoring committees and even removed the provision of age bar on CEO. However, the Parliament was dissolved soon after this. Early this year, after coming to
power, the BJP government expressed it’s utter dissatisfaction over the Bill. The main objection of the BJP was that leftists were dominating the committee (even though in the ten member committee only two, Rajendra Yadav and Nikhil Chakrabarty, were close to the left). They also felt that a monitoring forum was necessary. Finally, they were not happy with CEO S. S. Gill.
Waiting for the Prasar Bharati ordinance to lapse in May, the BJP government tabled a new Bill in the Parliament. This Bill is a complete reversal of the 1990 Bill. It has a ten member committee with a chair person and CEO, 62 years is the upper age limit of the CEO. The new Bill has a 22 member committee of MPs to oversee the working of the corporation along with a 14 member Broadcasting council to receive and consider complaints. There are also two permanent members of personnel and finance. Many permutations and combinations took place after Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha. It was passed in the Lok Sabha in May but the government did not have the majority in Rajya Sabha. So it delayed tabling of the Bill in Rajya Sabha. Finally, unsure about the fate of the Bill in Rajya Sabha, they decided to proclaim another ordinance. The President signed it at the end of August.
What is interesting is that last year the same president had signed another ordinance. This time he signed to make the previous one null and void. In a way it is a return to square one.
Plea seeks review of Press Council Act
The Delhi High Court has referred a writ petition seeking review of the Press Council of India (PCI) Act to a division bench as certain constitutional provisions were challenged in it.
Mr Justice Anil Dev Singh referred the petition filed by the Small and Medium Newspapers Guild of India president, Prof Raj Baldev, to division bench which would hear the matter on November 10, this year. The petition filed through counsel C Sahu sought a review of the PC1 Act 1978 to remove disparity of nominations between owners of print media and working journalists, including editors and agency employees. The petition sought, among other things, a three-tier system of PC1 on the model of Election Commission of India, provision of appeal in the Act with effect from March 1998 and restraining the chairman to hear cases of contractual system or cases of any controversial nature, condemnation of sitting members till disposal of this case.
The petition said the controversy – which erupted between the print media owners and working journalists, including editors and agency employees, as a result of the one chairman systerm and imbalanced strength of the PC1 – should come to an end.
On the evening of 7th December, the street in front of Regal cinema in New Delhi donned a very different look. Along with the usual throng of traffic and office goers rushing to return home, a large crowd had gathered with posters, placards and candles. Sounds of “We want Fire, We want Fire!” and “Shiv Sena ki gundagardi nahi chalegi, nahi chalegi!” filled the air.
A few days ago, Shiv Sena in their self appointed role of being moral guardians of the Indian culture, ransacked two cinema halls that were showing Deepa Mehta’s “Fire” – the New Empire theatre in Mumbai and Regal in Delhi. They alleged that “Fire” was vulgar and it would pollute the minds of viewers since it propagated lesbianism. Manohar Joshi, Maharashtra CM, congratulated the Shiv Sena action and the central Government referred “Fire” back to the same censor board which had cleared the film with an ‘A’ certification.
In response to the Shiv Sena vandalism and subsequent discontinuation of “Fire” from public viewing, some 30 groups – women’s groups, democratic organisations and media groups – gathered at Regal to voice their protest. The issues of the protest were clear from the placards and banners. First, in a democratic country, there is no place for undemocratic means of voicing dissent that the Shiv Sena had employed. And the government whole heartedly supporting their vandalism is even more apalling. Second, a democratic government cannot stop people from watching a film that exposes the tyranny of patriarchy and raises issues of women’s space and choice. Finally, the action of the Shiv Sena and the government violates freedom of expression and viewers’ choice. A strong demand from the protest was to continue public screening of “Fire”.
The protest attracted almost 300 people from all walks of life. Women were a majority. Many passers by also joined in for a while and expressed solidarity. The police had a difficult time containing the crowd and repeatedly discouraged attempts of the gathering to set off into a march. Many in the crowd did not realise that Deepa Mehta was also present in the protest, lighting candles, singing to the ensuing chorus of “Tod Tod ke bandhano ko dekho behne aati hain.” Shiv Sena elements also tried to make their uresence felt by instigating arguments on Indian culture especially with the women present there. However, they soon realised they were outnumbered.
There was also another band who made a strong presence in the protest, that was the media. Even before the scheduled beginning of the protest, media crew, both from the Press and TV channels, almost outnumbered the protestors. Sunguns and flashes went on incessantly as more and more people assembled. There was almost a stampede (by the Press) when Deepa Mehta arrived. For years there have been demonstrations and protests in Delhi which the media barely noticed. For once, it seemed, as if the media was also joining in the protest against Shiv Sena’s vandalism and their attack on the freedom of expression.
The story on the next day’s newspapers was rather baffling. Every daily, English and Hindi, had at least one photograph of the demonstration. Many carried them in the front page. Some showed Deepa Mehta lighting a candle. But most photographs showed women with a placards that said “Indian and Lesbian”. Many of the reports mentioned “Fire” as a film on lesbianism. True, there were a few lesbian and gay groups who joined the protest and had placards on lesbian issues. But there were far more banners and placards that talked about women’s choice, women’s oppression, Shiv Sena’s dual standards of morality and so on. There also were many more interesting moments in the demonstration than the ones photographed.
But there was no ‘lesbianism’ in them. Hence no sensation. So the press finally lived up to its expectation.
Cut to the studios of Living Media, the makers of Newstrack. Star compere Madhu Trehan interviewing Deepa Mehta. Lights and cameras being set up in desperate hurry. Several people were invited over to act as representatives of the public who would call the studios and chat with Ms. Mehta on line. The invitees ranged from women activists, media activists, general public as well as Shiv Sena people, many of whom were present at the demonstration the evening before. People were jitterry and cursing under their breath as they made to wait for over two hours. Finally the interview starts, many hours after schedule.
The first questions Trehan throws at Deepa, “Are you a lesbian?” Deepa says no. Trehan asks, “Why?”
Deepa says she never felt the need since she has a good hetrosexual relationship. Trehan asks, “So why did you want to make a film on lesbianism?” Deepa says that the film is not about lesbianism but on loneliness, women’s choices and on love, primarily on love. That’s why the film begins at Taj Mahal and ends at the Darga of Hazrat Nizamuddin, the two strong symbols of love. The interviewer goes on to ask many more questions but the discussion comes back to lesbianism even though Deepa tried her best to stick to her line.
The following day a friend, a corporate man who relies on the media to build his opinion and perspective, commented, “Oh! These people created such a traffic jam in CP, they were protesting about that lesbian film yaar!” So, the media succeeded in slotting “Fire” as a film on lesbianism, and the protest as a demand for lesbian rights only. A few months from now no one will say that “Fire” primarily raised issues of patriarchy, women’s oppression, women’s status in the family and society, or women’s freedom of choice.
It is sad that the media is unable to fathom the growing threat that a particular ideology and a set of parties are inflicting on the freedom of expresson. Incidents involving Hussain, Gulam Ali or Jatin Das are seen as isolated happennings. While cultural plurality is under serious threat in the country, the media drifts on with its limited priorities of selling news and sensationalising incidents.
A screening without a film!
Yet, a discussion with meaning
Surajit Sarkar and Vani Subramanian
“What a strange afternoon. But on second thoughts, I think it is a good one for those of us gathered here. In our otherwise privileged lives, we rarely get to experience the weight of the system that bears down on students, teachers and all others engaging with the school system in India.” With these words, Professor Krishna Kumar of Delhi University opened his address to the audience at the India International Centre on 31st October 1998, for the screening of our film, ‘Padhoge Likhoge Hoge Nawab?’ (Is School The Thing That Makes A King?). The screening was meant to be followed by a discussion on whether the uniform and universal primary education pattern, as envisaged by the Government of India, adequately meets the challenges posed by the wide diversities of Indian childhoods. What Prof. Kumar was referring to was the fact that we had been banned from screening the film that afternoon by the verb agency that had sanctioned its creation – Educational Consultants India Ltd., a Government of India undertaking that works with the Department of Education, Ministry of Human Resources Development.
