October 23, 2010
Indian journalism is really something. Although news and news-seeking behavior is intrinsically a part of what makes us interconnected humans, it wasn't until I came to India that I realized just how valuable news is for the common man. I’ll give three examples of my curiosity (AND EXPLORATION) into Indian media.
|unrelated, but me post-interviewing some girls and their education-loan holder mother|
1. Asking the youth
When I interviewed Indian youth for a small research project on youth participation in the political process, I included some questions on news-seeking behavior. My survey was answered by 16 masters students at the Maharashtran Institute of Technology’s School of Government (SOG), aka kids training to be politicians. For comparison, I distributed five identical questionnaires to young women (with an average age of 22) residing in the hostel I stay in. Although Indian youth aged 18-25, residing or studying in Pune defined the target population, the sample from SOG included students from 13 states in India, ranging in age from 20 to 34—with an average age of 25 and a median of 24 years old, with 6 girls and 10 boys. The women’s hostel sample contained 4 Maharashtrans and 1 girl from UP, ranging between 20 and 24 years of age.
75 percent of the SOG students read the national political news everyday, with 2 students reading three times a week and 2 students reading once a week. 15 of 16 MIT students talk about politics at least twice a week, with 14/16 speaking to their friends, 7/16 with their parents, and 4/16 with professors. Indian youth are most comfortable with their friends when discussing politics and most hesitant to speak to their professors. Of those four who do speak to their professors, 75 percent were female. I found it interesting that the girls appeared confident in speaking to their educational superiors, while only 10 percent of the male students did. Comparatively, 3/5 of the hostel girls speak about politics twice a week with friends only, although one girl mentioned speaking with her parents but not as often as three times a week. Almost all of them read the paper 3 times a week. I wonder what the figures look like for American youth!
|this temple is the central point of the slum I am working in--beautiful|
2. Touring the process of print-media
It’s amazing how many newspapers you see on the street everyday—probably close to 15. In the morning, I read three English newspapers: The Times of India, The Indian Express (Pune Express), and DNA-Daily News and Analysis. EVERYONE is reading—the rickshawallas, the chaiwallas, and our professors. One of my friends was saying that her host parents ask her about specific articles in several papers. Unlike in the US, where I feel most of us (me included) stick to our comfort zone of media (the New York Times for me), Indians seek diversity in their news sources, reading several local and national papers.
Last Friday night, Kara, Melissa, Sarah, Akta, and I met Mr. Mukun Sangoram, a resident editor at the Marathi version of the Indian Express-Loksatta. He gave us a brief history of journalism in India and explained the 3 rupee sticker price phenomenon. Basically, newspapers only cost a measly 3 rupees per paper (7 cents), meaning profits are totally dependant on advertisements. This opens up readership to even the lower-income people normally left in the dark, but also makes most reporters in the news industry vulnerable to sales. We also discussed how "no Indians get their news from the internet". TV, radio, and internet have hardly slowed the print industry.
I loved listening to Mukun talk about the physical paper being a special object. First he praised its portability, “even to toilet!” since he couldn’t physically take his computer around with him (umm laptop?). However, I was able to agree that reading on a screen is a little less active that holding a book or paper. Reading a physical paper “goes into our memory” better. The warm and receptive Mr. Sangoram asked us about newspapers in America resorting to fees and increased advertisements to stay afloat. He insisted internet competition was not a problem for India--at least not yet. Then we viewed the layout process for the first edition on the computer, which would be sent to Khandala by 10pm. We definitely entertained the editing staff by sounding out our Marathi. It was great to see a layout! We also got to go upstairs to meet with some of the young feature staff, even gaining some recommendations on good restaurants in Pune and things to do this weekend. One features writer was at the same lecture I’ll discuss in my third point. Small world!
Before we left, we met Mr. Sangoram's boss and discussed a bit of Indo-Pak relations over creamy chai. It was fascinating to learn about journalistic exchange between the two countries---and how different readership is there. The papers are about 20 rupees and seem to be much more of an elite phenomenon than the paper outreach in India. PONDERING that one.
