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Misra Commission Report :Delhi Riots 1984

CHAPTER - 21

MASS MEDIA

The Commission proposes to briefly deal with five agencies of mass media in chronological order on the basis of their period of introduction into society:

* Books, magazines, periodicals and journals;
* Newspapers;
* Cinema;
* Radio;
* Television.

Mankind has another fundamental need beyond the physical requirement of food and shelter —the need to communicate with fellow human beings. The urge for communication is a primal one and in our contemporary civilization, a necessity for survival.

Nature has endowed man with the capacity of benefiting from the experience and knowledge gathered by others . Beginning from the primitive man’s discovery of fire to the latest scientific inventions based upon years of research , the direct experience of the people that pioneered the events are being made available through books and other literature in writings of others. Starting with palm leaves to write upon with the help of iron nails, man has reached refinements of great degrees.

Writings cover a wide range — prose, poetry, essays and the like — and are the carrier of human thought. Government of the day would find it difficult to control and regulate literary activities though it can certainly motivate the authors, poets and literary critics to ordinarily follow the approved track adopting the national code of conduct of decency and ethics which of course eulogise patriotism, shun violence, condemn terrorism and the like. They should accept the obligation of not disturbing the national ethos while giving expression to their thoughts. A good and well written book generates the true spirit when properly read and assimilated. Some good books leave indelible impression that last for life. Such books should be put into large circulation and some of them have to be made a must in every curriculum and later picked up as life’s constant companions. These books when read and re-read bring in new openings of human thought and help revelation of the real truth. Every author while enjoying full liberty to express his genuine thoughts, should have the obligation to keep up to the approved standards of decency and not to affect the social ethos of the nation.

Newspapers are a very powerful media for formulation of opinion and in the matter of educating the people. By circulating information about the incidents taking place all over the world they help the reader in keeping himself informed. They also help the reader to have a formulated opinion about problems he faces or is likely to face. The spying eyes of the newspapers very often help the truth about many public issues being discovered. Except for booming or under-rating, newspapers do perform a great social service. In a free country with independence of Press, this media plays a great role in formation of public opinion so much necessary for the proper functioning of the democracy. Newspapers with all their freedom otherwise must also remain bound by the code of national conduct and decency. While observing these, they must publicly support them and create the taste for their universal acceptance. Everyone in the country — be it Government or the opposition, employer or employee, teacher or student, business man or cultivator — must accept the code of conduct and look for enforcement of his rights only after he has performed his duties. India, the great country of ours, belongs to all of us and every citizen is entitled to live here assured of all the rights.

The Press must take upon itself the task of creating the true national spirit. When it comes to the question of national interest, everyone, including political parties, must keep the issues above personal, parochial, sectional or party interest. In India, unlike some other countries, the Press is not State owned though some news agencies are. The national cod of conduct and decency should be accepted by the Press and enforced through the Press Council wherever necessary. The Press should not even grudge a suitable legislation, if thought proper. It may be reiterated that the national code should be above party considerations and every-one, irrespective of political affiliations, position held and other considerations, should be bound to adopt and follow the same. A powerful moral force should be built up which no one — low or high — would dare ignore and exhibit contrary conduct.

The cinema initially introduced in the thirties of this century as silent motion pictures , has expanded into big business throughout the country. Once confined to cities like Bombay , Calcutta and Madras for the purposes of production of cinematograph films , scores of new centres have now developed and today the annual outturn of production in every language runs into dozens of films . Advancement of science has brought several new techniques into the industry . In view of the large profits this business started returning , it attracted many talented people in every direction of it and exhibition halls spread into every nook and corner of the country . The cinema soon pushed out the theater and the stage is finding it difficult to maintain itself today.

The film industry all over the world is a very powerful one —more so in the field of influencing the masses . Perhaps till now in India films continue to be the largest entertainer . The impact of the cinema is both quick and deep on the viewer . Matinee idols grow in the film world and they introduce new fashions in looks , in make up , in dress , in walking style and the like . Overnight hundreds of thousands of people adopt these innovations and new fashions become current and spread . The Hindi film Sholay introduced a new style of assault . In several parts of India soon after the exhibition of this film the manner of assault also changed and adopted the film style.