This unilateral declaration of universal education is not something recent, but has existed in some form or the other ever since the classroom became the arena for ‘preparing the future generations’ for a particular vision of society. The natural weakness of the child vis-a-vis the adult, together with the knowledge that children’s curiosity can be controlled as easily as it can be encouraged and liberated. The school system sanctions this dictatorship of conformity by a weighty system of policy, procedure and precedent.
It is this very characteristic that allows it to dismiss generations of appeals by school teachers and educational activists with the same ease as the complaints of school going children Hidden under the myth of universal education, and the reality of uniform schooling, lie countless layers of each child’s own experience of childhood, his/her encounters with the school system, the spectrum of aspirations each child is expected to live up to and the disparities of post-school opportunity.
It is precisely these issues that ‘Padhoge Likhoge Hoge Nawab?’ addresses. Instead of offering yet another adult perspective on the subject, the film talks to some school-going children to explore what schooling means to them. Here, girls and boys from government schools in tribal Madhya Pradesh, a public school in New Delhi and an alternative school in Andhra Pradesh describe schooling as they know it. They speak of what they like and what they don’t; how they feel about teachers, punishments and rewards; their fear of failure; gender roles, role models and the stress on conformity; the kind of school they would like; and their fantasies of life after school. From this dialogue, different experiences of childhood emerge that depend upon social class and community.While these result in fairly varied experiences of schooling, some commonalities of childhood remain, cutting across social and economic barriers.
Along the way, ‘Padhoge Likhoge Hoge Nawab?’ also meets some children whom the present school system leaves behind. And looks at whether school and work can coexist, and why some children cannot go to school at all.
It is clear that each school is also a school for socialisation, and that all teaching, learning and other classroom and non-classroom interactions take place in a hall of mirrors. Children of school going age are thinking people too, very aware of how people see them and what they are expected to do. By treating school as a place where values can be imparted to children, and simultaneously managing to devalue their intellect, language and self-respect, schools as they exist today play the role of a psycho-cultural police. So it should come as no surprise when the educational establishment declares that not only does it know what the problem is but the solution too, “The schools are there, but the kid’s do come; two-third of primary age children are already in school and the numbers are inching forward – and our mission is to bring them all in and we will do so successfully, thank you.” Like any policing exercise, it is not always successful in its role. But that is no deterrent for the meek-dictator of the classroom, the teacher; or their bolder counterparts in the bureaucracy, the educational administrator. Who with their exalted position in the age of media manipulation also control the purse strings for contracted film-producers, and can easily afford to forget that they are not presiding over another classroom or lecture.
The arrogance, the presumption that only the film’s financier knows the worth and utility of our creation, is a crude declaration of power and superiority. While it may anger and hurt when it occurs, that does not prevent it from happening ever so often. And unfortunately when it does, in our country as much as elsewhere, such financiers (TV channels, government departments et al) become the arbiters of public taste, defining good and bad, and legitimise the appropriation of the role of a cultural police by political-cultural puritans. Each completed film to us, like any other film-makers, evokes thought in a quiet moment. Each can be seen as a catalogue of pleasures and pain, pulled out from the vast field of memory. But the strangest and most humbling of experiences are those when our creation is denied an audience. It does not matter what the film is like, good or bad, what rankles is the emptiness. The hollowness of experience, akin to the feeling a blind balladeer might get when walled in silence and prohibited from having an audience, is frightening in many ways. In one go, it manages to silence the individual and prevent society from engaging with the diversity of opinions that makes up a society. The discussion at the India International Centre that afternoon wove its way through several issues of concern, all the while trying to ignore the void created by the absence of the film that was to provide a focus to the discussion. Yet, the commitment of participants and panelists alike was apparent when they talked of the challenges that faced the present school system. Mrs. Kusum Jain, of the Parents’ Forum for Meaningful Education, spoke at length of the high-handedness of school authorities and the culture of violence in the classroom.
Much to the amazement of the gathering, she revealed that such an ethos has the legal sanction of an Act of Parliament. Meanwhile, Prof. Kumar drew a connection between the low self-esteem and professional frustration of the Indian teacher, and their inevitable inclination to exercise their power over children.
The Chair, Mr. Subir Shukla, an educational consultant, stressed that the key challenge to the school system today, is the need to address the diversity of Indian childhoods with sensitivity. This gave rise to an animated discussion with the floor about the pros and cons of decentralisation of the education, privatisation of the sector and about socialisation of children through the school system. At the end of the afternoon, it was clear that the educational establishment had lost one more opportunity to truly engage with individuals and organisations interested in and working towards the betterment of the experience of schooling for children in India.
Behind the decision to prevent the screening of Padhoge Likhoge Hoge Nawab?’ lies an element of coercion and control, as well as the arbitrary exercise of power for its own sake. Having at no point in the making of the film disagreed with the contents or its child-centred perspective, and having approved the film after taking plenty of time for thought, it came as a complete surprise to us to be told that we could not screen the film in a public forum. It did not seem to matter that our intent was non-commercial, that the screening would only further discussion on issues of common concern amongst government agencies, institutions and individuals – in fact, the same issues that had lead to the contracting of the film in the first place. Written missives have talked of copyright legalities, in a manner which if carried out by the WTO would send any government running to a court of law at the least. Apparently, the 10- clause 30-line contract signed by us had handed over the rights of the film to them completely. If these contracts also effectively deny documentary film-makers the right to screen their creations and generate meaningful discussions around the issues they address, it is cause for serious concern. It is apparent that the time has come for us as a community to address the issue collectively and not have to face lone battles. We ourselves could not have faced the troubled hours preceding that afternoon, or the anger and pain that followed without the strength and support of friends, both within and outside the film fraternity.
National Foundation of India Media Fellowships
The National Foundation for India is a non-profit fund raising organisation, professionally managed to mobilise public opinion as well as resources for supporting development action. The focus areas of the Foundation’s activities are Gender Equity and Gender Justice, Public Affairs and Urban Governance, North East Initiatives and Development Communications.
Established to serve the less privileged, the National Foundation for India set up a Media Fellowships Programme as part of its Development Communication Initiative in 1995. The Foundation offers five fellowships of Rs. 1 lakh each, every year of which four Fellowships go to print journalists. This year the Foundation has introduced one more Fellowship for a Photo journalist. The Fellowship is aimed at young, sensitive journalists, to enable them to take time off from their routine occupations to research and publish articles on issues of importance to ordinary people related to Gender Equity and Gender Justice (with particular emphasis on the girl child) and other development related issues.
The National Foundation Media Fellowships for 1998-99 have been awarded to Print journalists Madhu Gurung, Alladi Jayasri, Suchitra M., Dilip D’Souza and Photojournalist Saibal Das.
for details, contact
National Foundation for India
India Habitat Centre,
Core 4-A. PO Box 3133.
Lodhi Road, New Delhi 110003,
Fax: 011 4641867, e-mail: email@example.com.
The Sangh Media
The right wing Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has set up a clutch of front organizations to suborn the Indian media. On the eve of Indian independence, the RSS was quick to realise that the organization needed its own publicist. As a result, the leadership decided to float the Bharat Prakashan Trust in 1946. Swayamsevaks sold shares of the Trust and in the process mopped up upwards Rs 4 lakh. The monev was used to fund the Organiser that was Launched in July 1947 Since then, the publishing division of the Sangh parivar has not looked behind and today there are a plethora of organisations engaged in disseminating the viewpoint of the conglomerate
Within months of launching Organiser, the RSS leadership felt the need for a mouthpiece in Indian languages Panchjanya and Rashtra Dharma were the Hindi weekly and monthly organs of the RSS that soon hit the stands Later, as more and more RSS affiliates were floated, each one came out with their own newsletter. The Fifties also witnessed the launch several more periodicals including dailies in regional language.
Today, the Sangh and its allies control important dailies like Tarun Bharat (Marathi) the paper where Pramod Mahajan began his political climb,Yug Dharma and Swadesh in Hindi. Organisations like Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad among other affiliates publish newsletters regularly which the RSS claims is distributed in more than one lakh thirty thousand villages in the country. Of these, the Sanskritika Vartha Patra in Marathi is circulated in all the 30,000 panchayats of Maharashtra. The Patheya Kana has a similar outreach in Raiasthan. Not content with just periodicals and magazines, the Sangh and its allies have an elaborate book publishing division that come out with new titles regularly.
