Wednesday, August 12, 2009

end of censorship

censorship is valid in India. many publications have faced the music- books, plays, movies, blogs and television programmes. as India changes and we become more sensitive to the concerns of different sections of society, all forms of expression will come under increased scrutiny.
one will find it almost impossible to air views on social and cultural issues. the thin line between what is right and wrong will start overlapping under the pressure of interest groups. take 'lajja' for example. if an author wants to put light on the atrocities indulged in by a particular section in society it could be construed as being anti-religion and banned. same is the case with 'final solution' which would be seen as painting the majority community with the communal brush and thus appropriate for ban.
what seems to be the problem is the lack of acceptance of criticism by the individuals in society. every act, every belief and every individual should come under spotlight. it is only through a process of questioning and change will the individual, society and nation progress. what is accepted as right and ultimate has to pass the test of time and if found wanting must be replaced by new ideas and beliefs. this is one lesson we can see from the history of human civilization.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Pressing problem

Emraan Hashmi is in the news- for a change, not for his mouth smacking reason. his allegation that a housing society has refused to give a noc as he was a muslim has set off a debate. it is common knowledge in our country, where from governments to schools and colleges there is a preference for individuals from one community over others, this malice would be reflected in another important aspect of our society- housing communities. the ghetto mentality based on safety in numbers is seen everywhere among all, poor and rich alike.
The Emraan case is spiraling out of control. now there is a fir against both Emraan and Mahesh Bhatt for trying to incite communal passions and thus divide society. some celebrities are already taking sides and based on their personal experiences supporting or criticising Emraan. The larger issue of discrimination on the basis of community affiliation is a serious one that should not be brushed under the carpet. government can do so much, it is up to us to solve the problem. a solution is not simple- a law to punish the guilty for violating the constitution right to reside anywhere in the country and right to equality is only the beginning. each housing society should reflect the diversity that is present in India and not become ghettos for exclusive living.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Indo-US bonhomie

the row over the signing of the deal between India and US on weapon sales with a clause allowing US to inspect the weapons and bases where they will be stored is being covered by the media extensively. the opposition in the parliament has criticized the government for compromising the sovereignty of the country in a hurry to get close to US. has the media been neutral or sided with those opposed to this deal? unlike the previous civil nuclear deal, where the English media supported the stance of the government, there is a bit of skepticism this time around. the issue is whether india has given up too much for too little in return?
the fact that india needs hi-tech weapons for a conventional edge in the sub-continent is obvious. india's most trusted supplier Russia provides most of our present requirements. the fact that we get their latest weapons at reasonable rates and that too at more or less our terms is an important consideration. but of late, india is feeling the strain of depending on one supplier for all its requirements. it is time to spread the net wider and have access to the best weapons money can buy. it is time to be pragmatic and accept the reality that we live in a unipolar world and the best defense technology comes from US.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

googled again

Arrogance is the outcome of monopoly. when a company gets into a position from where competitors dont matter, one can be sure that you have a recipe for disaster. google is trying to put together an OS to take on the market leader microsoft (windows OS). Crome OS will debut next year. it is time that people had a choice.
the market leader has been charged many a times with unfair trade practices with an eye on the entire market. in the early 90s apple computers had gone to court alleging that microsoft had stolen its idea for a graphic interface operating system. fortunately, apple lost the case as it opened up the development of this sector to all. the european commission has fined microsoft a few billion for bundling its software for the european market. unless exemplary punishments are meted out the company will continue its practice of driving out competition. over the last two decades it has convinced itself that it is immune to ethical and legal charges.
the bid by google to dent the market share of ms is a much need respite in the interest of consumers. consumer choice is the basis for innovations, economy and good quality and service. the arrogant response by ms to google's effort at chrome os is but one more nail in its coffin. monopoly is bad and it should give way to genuine competition that benefits the society at large.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

objectivity vs dialogue

just finished going through a study about the effectiveness of objective reporting versus dialogical presentation of news and issues. in the modern context, objectivity was considered to be the cornerstone of journalistic reporting. but in the present post-modern scenario, it has given way to a dialogical presentation, where the truth is subjective and it is up to the viewers to figure it out through the process of debate and discussion. Both forms have their advantages.
objective in reporting is important to provide facts. but facts by themselves dont always make sense. the complex nature of the world, its politics and so on require the intervention of many opinion leaders to contextualize the facts and allow for it to be of practical use to the masses. ultimately, facts are floating all around but how to understand them is the biggest challenge for us today. media, therefore, has an important role to play, more than ever before. the relevance of news media will be gauged from the utility of what it churns out rather than whether it is objective or not.