The impact of the cinema on the mass mind is indisputable . though films many good things can be brought home to millions of cinema-goers and without any additional labour , expense and involvement of time the desired switch over can be achieved . Instead of any useful contribution from the films , society suffers today from the adverse effects . Most of the films exhibit pictures of chaotic living , feuds and challenge to social order . Action stories narrating disorderly lives , criminal activity , killing and rank terrorism become box office hits . Film Censoring has been debated over four decades . Government have appointed Committees and set up expert bodies . Many have a feeling that censoring is not on proper lines . Appropriate guidelines are to be fixed up and the same have to be strictly enforced . Entertainment need not be the sole consideration of the film industry . Education along with entertainment is a better goal . Lives of great men, stories with a lesson to learn , portrayal of patriotic acts and heroism , exhibition of character , victory of virtue over vice and the like can very usefully form the subject-matter of films for exhibition to the Indian community. Government may sponsor encourage films on these lines. No film without an ultimate moral to tell or exhibiting vandalism and meaningless killings should be allowed to be screened. Writing about violence in cinema, Philip French wrote in “The Twentieth Century” ( Winter 1964-65):

“One can have lived the quietest test of lives and yet feel that through the cinema one has looked upon the face of war and civil disruption, participated in bank robberies and murder, witnessed a hundred gun-fights and brutal assaults. Of all aspect of the cinema, the treatment of violence is perhaps the most complex, controversial, and in many ways central. It is only equalled as a controversial issue by the offer closely related question of sex. The extreme views of its effects are on the one hand those of certain social observers who see it as one of the principal causes of crime and delinquency, and on the other of those psychologists who believe that it plays an almost essential cathartic role in diminishing aggression”.

When society is at a breaking point it should be the obligation of Government to ensure that nothing is done which adds to its woe. There is perhaps a lot of pressure from the industry in support of the demand for more of freedom and less of regulation. To concede freedom and allow the industry to earn profits by producing and exhibiting box-office hits regardless of social suffering as a direct out-come thereof and invest endless energy and resources to eradicate the effect by stamping out the same are meaningless purposes. The wrong side easily picks up and the filth introduced by the undesirable films will require herculian efforts for countervailing the situation. No community can tolerate such a position. This is an aspect which should engage immediate attention of Government.

The remaining two mass media agencies — so far as India is concerned, totally controlled by the Central Government — are the All India Radio and Doordarshan.

The All India Radio is just completing its 50 years of its existence. Since independence there has been considerable expansion and the Radio has come closer to the common man. Progress of science has helped manufacture of cheap receiving sets. Government have also abolished the licence fee for sets with single or two bands. Such receiving sets are now found everywhere. With the increase in the broadcasting stations( while in 1947 there were 6, in June 1986 their number is 91), the entire country has now come within the reach of All India Radio.

The programming pattern must now change. It must take over the responsibility of feeding the proper material to the young minds. In the recent past the commercial service of All India Radio ( Vividh Bharati) has helped spread of cine music and most of the people posses a receiving set to tune in to such music. Some music is perhaps understandable but both the regular as also the commercial service must take upon themselves the responsibility of covering nation building programs. For the last one year or so, there is some move in this regard. There is some emphasis on national integration: some on social welfare and on depiction of sacrifices for good causes.

The Commission was told by the Director-General of All India Radio that All India Radio programming is done to meet the motto of “ inform, educate and entertain”. The commercial service emphasises entertainment. The regular service handles information and education. Education is all important provided it has the proper orientation. Every item should have the aim of igniting in the listener either one or more of the following — a burning sense of patriotism, of holding the nation and the country together, of building up character and of improving the level of the life of the individual and of the society. All India Radio enjoys the position of monopoly. It does not have to cater to the demands of the listening public; on the other hand it is in a position to mould their taste. This need not be done suddenly and in a perceptible manner. On the other hand, the designing hands of the experts can slowly tune the listeners’ mind to the new pattern All India Radio develops.

Doordarshan is the latest in the field. The first center opened in Delhi in September 1959. Today there are 16 programming centers and 174 transmitting centers and as the Director-General of Doordarshan claims, coverage of Doordarshan network is of 250 million people living in different parts of the country.

Television has perhaps the greatest of influence on the viewer. While seeing a film at an exhibition hall could be a selective act and children could be left behind if the film to be seen was not suitable for them, that does not apply to the television. Usually the television is placed either in the drawing room or the bed room of the house where conditions permit that type of living. Otherwise the T.V. is found in the one-roomed apartment used by all the members of the family including children. Almost similar is the case even in a two-roomed apartment. The television are more seen by children than elders. Long before the office-goer father returns home or the mother is released from her household activities or she too returns from her office, the children gather before the T.V. and start witnessing the programs. A well-placed father told the Commission in casual conversation that T.V.has distracted the attention of the children from studies; another, this time a University Professor, remarked that if the children showed half the sense of regularity they exhibit for the T.V.programs in regard to their studies, they would do an excellent job. The Commission does not claim any expertise on the subject now being dealt with but the evil effects of T.V.viewing on a young mind required to be indicated. In the United State of America this aspect has been examined on more than one occasion. T.V. came to the States at least one score of years before it appeared in India.