However, like other initiatives in publishing, the division is not centralised and functions through independent publishing houses making it virtually impossible for any hostile government to impose a blanket on its publications. It also helps the RSS leadership in its claims that it does not have formal links with the organisations. The Rashtra Dharma Prakashan,Lucknow; New Delhi; Jnana Ganga Prakashan, Jaipur; Bharatiya Vichar Sadhana Pune; Jagarana Publications, Bangalore; and Babasaheb Apte Smarak Samiti, Nagpur are some of the important publishing companies of the Sangh parivar that publish books regularly in all Indian languages. Some of these books MS Golwalkar’s Bunch of Thoughts and populist pamphlets like The Warning of Meenakshipuram and Some questions to Pope have been reprinted several times in various languages. The reach of the books can be gauged from the claims of RSS general secretary HV Seshadri that Hindi versions of books on Abhimanyu and Draupadi have been used as textbooks for children of Hindu origin in Fiji.
Not content with publication drive, the RSS leadership has taken the lead in forming an organisation named Vigil. Consisting primarily of regular contributors to the letters to the Editor columns of newspapers, the organisation is also welcome to regular listeners and viewers of radio and television. The Chennai-based organisation has seen some leading lights of journalism participate in its organisation. According to the RSS leadership, some of the major achievements of Vigil include: Convicting media in Tamil Nadu that the Ayodhya dispute was not getting adequate coverage. Launching a campaign to force the government to relocate a slaughter house in Chennai, Forcing a vulgar depiction of Ras Leela out of television in 1985.
Vigil normally uses the letters to the Editor columns for launching and sustaining a campaign on an issue.
Regular writers are routinely contacted insistence of newspapers to publish addresses of letter writers has helped the RSS to widen its network and then they art; slowly drawn into the organisation’s fold. Vigil holds meeting regularly and the experience has been such a success that swayamsevaks have taken the initiative in several other states to launch similar organisations. Presently, the activities of these public campaign organisations arc coordinated by a national secretariat.
Press barons hound media watchdog
An institution created by Parliament to safeguard the freedom of India’s vibrant print media has, ironically enough, come under vicious attack by powerful press barons.
The trouble, says Justice P. B. Sawant, chairman of the two-decade old Press Council of India (PCI), is that the “freedom of the press is being interpreted by newspaper owners as freedom to print what they want and ensure that no other view will prevail.”
Sawant fell from grace when as chief of the PCI he favoured cooperative ownership of newspapers over the present monopolies control by a few top business families. Sawant’s criticism of an increased tendency for owners to double up as editors to better control editorial policy and employ journalists on a ‘hire-fire’ contract basis has also made him unpopular with press tycoons. But Sawant found himself at the receiving end of a vicious campaign this August after the PCI got embroiled in a messy war between the Enforcement Directorate (ED) of the Finance Ministry and Ashok Jain, owner of the influential ‘The Times of India’ newspaper chain.
Charged with violating India’s foreign exchange laws and acquiring assets in Britain, Jain not only evaded arrest by skipping in and out of the country but also ordered his newspaper chain to launch a campaign against the ED. The PCI censured the Times on several counts but especially for launching a column directed ‘against the- ED called ‘Human Rights Watch’, after India’s apex Supreme Court denied Jain anticipatory bail.
Sawant observed that of the first 95 articles published under the column, 22 were directed against the ED with two of them directly connected with Jain’s case. One of the articles even carried personal criticism against ED officials and suggested their removal from the case. When well known public figures criticised the Human Rights Watch column and demanded that the ED be allowed to function according to law, the Times ran grossly distorted versions of their statements.
Other newspapers grouped under the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) a powerful body of newspaper owners gave silent instructions to editorial staff to black out the PC1 and Sawant’s statement. Among people who complained to the PCI of deliberate distortions by the Times of statements on the issue were a former Supreme Court judge, Rajendar Sachar and a former chief justice of the Delhi High Court, R. M. Pal.
Journalists’ bodies which took up the issue such as the All-India Newspaper Employees Federation (AINEF) and the Unions run by the Press Trust of India and United News of India (UNI) news agencies found themselves backed out not only by the Times but also other newspapers on orders from owners.
Said Shameem Faizee, editor of ‘New Age’, the paper of the Communist Party of India (CPl), the only paper which carried the statements made by journalists’ unions, “the blackouts show how independent the Indian print media really is.”
Faizee said the CPI strongly supported Justice Sawant’s view that the real threat to the freedom of the press in India came from newspaper owners rather than from government interference as evident in the Times case.
“The Human Rights Column is a sad joke – the TO1 has never been so seriously concerned about human rights as when its owner was faced with arrest over gross foreign exchange violations,” Faizee said.
Well known journalist, Mrinal Pande said it was hard to believe that so eminent a person as Justice Sawant could be pilloried within and outside the press and accused of being biased against a free press. “All along newspaper owners were complaining that the PC1 was too pliant and had no teeth – now when you have someone with a backbone like Justice Sawant heading it they find it too uncomfortable,” she said.
Pande said she supported Sawant’s proposal for a plurality of ownership structures including newspapers owned by journalists for a truly free press. “Its either that or unified resistance by journalists against the contract system,” she said.
She said it was sad to see Justice Sawant fighting a lone battle for a free press with journalists who are directly affected not daring to stand up and be counted “But then there are few jobs going and it is a bread and butter issue for most.”
Sawant, who is president of the World Association of Press Councils till the year 2002, now finds himself under flak from international organisations like the Zurich-based, International Press Institute (IPI) and the Commonwealth Press Union (CPU) In a letter, IPI Director, Johann Fritz has advised Sawant that ownership structures and terms of employment are not the business of a press council and that the IPC should “refrain from interfering in matters that should be determined bv the market and the law of the land.”
Similarly, the Commonwealth Press Union (CPU) at its biennial conference in Kuala Lumpur this week said in the India section of its report that the recent statements and decisions of Justice Sawant are not conducive to the legitimate exercise of freedom of the press. The CPU report said “the relationship between editor ano proprietor is a self-defining one regulated by its own demands and convention’- Any attempt by the IPC to lay down rulein these areas can only be viewed as a threat to press freedom.”
Sawant remains unfazed. “Such criticism will help generate a badly needed public debate on the subject of what freedom of the press really means and it will help young journalists to understand the concept better in an age of privatization.”
“These attacks are an attempt to weaken the institution of the PC1 and are only to he expected 111 the new world of free markets where acqusitiveness and competitiveness rather than public service have become the religion.”
It is for journalists to understand that freedom of the press is something that is meant to benefit people and not a handful of newspaper owners – and it is for them to form cooperatives or at least make a unified stand on the issue, Sawant said. Echoing the point, Pandey said, “it is time we journalists realise that either we hang together or we hang separately.”
Courtesy: Dev Raj, Indialink
Listed below are some films currently showing in various cinemas of New Delhi. These may be said to be in keeping with the finest traditions of our glorious Indian culture as preserved and protected by the Shiv Sainiks and other self appointed custodians of our public morals:
His Wife and Her Lover
Red Rose White Rose
Silent Night Deadly Night
A Woman Scorned
Point of Seduction
You Love Only Once
The Other Woman
All upright citizens of this country may safely take their families along for good wholesome entertainment.
