CHALLENGES FACING PRINT MEDIA IN INDIA TODAY!
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
It is good to be here at this National Convention of the Indian Catholic Press Association (ICPA). I want to thank Fr. Alfonso Elengikal, the President of the ICPA, Mr. Jose Vincent, the Secretary of ICPA and all others concerned for inviting me to share with you some perspectives on the challenges facing the print media today. I will of course focus on the theme of this Convention, “PROPHETIC CHALLENGES BEFORE MEDIA TODAY”.
At the outset, I would like to emphasize two points:
i. that the printed word plays a significant and defining role in the Indian sub-continent today
ii. that being engaged in the print media is no longer an option for us, but a mandate
Having said this let me focus on some of the challenges that the print media faces in the changing context of India today.
(In order to ensure an economy of words, I will in the remainder of this sharing use the very general term ‘media’ even though this Convention focuses on Catholics engaged in the print-media)
What then are some of the major challenges which the media in India faces today?
· the corporatisation of the media
If there is one single major concern which the media in India faces today, it is the way it has been corporatised. A systematic study of all the big newspapers in the country will easily reveal that they belong to one or the other of the big corporate houses. Corporations (be they national or multi-nationals), we are all aware, have their own agenda. They are determined by the ideology of that particular corporation, by profit-making and in most instances, they would not want to disturb the ‘status quo’ or to rock the boat. When media is taken over by such houses, the end-game is blatantly clear: our minds, our thought-processes are determined in a particular way.
· the commercialisation of the media
In our Centre ‘PRASHANT’, we focus on human rights, justice and peace and a key dimension of our work is the scanning and documenting from eighteen major daily newspapers in English, Gujarati and Hindi. It is simply unbelievable that these past few days, in several newspapers five and even seven pages are devoted to full-page advertisements. The advertisements are varied: of major sales and discounts; the announcements of brand new products and of course, the propaganda of political parties (mainly the BJP). These advertisements certainly cost a pretty sum; when one gives importance to such crass commercialisation, then the newspaper loses its very heart and soul. Remember the big talk of “black money?”
· the co-option of the media
Corporatisation and commercialisation of the media have plenty to do with its co-option. So in a way, this becomes a logical outcome of the first two. Co-option essentially means losing your ability to think for yourself; you have to toe a given line, you have to ensure the banner headlines (even if they are lies) are done to suit the wishes and the fancies of the bosses; you have to carefully avoid instances / events or news which might put those who control you, in poor light. We have hundreds of examples in and around us to exemplify how media gets so easily co-opted today. We are all familiar with the term “paid media!”
· the compromising of the media
The word ‘compromise’ is a highly nuanced one; “a compromise is a situation in which people accept something slightly different from what they really want, because of circumstances or because they are considering the wishes of the other people”. So a compromise essentially means that you have a possibility of making a decision but because of fear or / and favour, one would rather go with what( one thinks/knows), the big boss wants.
In May 2014, after the General Elections, I was invited by the editor of ‘The New Leader’ to write the cover story for the fortnightly (June 1 – 15, 2014, Vol. 1 – 7, No 11). I did do so, what I think is a fairly balanced but analytical article, which was well received (given the number of calls / mails I received after that). The editor (a lay man) of our Gujarati Catholic monthly ‘The DOOT’ (‘the Messenger’ which is managed and owned by the Jesuits of Gujarat) - congratulated me on the article and asked if it could be published in a forthcoming issue of DOOT. My response was naturally a very positive one and I immediately had the article translated in Gujarati and sent to him; but that article never appeared in the DOOT. More than three months later, at a casual meeting, the editor informs me that the article was not published because a couple of people on the editorial board said it might have repercussions on the magazine (no comments needed!!!)
· The communalisation of the media
In India, we are seeing this as never before. We need to glance through almost any daily newspaper to realize this. On careful analysis of a news story, it is so blatantly obvious that a Dilip Shah who kills another is not referred as a ‘Hindu’ murderer; but if it is a Javed Sheikh, he is then very carefully painted as Muslim or someone belonging to the minority community! Look at the way “love Jihad” hogged the headlines for several weeks! There are very subtle and direct attacks on minorities. What is meticulously propagated is the well-being of the majority community. Communalisation through the media is able to orchestrate the divide between the majority and minority communities of the country.