Some of the major researchers had indicated that there existed a strong relationship between filmed violence and human behaviour . Earlier the U.S. Senate Committee in its interim report in 1968 had come to the same conclusion :

“A relationship has been conclusively established between televised crime and violence and anti-social attitudes and behaviour among juvenile viewers . Television programs which feature excessive violence can and do adversely influence children . Further such adverse effects may be experienced by normal as well as by the emotionally disturbed viewers .”

Dr. Albert Bandma of Standford University and Dr. Leonard Berkowitz of Wisconsin University made deep studies on this subject and their report shows that normal person who see violent films exhibit violent behaviour and that violent presentation can induce aggressive behaviour on the part of any one . Violence in films is most dangerous to young children.

The National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence which conducted an indepth investigation of violence on TV concluded thus :

“The preponderence of the available evidence strongly suggests, however , that violence in TV programs can and does have adverse effects upon audiences—particularly child audiences. TV enters powerfully into the learning process of children and teaches them a set of moral and social values about violence which are inconsistent with the standards of a civilised society .”

From the U.S. Congressional Records the following proceedings may be usefully extracted :

“ TV’s ability to influence the behaviour of its viewers can hardly be disputed . Advertising firms spend 2½ billion dollars a year on that assumption . The high paid corporate officers of the network enthusiastically agree with them : yet they react with feigned surprise when any one suggests that their programs on violence influence young people . .By the time the average American child reaches the age of 15, he has witnessed 18,000 individual murders on the TV set . This does not include the beatings, stabbings , muggings , rapes and other forms of mayhem connected by our image makers in the TV film factories .”

Then came the report of the Surgeon General Commission which attempted to minimise the baneful influence of TV . The conclusions of the report were challenged on many scores . Congress-man John M. Murphy referring to that report said :

“ They ( Congressmen ) were deeply convinced that the constant display of violence on the news media has serious effects on the young : that children and teenagers become convinced of the proposition that might constitute right : that law can but be enforced by a pointed gun , a knife or a fist.”

Though the Surgeon General Commission reported a modest association between viewing of violence and aggression, the general view in the U.S. is that violence on TV has brought about positive increase of violence in American society. A major complaint in U.S. today is that the mass media conditions children to accept violence and proper solution to human problems.

As already pointed out, TV came to the U.S. about 20 years before it got into India. Economic affluence has helped TV to find its way into almost 98% homes in that country. Though it will take a good number of years for TV to spread to that extent into Indian homes, the rate of expansion today is quite rapid. With the fall in TV price, abolition of licensing and increase in imagination catching programs, TV would soon become a common man’s possession.

The idea of separating children programs and making them violence free is an impractical one. Children cannot be kept away from the programs and in fact, as already stated, they are more punctual than adults in viewing programs.

Television has, therefore, to shun violence and refrain from abusing the young mind. Today one of our greatest problem is violence in society. Should Government spend money for exposing the young mind to imbibe violence? Not attending to the youngsters in the past has brought the community into the low level of today. Again, taking advantage of the Government monopoly, if TV pollutes the young mind of today, tomorrow will be darker and terrorism which we dread today will become the order of those times. The Commission had occasion to point out the Director-General of Doordarshan about a commercial serial on the TV entitled ‘ Target’ which was out and out violent. Perhaps, the item was discontinued but the Commission had been told that it was a commercial program. For the viewers commercial or non-commercial classification hardly matters. The Government agency must take great care to abjure violence. The Commission is of the view that in the face of the Article 51A (i) of the Constitution requiring citizens to ‘ abjure violence’, public exchequer cannot be utilised for spread and teaching of it. This must deserve immediate attention. TV provides immense possibilities for training the young mind in the appropriate directions. All attention should be devoted and fixed in that direction right now.

In a world where standards are falling, institutions are collapsing and human qualities are vanishing, everyone in society has to put in great efforts in the right line, first to stop the downward trend and then, raise the same up. Every Indian must feel proud to have been born in India and remember what the great German Scholar Max Muller said of India:

“ If I were to look over the whole world to find out the country most richly endowed with all the wealth, power and beauty that nature can bestow — in some parts a very paradise on earth — I should point to India. If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions of some of them which well deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant — I should point to India. And I were to ask myself from what literature we, here in Europe, we who have been nurtured almost exclusively on the thoughts of Greeks and Romans, and of one Semitic race, the Jewish, may draw that corrective which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, in fact more truly human, a life, not for this life only, but a transfigured and eternal life — again I should point to India”

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