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Knowledge Is Power

Knowledge Is Power

April 19, 2012

550 TV channels, 2000 daily newspapers, a $3.5bln film industry and over 700mln mobile phones in use. This is India. Hear her roar.

Last month, I was offered the privilege to attend a professorial lecture titled “A Million Media Now! The Rise of India on the Global Scene”. Professor Daya K Thussu spoke in great detail on how vastly India has changed, and the importance the country now holds internationally. A lot of what he said reminded me of this scene from the film Namaste London, where Akshay Kumar’s Indian countryman explains to an English toff that the country offers a lot more to the world than chicken tandoori and snake charmers.

Namaste London was released 5 years ago. India continues to grow from strength to strength, now heralded as a potential world superpower of the future. This is none so more prevalent than the rise of India’s power in the media. It’s hard to believe how rapidly this power has grown over the past 20 years.

Today, India has 550 television channels with 50 of them being in the English language. There more than 2000 different newspapers on sale, and almost 10 million copies are sold on a daily basis. FM radio is also growing, and lets not forget that the country holds host to a 3.5 billion dollar film industry. However, it is India’s strength in Information Technology that holds the most promise for the future.

The growing reputation of Indian IT firms is giving a different worldview of India. Constructing modern machinery at cheaper costs, India is excelling in providing technology to the masses – this is most evident in its recent release of the world’s cheapest tablets. Retailing at $40 a piece, the government are currently considering providing an Akash tablet to every student in the country.

However, the biggest dividend is in mobile media. With a population of 1.21 billion, India has the world’s largest mobile market. Despite few owners using the Internet over their phone (currently used by only 10% of the population), usage is growing exponentially, with 3G phones becoming increasingly affordable and accessible.

Literacy has improved from 52% to 74%, education is being more encouraged, and women are having more of a say in politics too, with 50% of panchayats (rural governments) now headed by elected female leaders. Nonetheless, despite the successes that India has accomplished, there is still progress to be made. Grandeurs of an emerging superpower following the footsteps of Uncle Sam, is hiding the true poverty of India. India is still home to the largest unemployed youth and has the highest use of child labour in the world. Much of this is to blame on the media’s irresponsibility in often brushing these matters under the carpet. Without the warranted awareness, we fail to see the same issues of corruption and inequality still exist.

Let’s consider education: Up until 1991, India only had one channel – the national broadcasting corporation, Doordarshan. However, millions are still not benefitting from the true advantages of the digital revolution, with a failure to educate India’s poorest citizens. This comes ironically, with India being one of the first countries in the world to embrace education through television.

Let’s consider the news: Ratings-driven television news is forcing journalists to go for more soft news options than the harsh realities happening in the country. I personally remember when I was in India last December, there was a whole day dedicated to nothing but the release of Don 2. Journalism has become heavily diluted, and there’s still a lot of corruption going on behind the scenes. Not long ago, a Chief Minister paid to use columns of a newspaper to promote himself in the next general elections. Indian journalism evolved during the time that the country was finding democracy via Gandhi and Nehru. There are now 122 news channels giving voice to the voiceless. Fortunately, even with their best efforts, the government cannot control information on every one of these channels.

Let’s consider the Indian film industry: Other than a few exceptions such as Peepli Live which looked into the lives of Indian farmers contemplating suicide to solve their debt problems, and Rann, which gave a good insight into the balance the media needs to maintain between ratings and integrity, Bollywood serves to divert attention away from what is really happening in India. The country is in danger of making its citizens slaves to consumer fetishes.

India now has the media clout and the means to make a difference in each of these arenas. Knowledge is power, but only if the correct degree and bias of knowledge is being shared. As Spiderman once said, with great power comes great responsibility. Photo credit: askaby.com 


  • Shai
    14.05.12 09:14 PM
    Thanks for all the kind words guys :)

    @Sushil I agree, India has come such a long way in 60 years, especially since opening itself up to the global economy. I personally believe that education is one of the main hurdles in India's path to success - not that great education is not available, but that it is not available to enough people. Saying that, India has a huge population, and this is no easy feat!

    @Jaai: Freedom of speech is such an important thing these days for the world to know the truth, but unfortunately, those with power still control the majority of outlets of knowledge that the masses listen to. There is only so much true speech a single person can say before being drowned out by large news channels and press. Money buys media controlling the direction of what 'they' want us to believe....

    @Henapa: ...but even so, there is still hope with channels such as NDTV that serve investigative journalism :)
  • S.E.A.Mohamed Ali.
    S.E.A.Mohamed Ali.
    14.05.12 08:51 PM
  • Deepa
    20.04.12 04:48 AM
    Brilliantly said. Clean, crisp, well supported by facts. Couldn't agree more!
  • Hena
    19.04.12 11:09 PM
    That's the problem with being a slave to the free market economy. The standard of life for the middle classes has significantly improved with more consumer durables no doubt fuelled by the lifestyles portrayed in the cable TV shoes. But life for the very rich and the very poor is not really affected.
    Having said that - Accountability has increased thanks to investigative journalism of channels like NDTV.
  • Jaai
    19.04.12 06:06 PM
    A lot of credit goes to the legacy of the freedom movement, when a free press was seen as absolutely essential to democracy. How it is used today is largely our own responsibility, but at least it gives us hope that things can improve if we speak (unlike so many other countries). A really good article. :)
  • Sushil
    19.04.12 02:41 PM
    A very well written article indeed!

    Of course, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it has taken a British born Indian to point out the deficiencies, while the Indian born intelligentsia bury their heads in the sand and expect someone else to sort out the mess.

    Having said that a nation, merely 6o years old and in its’ infant stage (in every sense), would require many more years to mature and reach the level that is expected of it. One shall not forget that the slavery of thousand years coupled with the slavery by the ruling classes (Maharajas and all), the masses have remained trapped in the 19th Century and would remain so for a foreseeable future.

    However, as a nation, where would India and its’ inhabitants be in 100 years time remains to be seen?

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