New Dates for the New Delhi Video Festival
Dates for the New Delhi Film Festival (NDVF) have been changed. The festival will now be held between 5, 6 and 7 March 1999. The last date for accepting films for selection is 1 January 1999.
for further information, contact:
Dr. Jacob Srampikal, NDVF, NISCORT-CBCI
Centre, 1 Ashok Place, New Delhi 110001,
e-mail: niscort Qnde. vsn1.net.in
Prakriti i s an annual festival of educational and issue based documentaries. The festival is organised by the Consortium for Educational Communication, an autonomous institution of University Grants Commission. The Prakriti 98 is being held at Pune between 21 and 23 January, 1999 at the Auditorium of the Interuniversity Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics.
for information contact:
Varun Singh, CEC, NSC Campus, Aruna Asaf Ali
Marg, New Delhi 110067. Ph (01 1) 68974 18/9, Fax
(011) 6897416, e-mail: cecQdel2. vsn1.net.m
Help sought for film on Tribal Self Rule
One of Gandhi’s dreams was to have decentralisation of power till the village level, which he wanted to fulfil through his vision of Panchayati Raj. Unfortunately, the centralized political structure did not allow it to be implemented. In the eighties, a Panchayati Raj Bill was passed by the Rajiv Gandhi government. However, when it comes to tribal areas, Panchayati Raj is not enough. The concept of democracy among tribals is far superior and deeper than the modern democracy that is in practice. Hence, tribal areas are demanding for tribal self rule. 1996 saw a new arnmendment to the Panchayati Raj Bill. But several questions remain, such as:
What is the true essence of tribal democracy?
What is Panchayati Raj? Why a Tribal Panchayat?
What is the difference between Tribal self rule and Panchayati Raj?
Akhra wants to explore these questions and many more in their forthcoming film “Hamara Gaon Mein Hamara Raj.” In order to raise the required finances, Akhra appeals to all to purchase presale of copies of the film at Rs.500 each. Orders may be placed with:
Dhruv Nivas, Shastri Nagar, Kanke Road,
Ranch! 834008, Bihar. Ph (0651) 204325
IFA invites proposals
The India Foundation for Arts (IFA) is an independent grant making institution that provides sustenance to creativity, collaborative work and critical reflection in arts. Under the arts research and documentation programme, the IFA has been supporting studies of subjects ranging from compositions in Carnatic music, popular and commercial art, craft traditions and lifestyles, architectural history to women photographers. Presently IFA intends to interpret arts more widely to include the written, painted, crafted, performed, broadcasted and filmed, both traditional and modern. IFA is inviting proposals both on documenting of histories, as well as investigation and interpretation of arts processes, comparative analyses and theoretical research. Deadline for proposals is April 30,1999.
For more information,contact
IFA, Tharangini,12th Cross, Raj Mahal Vilas
Extension, Bangalore 560080,
Intimidating press in Pakistan
The largest selling Urdu daily of Pakistan, “Jang” and its sister publication “The News” were raided by the Federal Investigative Agency (FIA) on 14 December. The papers claimed that the raid was a retaliatory action for publishing a report on alleged default of millions by Nawaz Sarif’s family.
On 15 December angry opposition members stormed out of Pakistan’s parliament accusing the Nawaz Sharif Government of “intimidating” the Fourth Estate while journalists boycotted the proceedings as a mark of protest. The entire Press corps stayed away from the Senate in the evening as a protest against the raids even as irate Opposition lawmakers walked out of the House after a bitter debate.
Replying to adjournment motion moved by the Mohajir Quami Movement shortly before the walk out, Interior Minister, Mr. Shujjat Hussain, admitted Federal Investigative Agency officials had gone to Jang’s Rawalpindi office for “checking.”
At Chairman, Mr. Wasim’s insistence, Hussain, walked up to the Press gallery to dissuade agitated journalists from boycotting proceedings of the House. He assured them he had never supported the “ugly action” against the Press. “I have directed the director of the FIA to submit the real facts of the case but till now I was told that it was not a raid.”
Ignoring the minister’s pleas the entire journalistic fraternity boycotted the proceedings of the House. The government had earlier denied reports of the raid. On the other hand, Mr. Sharif’s close aide, Mr. Saifur Rehman, alleged to be the brain behind the raids, threatened the Jang group with more raids. “We have not conducted the raid but will soon see what kind of raid we are going to conduct against the Jang group of newspapers,” he was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) and the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) have condemned the raids in separate statements as “vindictive action” to browbeat the Press. The APNS said the raids appears to be a retaliation against reproducing a report by the London based “Observer” and termed it as an “act against the entire newspaper industry.” It also urged Mr. Sharif to find out whether certain section were trying to pit the government against the Press. The CPNE said such action was against the spirit of democracy and cannot be tolerated at any cost and asked Mr. Sharif to initiate action against those responsible for it.
The 45th International Short Film and Video Festival Oberhausen will be held at the city of Oberhausen between 22 and 27 April 1999 Oberhausen is open to all genres of film making The festival will have categories of International Competition, German Competition, Children’s Short film Competition and Special Programmes For the International Competition and Children’s Short film Competition, films and videos produced after January 1, 1997 will be eligible for selection Also films and videos up to 35 minutes will be considered Along with prizes in all categories, the highest award, the Grand Prix of the City of Oberhausen will be DM 10,000. Deadline for entries is 1st February 1999.
Contact Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen
GrillostraBe 34, D-46045, Oberhausen, Germany
Ph:49 208 825-2652, Fax +49 208 825-5413,
IAWRT Conference in Delhi
The International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) has its biennial conference between 15 and 19 February in Delhi at the India International Centre The Conference theme is ‘Cultural Diversity A Media Challenge’ Eminent broadcasters will address issues related to media and culture, how does media reflect cultural diversity, role of media in reinforcing cultural stereotypes, advertising impact on representation of women in popular programmes The focus will be on how programme makers approach these questions on culture and portrayal of women in radio and television As part of the conference, there will be workshops and training sessions on portrayal of women and indigenous experiences on community broadcasting In addition, women programme makers are invited to compete for the IAWRT award for the best programme on radio and television The theme of the competition is Women and Human Rights’.
Contact Ms Jai Chandiram
131 Madan La1 Block, Asiad Village,
Khel Gaon Marg New Delhi 110048,
Ph (011) 3388815
Only God can save us!
The surveys for choosing the ‘Person of the century’ is hotting up on the internet. One such survey shows that Mahatma Gandhi is far behind the German dictator Adolf Hitler. The survey being conducted by the American magazine Time, is updated continuously (http: / /www.TIME.com). Time adds a note of caution that the survey “is an unscientific, informal survey for the interest and enjoyment of Time.com users, and may not be indicative of popular opinion.” At the time of writing this, 60,560 people selected Gandhi who is placed at the sixth position from a list 20 persons. 117,059 persons (12.73%) chose Hitler who is ranked second after Jesus Christ who was chosen by 648,614 people (46.64%). Albert Einstein is ranked 14th (0.56%), Pope John Paul II is ranked 10th (1.06%) and Hazrat Mohammed is ranked fourth with 5.51% votes. Bill Gates, the emperor of software is ranked 18th and Graham Bell, the discoverer of telephone is 8th on the list.
Howard Chapnick Grant for Shahidul Alam
Dr. Shahidul Alam of Bangladesh has been awarded the third Annual Howard Chapnick Grant for Advancement of Photojournalism. The award was recently presented in a ceremony held at the International Center of Photography in New York.
Dr. Alam was awarded $5,000 to do preparatory work in setting up a South Asian Institute of Photography, called Pathshala, to encourage photography in an area of the world where little institutional support exists in this field. Shahidul Alam says, “I see photography not as a way of making beautiful images but as a highly effective means of bringing about change, globally, within my community and within myself. In a region where most people can neither read nor write, images remain a powerful method of communication and entertainment.” I see it as a potent means of addressing the imbalances within society.”
Applications for the 1999 Howard Chapnick Grant are due July 15, 1999, and may be obtained by writing to
125 East 87th Street, New York. NY 10028.
The classic Olympic games were revived in their modern form over a hundred years ago by the Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin. After a massive campaign, he launched the first Olympic games in Athens in 1896. However, sports and athletic competitions were not enough for him. He wished to infuse more of the Olympic spirit into the games. The means would be the combination of sports and classic education, represented by art and culture. Competition as such would be more important than victory.
Unfortunately, this event never developed a status matching the athletic competitions and was terminated after the 1948 Olympics in London.
Media activists at international TV and video conferences have for a number of years discussed the possibility of creating a cultural forum. A forum which would be a cultural meeting place and exchange centre for nations and peoples, a place for showing locally created productions. A place for active local media people to meet, be inspired, and take productions home with them. The thought of establishing a recurring international event developed.