In contempt

there is a long running debate on the powers of the courts in India with reference to contempt. in a democracy, the courts, like all other institutions should be scrutinized and its working transparent. the decisions of the courts should be open to criticism and investigation of the process leading up to the decision must be allowed. the law and convention force the media to treat the courts as holy cows.
what is the basis for opening up the courts to pubic criticism? courts perform a vital function in society. there is an assumption that it does it objectively and dispassionately (the assumption must give way to certainity). people will have more trust in courts if they are willing to work in the open and accept responsibility for their actions. the credibility of the judicial system in the country will rest on the acceptance of the same principles that govern other democratic institutions and the sooner the courts acknowledge it the better. nobody will deliberately bring down the institution but any scrutiny will in turn go a long way in curbing corruption and the wrong image that we are left with in the absence of access to facts. the previous government was about to initiate steps to revamp the judiciary. it is time for the government to act in the larger interest of society.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

in defense of media

after having gone through the assignments turned in by the final journalism students i have some thoughts to share. in any democracy the media has an important role in keeping the populace informed and the government on its toes. to do its job certain rights or freedom of the press is important. the society from time to time reviews the rights of the press, adds or punishes them for abuse. in the final analysis it is the citizens at large who gain from the concept of a free press. with all the problems and limitations of an independent and private press there can be no alternative.
the lok sabha elections 09 presented to the media its biggest opportunity to use all means to bring the incredible pictures of the biggest show on earth involving a billion people. news channels, in particular, planned out the strategies in advance. huge investments had to be made in terms of manpower and other resources. each channel had to do something more than the rivals. the government and the election commission had already put various limits on their freedom to cover the elections to the best of their abilities. when one takes in the larger picture of the entire two month period that the television news channels focused their attention on the election process, it is fair to say that they did a good job.
the media can be easily blamed for sensationalizing the controversial incidents- varun gandhi's hate speech, advani's 'weak prime minister ever' jibe and so on. but did the media create these incidents- the politicians should be blamed for them. the media, in its professional opinion felt that these issues required the importance and so harped on them. it is very easy, in retrospect, to look back and allocate blame. the 24 hour news channels are under incredible pressure and decisions are taken in a matter of seconds.
the debates featured on television news channels are doctored? just like films are edited to make it have a particular impact, television debates (when not live) are edited on the basis of certain criteria. the channel and the moderator have their bias/ideology that is furthered through the programme. in England, the press is very political- they have leanings and it is not considered wrong. we have not yet evolved to that level and that is the reason why there is a mystery and secrecy about the political affiliations of news channels.
to take or not to take political advertisements is another problematic issue facing the media. media has the right to accept or reject advertisements. now, why should it be a different proposition when it comes to political advertisements? the channels have to rely on ads to survive and give the viewers a better picture of political scene. anything is better than the state owning and running media organizations (there is no choice in this case).

yes to poll

here i am once more trying to defend the right of the media to give opinion polls and broadcast exit polls. the Indonesian elections are on and the opinion polls predicted a comfortable victory for Bambang Yudhoyono, the son of former dictator Suharto. today the exit polls are saying that he is winning by a huge margin.
long ago in a land often referred to as 'land of opportunities' there was concern that media could influence the voters. a monumental study (later named People's Choice) was conducted in 1948 to test the hypothesis. the result of the study showed that people are more swayed by opinion leaders in society and less by media. this was 50 years ago. what can also be read into that conclusion is the fact that a enlightened public, who have full access to media, through the process of debate and discussion (also on and through media) will arrive at their decisions, right or wrong.
The role of the media is crucial. there are two possible outcomes of a ban on opinion polls- the media outlets would come out with creative and innovative alternatives (the way they did during Lok Sabha 09) or we the people are denied the benefits of an open forum for debate, disagreement and consensus. for the success of our democracy we need to keep the press free and allow for all methods to enlighten the masses.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

express need

i am amazed at the argument that opinion polls and exit polls influence the masses negatively. a close look at the other democracies give you a different picture. US for instance is obsessed with what people think on each and every issue. during the recently fought presidential elections there every possible news channel was giving a day to day state of the popularity rating of the two main contenders.
the polls reflected the public opinion which is imperative for the working of democracy. the government nor the opposition can ignore the opinion of the masses. one example, in the indian context, would be the varun gandhi hate speech and the way it molded pubic opinion across the country. in the post poll analysis, the bjp acknowledged the role of varun's speech in the big drop in the support for the party in urban india among the educated.
if the media is allowed to mature and perfect the art and craft of conducting credible opinion polls, it would be a big comfort for indian democracy. for instance, the opinion poll on the budget would be extermely worthwhile to the fm in reallocating the funds. by banning we are encouraging the gap between the rulers and the ruled and that is not good for anyone. the governement ought to have a hand on the pulse of the nation if it really means what it says- inclusive growth.