The above 5 C’s (Corporatisation, Commercialisation, Co-option, Compromising, Communalisation) are some of the major challenges that the media in India faces. How then do we respond to these challenges – as a backgrounder for this response, I invite all those present here to revisit ‘Inter Mirifica’ (the Decree on the means of Social Communications) which was a key document of the Second Vatican Council and whose Golden Jubilee we celebrated less than a year ago on December 4th, 2013. Do we then have a perspective?
In September 2013, Pope Francis while addressing the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in Rome said “the Decree (Inter Mirifica) expresses the Church’s solicitude for communication in all its forms which are important tools in the work of evangelization”. He went on further to say, “the world of Communications, more and more has become an ‘environment’ for many, one in which people communicate with one another expanding their possibilities for knowledge and relationship. I wish to underline these positive aspects notwithstanding the limits and the harmful factors that also exist and which we are all aware of.”
It is significant, therefore that ten years ago in January 2004, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) at their meeting in Trichur gave to the Church in India plenty of food for thought and action in their statement “Called to be a Communicating Church”.
As ICPA and others involved in the media, we are challenged to reflect and act urgently on many critical dimensions of this all-pervasive ministry. These include:
- have we, as Church, taken Social Communications (sp. the print-media) seriously?
- have we understood its power and potential in our works of evangelization?
- do we have a Social Communications Commission in our diocese? (the Commission should necessarily constitute persons from all walks of life and these should include lay professionals in communications)
- do we engage as Church vocally (writing) and visibly in confronting injustices that plague our society like discrimination, displacement, corruption, communalism, casteism?
- have we prophetically denounced the grave ills in our society in order to boldly proclaim the ‘good news’?
- do we engage in social media on important issues concerning Constitutional rights and freedoms of all?
These and several other concerns can be raised - all of them have been reflected in ‘Inter Mirifica’ and in the many pastoral messages written on Communications (for Communications Sunday) by the Holy Father every year.
It is therefore not without reason that Pope Francis has chosen as theme for his first message on World Communications Day 2014 “Communication at the service of an authentic culture of encounter”. The Pontifical Council for Social Communications says that “this will explore the potential of communication especially in a networked and connected world, to bring people closer to each other and to cooperate in the task of building a more just world.”
This theme in fact truly reflects all that ‘Inter Mirifica’ is about: “the proper exercise of this right (to information) demands that the content of the communication be true and – within the limits set by justice and charity – complete” (#5) and “all the members of the Church should make a concerted effort to ensure that the means of communication are put at the service of the multiple forms of the apostolate without delay and as energetically as possible, where and when they are needed. They should forestall projects likely to prove harmful, especially in those regions where moral and religious progress would require their intervention more urgently.” (#13)
A WAY AHEAD
In the light of the above and at this National Convention of the Indian Catholic Press Association, I would like therefore to propose a definite plan of action for all those engaged in the print media in India. The plan of action should include:
· that one should never be compromised on Gospel values very particularly on truth, human rights and justice
· that every effort should be made to enter mainstream print media (both vernacular and English) as journalists, writers, editors, whatever
· Catholic youth should be trained in journalism / media to write letters to the editors, articles to important newspapers on social issues
· that we need to reinvent our Church newspapers / magazines / bulletins - very few of them are worth the salt. The tragedy of Church media is that it highlights activities / events of Bishops, Priests and Nuns - they hardly educate, but in fact domesticate
· that we need to encourage as many as possible to maintain their own blogs, to have a facebook page, to tweet and to use the social media. Social media is about communicating and we will not be able to communicate on social media if we do not write
· that we need to network and collaborate with others in the mainstream media
The main idea of this presentation is just to set the tone for further deliberations and responses. The challenges we know are many. Like ostriches, we can no longer bury our heads in the sand and think that all is well. The Indian Catholic Press Association will be true to its name only if it demonstrates unbridled courage to be visible and to be vocal (through the written word) given the context and challenges that India faces today.
At this juncture, we need to be reminded of the poem by Bertolt Brecht (1898 – 1956), the German Marxist poet, playwright and theatre director who took a stand against Hitler and Nazism and who very poignantly wrote:
“In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times!
Thank you very much!
(This presentation was made at the National Convention of the ICPA held at Kanyakumari on October 24th, 2014)
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace. He is also the Secretary for Social Communications of the Western Regional Bishops’ Council. He is the recipient of several National and International awards for his work.)
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