The aim of the Videolympiade event is to promote quality and creativity in the field of local production for Community TV. There are many festivals and events around the globe which promote excellence and perspective’s in film making. The Videolympiade seeks to give a voice to people and issues that are either not covered by commercial broadcasting or not covered from the perspective of the people concerned with the issues.
Olivier Pasquet took the initiative for the First Video and TV Olympiade in conjunction with the Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, in 1992. The event was a success with 250 delegates participating from 24 countries. Medals were awarded to locally produced programs in 7 categories. The Second Video and TV Olympiade took place in 1994 in Scandinavia aboard a ferry, the Kristina Regina, travelling between Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Again there were 250 delegates from 29 countries. The Third Local Video and TV Olympiade took place in conjunction with the VIDEAZIMUT conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1996. This, the fourth event was also run in conjunction with the bi-annual VIDEAZIMUT Conference.
The fourth Videolympiade had a large number of locally produced videos which tell the extraordinary stories of people who’s visual voice is marginalised. The Olympiade Committee believes it is time to find and operationalise the resources to catalogue the material we have already collected and develop a distribution system for the work we are all producing. This year there were 70 entries from 25 countries, from soldiers in the Chiapas in Mexico, to a dam being built in India resulting in the displacement of 15 million people, to women in factories in Asia assembling the very equipment we use and contracting diseases after cleaning circuit boards with bare hands, to Indigenous Australia and the issue of uranium mining in sacred tribal lands, to the story of an ex-terrorist in Palastine, a woman plane hijacker telling her own story, to the Namibian story on Press Freedom in Africa, homeless French people occupying the many empty buildings in Paris and an insight into the lives of people with Dwarfism, in Lithuania.
The selection process was undertaken by a panel of seven people including our members of the elected International Co-ordination Committee for the Videolympiades, two Cape Town based community media practitioners and a representative from Italy.
- Tracey Naughton, NYAKA, 152 Anstey’s Tower,
59 Joubert St, Johannesburg 2001,
Ph: +27 (011) 336 3434, Fax: +27 (011) 337 4189
Selected Videos at the 4th Olympiade
Communication of rights (South Africa): It’s About Time/ Yo Itekeng
Right to communicate (Mozambique): Saltando A Corda
Communication of rights (Ireland): Where do I play?
Right to communicate (Ireland): Under Curfew
Communication of rights (Mexico): Casos de violencia contra indigenas communidades
Right to communicate (Cuba): Como una Gota de Agus
Communication of rights (USA): Marcos’ message to Freeing the media
Right to communicate (USA): Poverty Otlaw
Communication of rights (India): How do I survive my friend?
Right to communicate (Malaysia): Dolls and Dust
DIRECT ACTION AWARDS
Organisation of the Moguls Tour: Paper Tiger TV, USA
Putting the Demo Back in Democracy for the organization of a community TV station CBC, South Africa.
‘Experiment of the Cross’ from Kazakhstan wins the Amnesty International Film Award
The 3rd Amnesty International Film Festival was held between 16 to 20 September in the Amsterdam cinemas De Balie\ Calvpso 2 and Bellevue, Cinerama 2. The programme included films, videos, leisures, debates and discussions. 300 films were entered in the festival of which about 80 were screened. 15 films were nominated for the award. From India there were three films – “Lesser Humans” by Stalin K. ‘”Enemy within Us” by N. C. Rajamani and ‘Dry Days in Dubbagunta” by Nupar Basu. A selection programme started in Groningen the next day. The theme of the Film Festival was 50 Years Universal declaration of Human Rights. Despite the warm and sunny weather more than 3,000 visitors found their way to the theatre De Balie in Amsterdam. This is twice the number of visitors compared to the 1996 Film Festival.
“Experiment of the Cross,” by Taas Popov and Vladimir Tulkin (Kazachstan) won the 1998 Amnesty International Fiim Award. Vladimir Tulkin, one of the filmmakers was given the prize money of 10,000 Dutch guilders by Emile Fallaux, chairman of the jury. The jury praised the film for its unadorned and cool presentation of a wrong, which in other filmmakers would have resulted in pathos and outrage. This Russian documentary shows how children in Russia have to serve prison sentences of many years in remote penal colonies for minor misdemeanours.
This film has already won the Silver Award of the 1996 Cannes- Biarritz Festival and the Grand Prize of the 1997 International Festival Mediawave’ in Hungary. “Experiment of the Cross” was nominated for the 1997 Emmy Award in America in the category ‘best documentary’.
An honourable mention was given to “Lesser Humans,” by Stalin K. (India). The jury felt “Lesser Humans” exposes a neglected subject with a rare combination of clarity and passion. This documentary depicts the fate of the poorest of the poor and the slaves’ who belong to the lowest group on the Indian caste system: the Bhangi.
The public’s favorite was the film “ A Petal” by Yang Sun Woo(South Korea). This film won the Canal Public’s Award of 5,000 Dutch guilders.
In 1996, the second Amnesty International Film Festival was held in De Balie and the Alfa Theatre in Amsterdam. In 1995 Amnesty organised the Women’s Film Festival around the Women’s Conference in Beijing, China. With this film festival Amnesty International wants to create a platform for committed filmmakers and human rights activists. Amnesty International is planning to make this festival a yearly event.
For information, Contact:
Amnesty International Filmfestival
Phone: # 31 20 6264436
Stalin K. at the Amnesty Festival
‘Lesser Humans’ by Stalin K. received an honorable mention of the Jury at the Amnesty Festival, Writes Stalin about the festival …
To begin with I had expected much more from the festival. Since it was being organised by a human rights organisation. I thought I would meet a lot of activists and lobbyists with whom one could discuss issues and potential folow ups. But that was not the case.
The Amnesty International Film Festival turned out to be just another festival only much less publicized resulting in a low audience turn out. But I saw some extremely good films like “Gerrie and Louise” (Canada), “How the War Started on My Island” by Vinko Bresan, (Croatia), ‘Human Remains” by Jay Rosenblat (USA), “The Forgotten” by Anne Laure Foily (Angola) and of course, the winning film “Experiment of the Cross” by Vladimir Tuikin (Kazakhstan) which according to the jury “struck as an authentic documentary, that presents a gruesome subject with simplicity and without sensationalism or pathos.”
One of the things I liked best in the festival was the jury’s report at the end of the event where it explained the reasons for selecting the wnning film. It gave the award to “Experiment of the CRoss” because “the film makers display a confidence in the abit’ty of the sosc?*ors to draw their own conclusions; they do not clobber us with a heavv-handed messge and they refrain from a gratuitous display of indignation. With their modest approach,all attention goes to the subject, the poor kids that find themselves in the correctional centres in the former Soviet empire.’
About “Lesser Humans” it said that the film demonstrates an approach almost contrary to what we liked in “Experiment of the Cross” – a very didactical and essayistic approach can also be very effective. It shows that social activist film making need not sacrifice intellectual integrity and sharp analysis.
I completely agree with the jury’s observation that film festivals dedicated to human rights should find an alternate to the usual method of competition and (cash) awards. I feel that festivals organised by human rights organisation should award (read recognise) the subject covered in the film more than the film-making itself .
One of the ways to do this could be that the organisers commit to fo1low-up, by lobbying and advocating, on the issues covered in the films.
Cees Hamelink, the spirit behind PCC
Communication is basic to the life of all individuals and their communities. All people are entitled to participate in communication and in making decisions about communication within and between societies. Commercialization of media and concentration of media ownership erode the public sphere and fail to provide for cultural and information needs, including the plurality of opinions and the diversity of cultural expressions and languages necessary for democracy. The People’s Communication Charter (PCC) seeks to give the rights of media access and literacy the same status as other human or civil rights.
Media Mail had carried the details of the PCC in the October 1997 issue. Recently we spoke to Cees Hamelink, one of the pionnering spirits of the FCC.
What prompted you to initiate the erection of a document like the PCC ?
I am mainly concerned about the fact that people apparently aren’t really concerned, about the quality of communications environment. The 1980’s, which had really been the decade of social movements, all over the world ordinary men and women had decided to take responsibility for their own lives. They decided that if you leave human rights, equality between men and women, the environment to the governments or to the market, its not going to happen. Even if you leave peace and security, the classical topics for diplomacy, to governments and diplomats, its never going to come about. People all over the world began to realise that and form civil movements and social movements.