law and order

laws- rules and regulations is general, are not welcome. we are always critical of any restriction that usually follows a rule. when we look around there are many examples which drive home the point for more rules and regulations and not less.
the inauguration of Darpan 09 at the basketball court is a point in case. the crowd continued to swell as the cultural programmes started in earnest. there was very little space for the huge number of students who wanted to watch the entertainment part of the proceedings. the passage ways, especially the one going to the stands from the left, were blocked. it was very frustrating for the students who wanted to go in and for those who wanted to get out. in addition, the performing students did not have enough place to stand.
crowd control was missing. it would have made life easier for all. i barely got a look-in to the dance and street play on court. many did enjoy the show but who says that one cannot enjoy with some order in place? how many places and situations do we come across where we feel that some rules should be in place for the benefit of all. when conventions dont work, laws are the answer.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Freedom from hate

Democracy empowers the citizens with freedom of expression to chart their own destiny. It is imperative that for democracy and 'of the people, by the people and for the people' to genuinely work, people have to express their thoughts, views and criticism in an open manner.
India is a classic case of democracy at work. Media is relatively free to inform, comment and criticize. Citizens go about discussing issues of public importance without any fear. In fact, the problem is not freedom but lack of restraints that has come to haunt us. Take the many examples of politicians who during election time stop at nothing to make a point in order to cater to select vote banks. The election commission, by being soft (do they have the powers?) has added to the cacophony of hate speeches.
We have our list of hate speech experts in the form of Ananth Kumar Hegde. Unless there is a law to protect people from this kind of hate speech, our politician will go on with impunity (even as I pen this there is another politician from Karnataka who has been booked for his outbursts). Even the internet is being used to propagate and spread hate speech. Any speech that has a distructive effect on society should be regulated. What is the point of freedom if that freedom is aimed at dividing society and intimidating people? There is a point in the principle behind the granting of freedom in our Constitution- freedom comes with responsibility and if one cannot be responsible, freedom is the casuality.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hate speech

In the United States of America freedom of speech is scared. But even there 'hate speech' is suppressed in the interest of public order. The distinction is drawn between expression that is genuinely ones opinion and expression that has the tendency to incite violence. No civilized society can allow one to say things that has the tendency to create public disorder.
Varun Feroze Gandhi is considered now to be the poster boy for Hindutva outfits. He has usurped what was till yesterday the domain of Modis and Togadias. The polarization of the Indian society once again can be gauged from the television debate forums. This, like the 26/11, is a turning point in the political/social scenario of India- things will never be the same again. Political spokespersons are debating about the impact of the speech on the recent Lok Sabha elections. What is been left out is the bigger impact on the society at large. Feelings, that till today were kept to oneself, have been let loose in the public domain.
It is scary, to put it mildly. One may agree to the political ideology of an outfit but how can one agree to the content of the hate speech?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Matter of Justice

Comments on Shiney Ahuja's case is doing the rounds. Every person is giving his/her personal opinion on the case and in some ways commenting on Shiney. As usual in these kinds of cases Shiney's guilt is presumed. The media has in not so many words told the world that Shiney is guilty of transgression. He is already serving time.
Is it the job of the media to report, provide comment and pass judgments on pending cases? Where does one draw the line? In many cases celebrities just get away with murder unless there is relentless media focus. On the other hand, in the the defense of the celebrities, everyone should be treated equally. Why, when someone is well known, he/she gets extra importance and in a way stands trial twice- once in the court and more importantly much before that in the public forum. There is the issue of fair trial and presumption of innocence before the trial begins. If tomorrow Shiney is acquitted by the court, there will be an assumption of guilty anyways.
How do you resolve this dilemma without allowing the guilty among the high and mighty to get away with crime? If you have answers or views on this do comment.

Press On

Freedom of the Press happens to be my favourite subject. The experiences in college and beyond have taught me that there is nothing more important or valuable as a free press. People may have views about criticism but I feel that when we foreclose that option we also foreclose a free and dynamic society. It is through a process of healthy criticism and free exchange of views that a society can grow and resolve its problems.
When I was a student, a Professor who taught and wrote extensively on First Amendment Right (Freedom of the Press) once put into practice his passion about the issue. The context was the on-going debate about the need to put restrictions on The Simpsons show as it was potraying values considered to be out of sync with American values. Irrespective of his personal views on the subject in question, Prof. took it upon himself to join the symbolic protest against any ban or censorship of Simpsons. He, without exception, wore formals to class. One day he wore Bart Simpson t-shirt to work.
There are many such examples in our surroundings where a higher principle takes precedence over personal views.