The Andhra Pradesh media has been under pressure from various stakeholders, including the judiciary and the public, amid the turmoil of the Telangana agitation. I discussed this use, misuse and abuse of the media, especially the television channels, in my last piece (Mint, 22 January). Today I want to reflect on the positive and inspiring work by some of these channels, amid all the unrest.
The very news channels that have been criticized for the insensitive and exaggerated coverage of the political crisis in the state were all praised and congratulated for their role in promoting girl child issues during a special function held at Hyderabad. This was a culmination of efforts by Unicef and Centre for Media Studies (CMS) on coverage of the subject. Led by its concern over the falling sex ratio in the country and the vulnerable situation of girls, Unicef Hyderabad has been working and promoting gender sensitivity in the Telugu media.
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Unicef and CMS tapped the popularity and impact of television in the state—Andhra Pradesh has more than two dozen Telugu channels. The organizations undertook a special project to sensitize, orient and even train the professionals and management of these channels. The incentive was an award for the most relevant and effective programming on girls.
Besides orienting and discussing girl child issues relevant to Andhra Pradesh, CMS also monitored coverage of 17 channels (nine news and eight entertainment) for 70 days from 7-10pm (See table). The findings disclosed 0.40% (14 hours) of coverage relating to girl child stories out of 3,519 hours of programming, even as the news was dominated by the Hyderabad municipal elections, the Telangana agitation and the attendant political crisis. Various channels took up the Unicef challenge and developed special programming.
A special jury of eminent persons and media experts analysed the coverage, giving away 13 special awards as encouragement to the channels, all of whom made a genuine effort to highlight and bring to the fore girl child issues relevant in the state and across the country.
Graphic: Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint
Still, the jury did have its misgivings. It felt the channels were allotting more time to atrocities and crime against girls without devoting proper attention to underlying concerns. An issue such as the girl child has many dimensions that can be investigated in regular programmes and reports. For example, special government schemes such as Ujjwala provide rescue, relief and rehabilitation to victims affected by trafficking, and this can easily be incorporated in reports that discuss and report on such criminal enterprises.
The experiment was based on the belief that television can act as a catalyst to change the country in terms of improving the quality of life and reducing disparities. Decades of social development efforts can be catalysed by the media only if television channels adopt such issues as a mission and give them some priority in programming.
Based on two decades of media research insights, CMS has identified six strategies for the media that can both distinguish a channel and also be rewarding. These include having larger concerns, the courage to initiate new ideas, constant experimentation, having a view that is not temporal and above competition, conducting research-based retrospection, engage viewers as participants to think and follow up and, importantly, special training, at least a week in a year.
Those at the helm of our TV channels are as interested in making a lasting impact, including on the standing of the girl child. Some channels, in fact, have all along been doing so on their own. But since channels operate in a competitive scenario, and going by certain market compulsions inherent in the very nature of television, it was felt by CMS and Unicef that with some special efforts, motivation and support, coverage by channels of development issues could make a difference.
P.N. Vasanti is director of New Delhi-based multidisciplinary research organization Centre for Media Studies. Your comments and feedback on this column, which runs every other Friday, are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org