The remarkable thing was that, all these social movements are in a way communication methods. They have all used media, they have all talked to the media, they have all been dependent on the media for information flow. Yet none of them explicitly defined itself as a communications movement. And there was very little protest about that, overall communication environment. Now that’s strange, because if for example you are in the environmental movement and you want to do something about the ozone layer, or you would like to reduce the use of energy, then its a bit counter production to do that in an overall situation where the media tells people to consume more – since most of the media ask about advertising. You would have to do something and get people to reduce their consumption level.
When people buy a small radio set or a television set and it doesn’t work people get very upset and they know what to do about it. They go back to the shop keeper, they write to the President, consumer unions get activated. Once the equipment works, they listen and watch and never complain again. The media gives the most incredible electronic garbage to people through television or tell them the most impossible lies through radio news.
Yet they won’t move. That got us to think about the fact that we need a world wide civil movement. We realised from the very beginning that it would be very difficult. There would be no way one could ever begin to attack the media that there wasn’t a very clear document that would describe what people really want from the media. The media bosses would simply say, since most people don’t complain,” what’s the problem? Maybe people like it.” And its indeed true, if indeed millions of people around the world can be crazy about “The Bold and the Beautiful,” then maybe there’s something wrong with some of us who think it is not good. If people like a certain type of entertainment, if they don’t care, whv be paternalistic, or maternalistic, and say we know what’s good for you? So the media owners would say, “we are right, because people like it, they don’t complain, if they like what they get, they get what they like “We operated from a question and said maybe that’s not true. The fact that you see a proliferation of MacDonalds hamburger fast food restaurants around the world doesn’t necessarily mean that people only want to eat Hamburgers Yes, millions of people eat hamburgers and are apparently quite fond of it, but maybe its not the only thing they want And if we let MacDonalds totally free, then the only thing that people will be able to eat , the only thing they will get is hamburgers.
So it became clear that these things will have to be written down. We will have to express what people would expect from the media. Of course, that kind of document would need a constituency. Because without broad social support for it, it would become only an action on behalf of some dedicated activists and social scientists, but nothing to do with our lives. As a result of this, in 1993 a process began by which a text was formulated.
Could you elaborate on the process by which the document was formulated?
Its interesting to see how it went. Even the title itself was a major problem in the beginning. The first title of the document was a Consumers Communication Charter. That made sense because we were thinking along the lines of critical consumer unions like the Consumer Association of Penang. Because people consume media projects and just when they become worried about tangible projects, they tend to be worried about intangible projects. But some of us felt consumers was a very restricted term because that refers to people only as buyers on the market. So we should call them Citizens Communication Charter. Then some said that’s not good either because so many people are not citzens either. So we came to People, that seemed to be the most general term to include everyone.
Then the first text was made. It was clear from the beginning that this was to be an open and dynamic process. As many people as possible should have a say on this. It should be a document that people feel they can appropriate as their own document. If you want this to be a democratic process, it is by definition going to be slow and complicated. No one ever told you that democracy was going to be easy. Dictatorship is probably easier. Democracy is one of the most complicated forms of governance. In the end it is worthwhile since it takes all of us seriously.
Then one group said gender was not adequately represented. Ethnic groups said ethnicity was very well represented. Deaf people said we forgot about sign language. “We are a language minority, we are not handicapped people,” they said. So it was a fascinating process in which more and more people began to support the document. Some international movements such as AMARC, Videazimut, The World Association for Christian Communication, The Jesuits Communications Outfit, the MacBride outfit, and more and more organisations began to accept and support this document.Now many individuals are signing up.
The strength of the process or the movement is that the PCC is nothing but a text, a dynamic one which can be adapted to any situation. Local initiatives are tremendously important. Whenever people say that we need to focus at local media I couldn’t agree more. But I would also say that in today’s world, the struggle that you have on the local level can never be separated from a global form, it is impacted by decisions. So the future of even the smallest community in the world will be determined not only by its own local efforts but also by decisions taken in the World Trade Organisation. The local struggle will also need that extension on the global level. Similarly in a global or diplomatic circles we often tend to forget about localities. We need to find mechanisms to link the two. What one is trying to do with PCC is to write a document that you can look at for a local use, and at the same time use it at the level of WTO or larger organisations to say “this is the way we would like to shape our communications environment.” That’s the nice thing about a flexible document. You may say “I can’t use all these 18 articles, but article 40 is important for us to use.” That’s great.
Don’t you feel the need for a structure at work at such a vast level? In practical terms how do you work at a global level and at the grassroots?
I feel one has to be a bit careful in trying to create fixed, inflexible, permanent structures and coalitions. Inevitably at some point of time someone needs to be the President. Inevitably in those structures you will have little power games. This is particularly true of the species I come from, the male. Men will never be able to do these things without playing power games. Then often what happens is that the whole cause simply collapses because all kinds of petty fights, and certainly when money is involved, jealousy is more dangerous. So I believe you need to focus more on issues than on structures. Issues change all the time. What I like to see is adhoc coalitions around issues. That coalition then doesn’t have to exist as an institution. In the end the PCC is to a large extent an exercise in education and consciousness raising. That’s where it all begins, that people begin to critically think about a media. Also these coalitions are potential audience for the educational process. Its all about politics, politics based on an educational process. Without that, politics becomes mere propaganda or mindless running after your candidate.
If we look at democratic structures the most vulnerable part of a democratic system is people’s indifference. When democracy is threatened by coup de tat, by dictators and economic force, that’s all true. But democracy is far more threatened by people who simply don’t care. That’s where I think we need to work harder than anywhere else and that is part of an educational process where people begin to realise that the responsibility for democracy is also their own. We may talk about enormous global structural problem, but at the end of the day it comes back to ordinary men and women’s responsibility. You get up in the morning, look into the mirror and say what am I going to do about all this. If we keep in perspective things like personal as political and political as personal, then we can see efforts like the PCC as part of a longer historical process. We may not be able to see any change in our life time.
My students often say to me that its all very fine but you will never be successful, you’re never going to achieve all this, you’re getting old now, why are you still at it? And I always say well, you have no choice. Then the only thing left for you is to give up. Even if you have no guarantee that things will be better I can assure you that its definitely going to get much worse. You can wait for it.
What is the basic essence of the PCC?
The core message of the document is rather simple. It says, the right to communicate is essential to our lives. We are not allowed to communicate, to speak or to listen to each other, to exchange information which is essential to our lives. But rights cannot come without duties. Someone who once articulated it comes from your country, Mahatma Gandhi, when he was asked by the UNESCO Director General immediately after the World War II, what he thought about human rights. He wrote a very brief letter in which he said, “I have always learnt from my wife and illiterate mother that rights stem from duties well done.” And that statement by Mahatma Gandhi is for me the core of the whole human rights existence. That’s also what the PCC says – the right of freedom of expression, right to the protection of children, right to the protection of your privacy right not to be stereotyped in the media, not to have distorted information. But these rights will only come true if we take the responsibility to implement them. If we leave it to the government or the market to do it, then one day we will be very surprised that there are no rights left.
Civil Liberties: False Pride of The Fourth State and Media
Civil liberties in media in India to a greater extent has been a matter of false consciousness, pride and prejudices. It is more so after independence of the country. The question of answers is why?
To begin with, it is noteworthy that the preamble of the constitution of India promises to secure for all its citizens not only Justice - social, economic and political – but also Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship, and Equality of status and of opportunity.
This promise in the preamble was made in our constituent assembly on 26 November 1949. Five decades later, it still remains a promise of the state. The state has its own explanation for this state of affairs. These explanations are very visible when the executive and the judiciary interact because of public pressure on issues not addressed by the legislature.
Now let us have a look at what the media has done to help and check the state in that, particularly with the promise of Liberty by its assumed role of a watchdog of democracy.
Its not without reason that the fourth state, as press loves to be addressed in the country, has a dynamics of nourishing narcissism among media persons.
