I often urge my students of journalism to do a small experiment. I say “Connect your TV to a video recorder. Take a remote in your hand. Select a channel. Never mind what it is. Start your recorder. Use your remote and start surfing. Every tenth second, move to a new channel. After 15 minutes stop and play back your recorder. You will have a brand new programme. A programme that will have an unbelievable continuity, a fantastic unity of movement, and thematic integrity. Test it for yourself. You will be absolutely amazed.”
Why does this happen? Why do all the channels have the same programmes at a given time, the same people on their panels, the same kind of arguments and even the same ads at the same time? Is this a bankruptcy of creativity or is this a designed process? To my mind, the later is true. The design is very simple. As many iconic media pundits such as Noam Chomsky say, it is focused on manufacturing consent. So that the entire country receives the same message/s, processes them in the same fashion and arrive at the same conclusion. This is a “Democracy made easy and simple” effort.
The only thorns in their path are the community media institutions, which, by not being a part of the mainstream media machine, start subverting the mainstream media market ethos by creating independent minds that can critique, analyse and form their own opinions. How dangerous to democracy, don’t you think? Therefore, for the government which is committed to defend democracy, nipping such community media in the bud is an urgent issue, to be taken up on a war footing.
The grassroots media also have another dangerous obsession. Through their articulations the communities of the grassroots media can address the issues of environmental, ethical and climate crises. Stuff that the mainstream media does not even understand the concept of, let alone articulate it. The communities of the disprivileged are a source of enormous knowledge which they constantly share with others through their media. This knowledge is alien to the mainstream. Therefore, given a chance, the community media can create a different knowledge society that is beyond the confines of the computer monitors of the experts who form the major source for the mainstream media. Doesn’t it pose a threat to the Knowledge Commissions that the governments set up in cahoots with their IT biggies?
These larger questions are at the back of the Spectrum Fee hike by the Mai Baap government. Otherwise, what would it gain in sheer monetary terms through this hike? Would a government which generously offers revenue write offs to the tune of Rs 5,00,000 crore [as per P. Sainath] or Rs 1,40,000 crore [as per Nirupam Sanjay, a Congress spokesman & MP] per year, care for a few paltry lakhs when it comes to count? The total spectrum hike earning per year from all CRs cannot match the money spent on an hour of a raucous session of Indian parliament, won’t you agree?
But what does it mean for the Sangham Radio, a radio set up by a community of 5000 women from marginal communities, from the poorest sections of the society [a classical less than $2 a day earner group ]? It means that they might just have to decide to close down their radio station. A station which symbolises their collective voice, an expression of their self identity, a mark of their hard-won dignity to speak for themselves. Can these match the mighty objectives of Defending Democracy that the government is attempting?
Honourable Minister for Communication, Mr Kapil Sibal is a reputed lawyer. The increased spectrum fee that his department will earn per year from a station like DDS is about Rs. 80,000. This does not equal the fee he earns for a half an hour appearance in the Supreme Court. But what is Rs. 91,000 for the communities of Sangham Radio? For a woman of the DDS communities which set up Sangham Radio, whose earning is a princely sum of Rs 50 for ten hours of work in the harsh sun, the spectrum fee hike is worth the wages she would earn every day in the sun for full five years! Is this the fee for dignity and attempting to find their voice for the poorest of this country?
Some years ago, when I sat with these women I asked them a question if their radio should be supported by them monetarily as well as in other ways. And why would they choose to do it. The reply was not only electrifying but also highly moving. They said that Sangham Radio is the Daughter of DDS [an organisation they had set up 25 years ago] and hence it was their duty to bring up this daughter. Now if this monstrous hike in spectrum fee comes into operation, this daughter of DDS will be killed.
Since it is the government which is abetting this murder, can the Government of India be charged of abetting female infanticide, Mr Sibal?
PV Satheesh, Director, Deccan Development Society