Interdependence of media education and media freedom

India ranks 128th out of 166 countries in the latest ranking of the state of press freedom done by Reporters Sans Frontieres. Would it not be fair if a similar rating were done for educational institutes of journalism?

The essence of journalism seems to be betrayal or collusion in the era of embedded journalism, which has undermined media’s integrity. It has betrayed public interest and it colludes with the Government, the Corporations and even the NGOs. One must realize there cannot be an identity of interest between the readers who seek information and the media houses, which seeks profits.

The media as it exists today practices top-down communication without accountability. The First Press Commission recognised that the readers have a claim on news space in the media, a 60:40 news-advertisement ratio. The government passed the Price Page Schedule Act but the Supreme deemed it as an attack on the freedom of media. In fact it was an attack on the rights of the readers because it helped the lust of media barons to sell reader- space to advertisers.

What can be more against the Freedom of Expression than to deny the readers and viewers a right to get even a denial or a rejoinder published or broadcast as a matter of right. Indian judiciary defends the freedom of the media but not of the readers.

In India what was needed was a media of, for and by the community with focus on villages where more than 2/3rds of Indians live but instead the Government of India in 1962-63 sought the advice of The Ford Foundation/UNESCO team, which in turn recommended the setting up of a national institute for training, teaching and research in Mass Communication. Indira Gandhi, the then Minister in charge of Information and Broadcasting, formally inaugurated the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) on 17 August 1965.

Although communication does not mean a one-way announcement, what followed was media became obsessed with pronouncements of government’s claimed achievements without any fora where the public could express their own views about those claims.

Let us look at the background of The Ford Foundation/UNESCO whose advice led to the formation of IIMC.

Henry Ford established The Ford Foundation in 1936 with an initial gift of $25,000. It’s the Foundation of the Ford family, which owns Ford Motor Company. The Ford Foundation is in the business of giving away cash, its function as defined in its charter is “to receive and administer funds for scientific, educational, and charitable purposes, all for the public welfare and for no other purposes.” But it is “free to change its goals should other needs arise.”

Dwight MacDonald in his book “The Men and the Millions” first published by Transaction Publishers in January 1988 quotes Westbrook Pegler, a journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1941 saying, Ford Foundation is a “front for dangerous Communists”. Further it quotes Pravda, a Russian publication saying, “the real business of the Ford Foundation is the sending of spies, murderers, saboteurs, and wreckers to Eastern Europe”.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was founded on 16 November 1945 "to build peace in the minds of men". In recent times, most crucial issues such as the importance of media pluralism or the concept of information as a global public good were not taken up at the UNESCO’s World Summit on Information Society (WSIS).

The countries of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) called for the establishment of a New International Information and Communication Order and the UNESCO’s MacBride Report of 1980 sought the right to communicate. IIMC became a focal point to train journalists from NAM countries. Since 1990s, journalists from countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia have also started coming to IIMC for the training.

Reacting to NAM's call and MacBride Report US Government withdrew its membership from UNESCO effective from December 31, 1984 protesting anti-Western bias, rampant budgetary mismanagement, and advocacy of policies that undermine freedom of the press and free markets. US rejoined UNESCO with effect from 1st October 2003 since UNESCO is now much closer to U.S. position after 19 years of American non-membership than it was in 1984 at the start of UNESCO's 32nd General Conference.

The ideal of an autonomous Mass Communication institute dedicated to public service like IIMC is as valuable as the autonomy of public service broadcasting to be abandoned to the whims of small men and the idiosyncrasies of the moment.

<>Navin Chawla, a 1969 batch IAS officer who is the Secretary of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry on May 29, 2004 has appointed himself as an ex-officio Chairman of IIMC after the passing away of Ramesh Chandra, the IIMC Chairman on 22nd September 2004. Not satisfied with that he made himself the President of the IIMC society and the member of the IIMC Society’s Executive Council. As far as Chawla’s accountability is concerned IIMC’s website does not even have its Annual Report.

Aeschylus, a Greek playwright & a philosopher said, "Nobody has a more sacred obligation to obey the law than those who make the law. Wrong must not win by technicalities." But Chawla does not care nor does S. Jaipal Reddy, Minister of Information & Broadcasting who is himself a Mass Communication graduate.

<>Interestingly, as a Chairman of IIMC, the students saw Chawla for the first and perhaps for the last time on the day of their Convocation. He is to retire in 31 July, 2005. In all probability, he would like to remain the chairman of IIMC till 31 July and must be planning to continue in that position even after retirement. Nothing moves at IIMC without Chawla’s nod, which has resulted in the stagnation of a dynamic institute. <>"In Indian bureaucracy while all bureaucrats of similar seniority are equal on paper, yet some chosen few are more equal than others. Chawla belongs to the latter category. Chawla was very close to Sanjay Gandhi and wielded unprecedented power in his official capacity as Secretary to the Lt. Governor of the Union Territory of Delhi, Kishan Chand during Emergency. He functioned as the de-facto Governor of Delhi and several bureaucrats who happened to interact with him during this period have confirmed the fact that he was known for his unabashed authoritarianism. His controversial role as Secretary to the Lt Governor of Delhi was noted by the Shah Commission, which went into emergency excesses. Chawla did not cover himself with glory when the Constitution of India was subverted with impunity during emergency. As one who occupied a vantage position during that period, he was charged with arbitrary exercise of authority," says V Sundarm, a retired IAS officer. <>The same Chawla arranged the IIMC Convocation at 9 O' clock in the early morning of 29th April, 2005 so that the flop show which perhaps he knew the Convocation was going to be could not be taken note of by the media. He successfully escaped the attention of media in general and some 2900 media professionals from IIMC and ensured total boycott of his own institute by Prasar Bharati, Press Information Bureau (PIB) and the mainstream media. <>

There seems to be a deliberate policy of some vested interests, which represents corporate interest instead of public interest to marginalise and undermine the status, repute and quality of IIMC to promote corporate sponsored Mass Communication institutes.

One fears that institutions like individuals lose sight of their mission and purpose and IIMC has lost it. Educational institutions have an obligation to send a clear message to students that there is more to an educational institute than career planning.

<>Also these institutions have a similar obligation to reward their professors for teaching. They have an obligation to make sure their promotion reflects the highest values of the academics and not the basest.

For IIMC, its faculty members and its management it seems all that matters is production of cannon fodders every year to be disposed of in the media warfare. It illustrates an insane eagerness to cut the chase and clear away the interim process between the initial undertaking and the completion of a task. "The bottom line" obsession has deluded the thinking about perspective and has made it appear as if all that mattered is the final outcome in this case a post graduate of Mass Communication at the end of the session.

If a prerequisite of democracy is the democratization of communication, Reddy must ensure that a media institute like IIMC gets enriched through a thorough revision of its syllabus and its faculty. But to begin with it must function in a democratic manner rather than suffer bureaucratic tyranny.

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