No doubt there are scores of journalist who have been championing the cause of civil liberties. But they could do so more as citizen than as media persons. Yes we have our brand of crusaders in the press like Kuldeep Nayyer. But ask him what had happened to civil liberties in Punjab in recent past. Today he works as a crusader of civil liberties, here too more as a citizen! Even he could not do much as a journalist in those troubled days of state sponsored terrorism in Punjab.
During those days both the news agencies of the country, the wholesalers of news – UNI and PTI, used to give their subscriber newspapers a series of daily news stories. Titled ROUND UP PUNJAB the news series provided only the police version and ignored almost completely what the people of Punjab had to face. The Round Up Punjab the news series introduced many false consciousness in the society which were generated by people both within and outside the press. The meaning of the word terrorism itself got hanged and all over the country people wearing turbans began to be suspected as terrorists. Eleven innocent persons in turban were killed by the Uttar Pradesh police at Pilibhit in 1991 and the false consciousness of terrorism, created largely by the press, initially saw it as an achievement of the then Kalyan Singh government in the state!
Was it not a film MACHIS, rather than newspapers which told the truth, to an extent, to the people in the country? Of course, the film came much after the beginning of the end of the trouble in Punjab. Also it had its own limitations and succumbed to the pressure of the market forces to romanticise the horrible tales of terrorism in the state which denied all civil rights to its citizens. The scene in Kashmir and states in the north-east is still the same.
The press council of India also failed to take any concrete measures to correct the situation, obviously due to its inherent structural weaknesses. In 1991, in the name of making an impartial review of media coverage of excesses comitted by the army in the Valley of Kashmir, the Press Council of India made an all out attempt to give a clean chit to the armed forces without even properly carrying out investigations into the affair. The PC1 sub-committee which comprised of noted journalist B. G. Verghese and the President of the Indian Federation of Working Journalists (IFWJ) K. Vikram Rao, released its report entitled “Crisis and Credibility” in which shocking comments were made regarding the Kunan-Pashpore gang-rape incident. The team members dismissed the charges of gang-rape by armymen as an “invention” by a section of the press. The concerned Block Medical Officer who examined 32 women victims reportedthat he found “abrasions on chest and abdomen and torn hymen in the case of three unmarried girls.” But for the sub-comitttee members “this could be the result of natural factors …. injury … premarital sex.”
There has been very little effort to sensitise the media persons in the country in general, and in the Indian languages press in particular, on the issue of human rights and civil liberties.
Media and the Marginalised
The complete version of P. Sainath’s talk delivered at the A. C. Sen Memorial lecture in Delhi is now available in the form of a booklet. Those who have already requested us for copies will get them very soon. Those who want to have the full lecture, please write to us.
Price: Rs. 25 per copy
Bulk copies of 100 and above: Rs 15 per copy.
Please add Rs. 10 for outstation cheques.
An Interview with Anjali Monteiro and K. P. Jayasankar
Anjali Monteiro and K. P. Jaysankar, have many identities. They are film makers, teachers, colleagues and are married to each other. They also write extensively on media and communications. They run the Unit for Media and Communication at the Tata Institute for Social Sciences (TISS).
Where did you start from, how did you come together?
Anjali: We both started at very different ends. I was a Marxist and I wanted to work with the working class or do something at the grassroots. I was never oriented to media. I came into media by accident. There was this film-maker with whom we decided to make a slide show on slum eviction, because some major evictions had just taken place. I didn’t have any sort of passion to make films or anything like that. I had a passion to work with people. I was lecturing at the undergraduate level and side by side making slide programmes. After a couple of years I got into it full time and worked for a number of years with slide sound. Video came much later, around 1986 or so. I joined TISS in 1983.
I was also interested in how people understand media, how people see. So I took some time off and did my PhD. I lived for a year in a working class community and tried to understand how they were making sense of television. This was in the late eighties when television first began proliferating in that area. I was looking at how people were making sense of it, how were they defining their identities, etc. It was a very valuable experience.
Jayasankar: I have a strange kind of background. I studied chemistry to start with. That was in Kerala in the seventies. Though I wasn’t a bad student, I was not very keen on doing science any longer. I lost faith in science, so to to speak. I studied painting for a while. That’s when I got interested in the whole idea of meanings and representations. When you do a painting, everyone asks, “what does it mean?” as if the painter is the carrier of the meaning. That fascinated me and troubled me. I decided that meaning is a word normally associated with language. So I thought I would study languages, to know what meaning actually is; what is the meaning of meaning.
I shifted to Bombay, worked in a refinery and started learning German. I was into some German literature. Looking into the whole notion of meanings started off as a hobby. But to study languages is a very serious business. I went on to do my masters in German language. After having studied language I realised that probably one should do a little bit of linguistics. So I started working on Chomsky. Gradually I started to shift over to philosophy where I did my Phd, basically looking at the whole notion of language, identity, ideology in three main schools of thought: poststructuralism, hermeneutics and advaita.
I was always passionately involved with visuals, that’s how I relate to the world. When I met Anjali, she was editing her first film. I decided to hang around and see what she does. Then I got involved in it. After she finished the film she asked me if I would like to help the unit – that was in 1986. So that’s how it all started.
Both of you are teaching at the TISS. What are you teaching?
A: Six years ago the institute, on popular demand from students, asked us to do a course in communications for the masters level students of social work. We thought why not use this opportunity to do what we want and maybe introduce something new. We felt there was a certain, call it complacency, within the social work concept where certain things are taken for granted. This is especially true in the way they think about media: that we are here to change others and we will use media to change other people’s lives. We thought, since TISS gives a fairly free hand, why not try and work out a course that would start with questioning these suppositions and also get them to think about how their own perceptions are shaped by the media – a process of self-reflection, as media viewers, social workers, as well as human beings – a questioning of identities.
We found that there was no available material. So we thought, why not use commercials? They are short, they rivet you and are like the shorthand of our culture; they have all the dominant relations of power and are really interesting to watch. In the first year, part of the course was just showing commercials, discussing them, and through that trying to get students to look at various things. Over time we developed various exercises which we put together with students’ analysis into a short film.
As it stands now, it’s one course. In the first module of the course, which we call ‘Critical approaches to the media’, we get students to question this kind of instrumental view of media, that media is a tool that I can use to change others. So we get them to question this at various levels and see how media is much more than just a tool. Many things are articulated that might not be intentional, that are not in the control of the sender or the receiver who are situated in the larger matrix of power.
We found that some students resisted, and increasingly so. There seems to be a kind of conservative backlash particularly in the last two or three years, where students even within social work are looking at things in managerial terms, as social managers rather than as social activists.
We found that students do look at media differently after going through this course. We started off with commercials but over time we included all kinds of other media artifacts. We look at comics, we look at the press, take examples and discuss with them. Then, as a part of the exercise, they have to do an analysis themselves, which they find very challenging and some of them put in tremendous effort and come up with brilliant things. We also learn a lot from our students.
J: Another notion we found interesting to work with our students is this notion of impact. First of all they are not very comfortable with this idea of different meanings. They are willing to accept it for themselves, as urban audience. But they still clam that they would like to use media to change people’s behaviour. For example, we suggest, all the smokers in the class can ask the non-smokers to make a film so that the smokers would give up smoking, what kind of strategy would you use? They would probably want to give them information. Smokers would say they know all that. Then we would threaten them with all kinds of dire consequences. But they know all that too. Nobody is going to give up smoking, they admit themselves. At this stage we introduce this idea of the normal, i.e. our position is normal. These smokers, if they are working as counsellors with substance abuse people, they would say that smoking is all right but brown sugar is out. And the one who smokes brown sugar, or ganja, has a sense of normalcy about him. The strange thing is that the smokers, who know that they are not going to give up smoking by seeing a film; or ‘n’ number of films for that matter; but would still insist that some others, like the rural population or children are going to change their attitude because they have made a film.
Also, very often we get students who say that they would like to do a research project on the impact of television on children. But nobody asks the question that how is it impacting us? Why this mythical ‘them’ whom you are constantly searching? You ask the children, are you being affected? They will say we are not being affected, but somebody else, like illiterate children will be affected. You always create this mythical ‘other’ who is impacted. There is this whole division of ‘us’ and ‘them’. It is a significant concept when you talk about impact and effect. And that gives us a strong foot in the door, to demolish this idea related to meanings or translations or communications.