3. Lecture Time
Seeing Mr. P Sanaith, one of the foremost Indian journalists speak about food security, farmer suicides, and poverty in India the other night enthralled, enraged, and even moved to tears at one point. This man really blew me away with his candor, use of statistics, sarcasm, and delivery. Speaking as the keynote for Parisar (an environmental action NGO based in Pune)’s annual lecture, Mr. Saniath is a pretty famous dude. He spends three-fourths of the year with village Indians, reporting extensively on agrarian crises he thinks are due to polices favoring globalization and private enterprise. He famously exposes the lack of sensitivity and efficiency by the government and broadcasts information on farmer suicides in Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.
But what did he say? Difficult to summarize, but I’ll try.
One of the first notable quotations:
Mr. Sainath quoted , a noted Australian activist: “The twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy”.
WHOA. Not sure if I agree entirely….
He started his speech with some stats. In a typical three-hour window in India:
- 6 farmers would commit suicide.
- 8 to 12 farmers would attempt suicide.
- 274 farmers would quit agriculture.
- 513 children will be malnourished – and more will suffer grade 3 and 4 of malnourishment.
- 171 crores (about 3 million USD) of taxes for the rich will be written off – not counting any subsidy. (A total of 500 thousand crores per annum.)
Some 846 million of Indians subsist on less than half a dollar per day – on about Rs. 20 (.44 cents USD) per day.
Food Insecurity is not just in the rural areas, although he mentioned how families will rotate meals so that laborers for the day will be fed (and the next day, the next set of brothers or whomever will eat and work while the others stay home and starve). In fact, my new INTERNSHIP at PARVATI SWAYAMOGJAR is showing the condition of urban slums as I study the impact of a micro health insurance fund and micro loans on slum children’s educational attainment.
What moved me to tearss was Sanaith’s section on hunger and kids. Having researched government corruption in the midday meals program, understanding hunger and educational inputs always sparks my interest. Even in non-rural Maharashtra, teachers will complain that they cannot teach before 1pm on Mondays.
Why? Because the children are so restless and hungry.
Why? Their last mid-day meal (free government incentive program) was on noon Friday. Many of them have starved for two days. Mothers will beg schools to stay open in the summer months, just so their children will eat.
Here I am, one hour before complaining about my $22 bike helmet that only I insisted on buying with my $3 used bicycle…or whining about how lots of the food is fried….yet my belly is full. I am totally capable of learning and concentrating in school, even if I don’t want to all the time. I can sleep comfortably, despite the hard mattress. I even have the energy and leisure time to exercise.
Rice and wheat prices are up 200 percent. It’s a phenomenon that people who produce food cannot eat it. 70% of farmers have to buy from the market.
Sanaith called hunger and thrist “crops”, “ultimate revenue producers”, and “sources of profit.”
One of the biggest problems with food security and government policy is the encouragement of cash crops like cotton. As Sanaith said, “you can’t eat vanilla”.
In 2008, there was one farmer suicide every 30 minutes. Hounded by moneylenders for the loans they cannot pay, unable to produce for their families, and massive cuts in subsidies lead them to this ghastly option.
Sanaith briefly talked about water…how can India have 54 water theme parks and a majority of people without clean water to drink? Why are they wasting 5 L of water to grow a single rose for Holland? Why does India yield four of the 10 wealthiest people in the world?
The moral questions were raised. How do we live with ourselves? How are we so desensitized to the poverty we see everyday? Myself and the crowd of intellectuals pondered in (for me, anyway) guilt-stricken silence.
I left feeling shameful. How did we let this happen? Sanaith stressed acting to resist privatization locally. He professed a lot of anti-capitalism rhetoric and encouraged us to “break the power of monopolies”! Somehow, I am not sure of the effectiveness of this strategy. Since liberalization, the days of swadeshi self-sufficiency are over. India is ridden with MNC and private businesses that won’t go away overnight.
I’ve racked my brain. Any thoughts?