In many cases we have an abnormal situation. Take for instance a film on alcoholism. There is this husband who comes drunk in the evening and beats up the wife. Or child abusers, this father who beats up the child physically. What one has discovered is that these kind of films have an immunising effect. I am an honourable father, an honourable husband, who doesn’t do this to my children or to my wife. But I have subtle, civilised ways of oppressing my wife or my child which gets under the carpet, which doesn’t appear, it is invisible. So if I take a normal situation like how I would probably talk to my child: no shouting, no sticks, but there are many ways in which I can oppress the child. So you take up this normal situation and try to look at what constitutes normalcy. Its very threatening, because it implicates all of us.
A: Also this two dimensional kind of relationship of power, that A is oppressing B and I am outside this situation looking into it so I can feel very self righteous about it. So it always in a rural area, a landlord is oppressing the peasants, the people in corporate are oppressing the pavement dwellers, where am I in it? How am I implicated? I am also a party to it in some way. I am not outside the system. Very often activists also tend to fall into that trap. This leaves you comforted rather than leaving you disturbed. Or they leave you disturbed about the situation but not about your own practice.
J: With our students we talk about various issues, class, races anything, but gender is one aspect that they will always resist. Because it is something that impinges on all of us.
A: Somehow we have always found gender the most sensitive kind of issue. And it is not only the males in the class who have problems, it is the women. In fact, women are very often more vociferous. Especially when you question notions of feminity, notions of beauty, notions of how one sees oneself, ones body. The women feel very threatened by it.
J: When you speak about media education to students or other groups, they are always interested in the technicalities of film making. I use this example, that if you want to write a book, would you start learning word processing or typing? You need to learn how to write a book, then probably word processing helps. It is something that we are trying to propagate. The whole way in which films are constructed is more significant, the language used is more significant than learning camera operations. I have a suspicion that most media education in this country is skill oriented, which needs to be changed completely.
There is a lot of emphasis on technology by which you create glorified technicians. Since I have learned the skills by doing it, I know how simple that was, that took very little time to learn. But the whole pain of making a film still haunts us, the technology doesn’t help us at all.
Tell us about your films. Are they all done through the TISS?
A: Yes, they are all done through the TISS because we have found that in TISS we can work freely.
There are no editorial constraints?
A: No. I think that over time we have developed that space. It was not always there. Earlier we were much more restricted to doing things that departments and units wanted, but over time we have been doing more and more projects that we initiate ourselves. Of course sometimes we have to do bread and butter films also for the institute.
How much of space would that be? Do you manage to do at least one production a year?
A: Easily, at least one a year. Also, because we have our own equipment, though not the state of the art equipment, we spend very little on each film. Our budgets are very very low, Rs. 20,000 or 25,000, which is mostly transport and cost of tapes, and if we want to do dissolves, graphics or subtitling. That’s all.
How do you do your films? Do you find a partner like Kashthakari Sangathana? Is it always through an idea you have, how does the whole process start?
A: Actually, with Kashtakari, we know them, they are our friends. One day Shiraz started talking about this story and we got excited and got into it. YCP happenned because we read this article two years ago and we kept saying that we must make this film. Then the opportunity came and we went and made it. It depends, we don’t know, we are not very sure what the next film is going to be. It happens.
Tell us. What is the next film going to be?
A: We have been working on a project on Dharavi. We have some friends who live in Dharavi and they have been very concerned about how Dharavi is seen by the outside world, how Dharavi is represented and in some way wanting to question the dominant representation of Dharavi as a den of vice, poverty and dirt, everything negative. We started working on it when other things came up. We realise that it is a very complex project, it’s a world in itself. It’s a country, there are so many worlds there. It is going to take time. There are so many aspects to it. There is the whole political economy of the city and the place of Dharavi, the housing issue, the issue of various communities living with each other and the whole history of Dharavi since the late nineteenth century. It is fascinating. We still don’t know how we are going to do it.
J: That’s always the case, when we start doing a film we really don’t know how it is going to shape. We have some ideas but we are always very insecure about it.
A: The form emerges. For instance, we never went to the prison with a script. We just went there knowing that these are the people we are going to talk to. It is something that emerged out of the material after we documented it. Even with Kahankar Ahankar, we were not very sure, we had the stories and we did some research. At least of late we don’t really prescript our films. Even the structure happens along the way.
Once you have shot something and structured it, do you need to go back and shoot something more?
A: In all cases we have done shooting over a period of time except for the prison where didn’t have the possibility of going back. With Kahankar, we shot over a period of a year. During that process the structure emerged.
J: I can give you an example, in Kahankar we were visualising this jump story. At one point we realised that just showing the painting was not good enough. There was a cupboard. We had a similar cupboard at home, so we put it on top of the jeep, took it to the back of the institute and did the shot there. There was a rain sequence which I was shooting, but we realized it was not good enough. One day it was raining in the institute. So we pitched the camera and shot it from my office window. We do things like that all the time.
You feel that the institution has not really cluttered you, but has it also been a support in terms of distribution. How much of your films are shown in cities or smaller places?
A: It has been a support in terms of the infrastructure it offers. Even if it is distribution we have to do everything ourselves. We make the leaflet and mail it. We dont have to worry about the cost of mailing, things like that. In terms of reaching out, maybe the name of Tata Institute helps, or in terms of getting access certainly it helps. We would not have got access to the prison the way we did if we were not in the institute. I think there are definite advantages and so far atleast we have not experienced any disadvantages. We have not been restricted to do something that we wanted to do or to say. Its more by default that there are many people who see our films.
Padhoge Likhoge, Hoge Nawab?
Hindi/English, 34min, 1998
In different languages and in different ways, children constantly hear from adults around them, “Padhoge, Likhoge hoge nawab, Kheloge koodoge hoge kharaab(Read and write, and you’ll be a king, Play around and pay for your sins). The rhyme reflects society’s hope that school education will be salvation for the young. But how well founded is this notion? In present day India, schooling is not as widespread or effective as it is hoped to be. Although adult experts offer reams of suggestions, several questions remain. Does schooling mean the same thing to all children? Does it open the same doors for all? Should education be compulsory, universal or uniform? Instead of offering yet another adult perspective on the subject, this film talks to some school going children to explore what schooling means to them. Here girls and boys from government schools in tribal MP, a public school in Delhi and an alternative school in Andhra describe schooling as they know it.
Film by: Vani Subramanian & Surajit Sarkar
Source/ Info: Surajit Sarkar
92 SFS Flats, Hauz Khas, New Delhi 110016
Nasreen 0′ Nasreen
In an inherently iniquitous society such as India, violence manifests itself in the form of discrimination, oppression, denial disempowerment as well as brutal naked physical violence. Women over the ages have been at the receiving end of, both tangible as well as subtle yet distinctly insidious forms of violence. Based on the individual experiences of the victims and those involved in counselling them, the film looks beyond the obvious, so as to understand the genesis of the problem and its operative reality.
Film by: Pallav Das
Source/Info: Pallav Das
AC Scan Hawk (P) Ltd, 22A Alaknanda, New Delhi 110019
Jahan Cheeti Ladi Haathi Se
60min, Hindi, 1998
Chhechhari, an area in the Palamau district of Jharkhand is rich in bauxite reserves. The area is the home of many tribes, 95% of who are the Nagesias. One of Birla’s mining outfits has been extracting bauxite from the sarea for several years. Lately the Birlas have been attempting to take over more land for mining. The tribals are refusing to move away because for generations they have been an integral part of the land. To them land is their history, their culture, their identity. The film documents the struggle of the tribal people against the mighty Birlas.
Film by: Biju Toppo
Source: Akhra, Dhruv Nivas, Shastri Nagar,
Kanke Road, Ranchi 834008, Bihar
VHS Price: Rs 500
Editorial Board: Gargi Sen, Sujit Ghosh, Ranjan De
Published by: Magic Lantern Foundation, J 1881, Chittaranjan Park, New Delhi 110019
Ph: +91-11-6221405, Fax: +91 11 6231801, e-mail: magiclf @vsnl.com