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Media systems and structures in India

In discussing systems of media and communication, media studies as a field has borrowed concepts from social sciences in relation to the structures of power (politics), society (sociology) and economics (structures). In the so called ‘Third World’, the legacy of colonization, modernization and development, and their relative democratic status have been the foci of media studies scholars. The New World Information and Communication Order debates of the 1970s, for example, analysed world media systems in terms of colonial, historical, cultural and technological parameters (MacBride Commission, 1980).These dimensions are essential in understanding the media system in India, in particular the historical framework, in which to assess the long experience of colonialism and its impact on the development of media and communication.

The history and development of print (Kesavan, 1997;Venkatachalapathy, 2012) and broadcasting media (Masani, 1976; Baruah, 2017) have been the focus of much research. British colonization has been the subject of intense interrogation and the nationalist struggle for independence has highlighted the role of the press (Ram, 2011). While the growth of broadcasting during the British administration was of short duration it was nevertheless significant in laying the foundation for India’s government-owned system.

This chapter will focus initially on print and broadcasting media and, later, a more integrated view of India’s media ecology will be presented. For example, the economic liberalization of the 1990s enables us to look at the media system more holistically (Athique et al., 2018). The introduction of social media in the first two decades of the twenty-first century adds a new digital dimension to the Indian media system. The dramatic increase in the use of mobile phones, buoyed by comparably low data and voice rates has enhanced the spread and use of social media, whose role and impact in elections has become significant (Sardesai, 2019). The new media, in addition to allowing consumption of media-generated content, have also spurred user-generated content and have transformed commerce, governance and a range of digital services.

Broadcasting, with its amateurish beginnings in radio in the 1920s, was taken over by the colonial government in the 1930s and was then transferred to the Indian state after Independence in 1947. Building on the telecoms infrastructure developed in the 1980s, including satellites, technological developments were rapid and, after liberalization and privatization in the 1990s, the broadcasting system grew exponentially, from one state-owned broadcaster, Doordarshan into a vast network of both public and private radio and television stations. The print medium, specifically newspapers, however, has a much longer trajectory in India, from its colonial origins.

Print culture in India and the colonial context

Printing came to India in the sixteenth century, with the Portuguese colonizers of Goa and their Jesuit missionaries: ‘The art of printing entered India for the first time on September 6,1556. Its advent was like a happy accident. Generally, it was as an aid to proselytization that the printing press was taken outside Europe’ (Priolkar, 1958). The subsequent spread of book publishing, initially in Indian languages and later in English have been the subject matter of extensive inquiry in cultural history (Venkatachalapathy, 2012). Before print, India had a rich culture of manuscripts in Sanskrit, Pali, Persian, Arabic and many regional Indian languages, written on palm leaves and hand-made paper. This practice continued till the end of the nineteenth century, when the printing press became more widely used, with the development of fonts for Indian languages. It took until the eighteenth century before the first newspaper in India was produced. Since then, for nearly two centuries, newspaper and print journalism in its broadest sense has gone through several phases, characterized by the interaction with colonialism and nationalist struggles (Murthy, 1966; Ram, 2011).

Pre-newspaper publications such as newsletters disseminating information existed during the pre-Mughal as well as the Mughal era (Rau, 1968).The work of news writers was an essential source of information for rulers and courts (Natarajan, 2017: 10) and their services were also used by the East India Company (EIC) (Fisher, 1993). Although the Company started using printing presses around 1674 in Bombay and elsewhere, it was not until 1780 that the first English-language newspaper, the Bengal Gazette, was published. Its founder, James Augustus Hicky had his own reasons to start a newspaper: his business had failed, he was jailed for debt and he wanted to expose the Company’s maladministration (Otis, 2018). He was persecuted for criticizing Church and the State when the Company made other publications toe the line. Reluctance to encourage or start newspapers, disgruntle-ment with Company officials, using newspapers as vehicles to promote interests or settle scores, and indirect company patronage of friendly publications - all this characterized newspaper journalism in its first few decades (Natarajan, 2017: 11). However, about ten Anglo-Indian and 25 Indian-language newspapers were in existence in 1857 at the time of the ‘First War of Independence’.

The Indian language press: social reforms and resistance

Indian-language journalism in the colonial era had to develop within the framework of the dual attitude of the EIC towards English and the vernacular press. This language press was motivated by regional and sectarian issues and readership (Codell, 2004). Early accounts of the development of the Indian-language press in the nineteenth century, in Bengal to begin with and subsequently in other regions, describe the colonial attitudes towards journalism and partisan attitudes towards the Indian-language press and a host of press laws and restrictions (Chatteijee, 1929). The colonial experience of the Indian-language press was not a deterrent for its growth despite the low levels of literacy that limited their circulation.

A proliferating commercial print culture, a new generation of administrators and editors, missionaries and elites open to new ideas led to demands for a free press, as opposed to the repressive attitude of the EIC. The easing of censorship in 1818 is said to have heralded the publication of journals in Bengali by missionaries, as well as the local elite. The EIC’s attitude to and control of the press allowed for daring responses by social reformers such as Rammohan Roy and marked the beginning of a new type of political activity: ‘This forgotten chapter of protest focused on the idea of a free press provides a key insight into the continuation of politics as the dominant theme in Indian journalism today’ (Sonwalkar, 2015).

The colonial era saw both the loyalist and nationalist press expressing demands for social reforms, particularly within a Hindu religious framework. Many nationalist leaders such as Tilak, Gokhale, Ambedkar, Nehru and Gandhi (Natarajan, 2017: 143) articulated their views through their journals (Israel, 1994). They also sought the services of senior journalists to be their editors. Many industrialists, who owned newspapers, supported the Independence struggle and aligned with various ideological strands of what became the largest anti-colonial movement in history (Israel, 1994; Guha, 2003; Rau, 2016; Pol, 2018).

The nationalist leader in Bombay, Bal Gangadhar Tilak was instrumental in creating nationalistic awareness both among the English-speaking elite as well as the majority population, which speaks Marathi. In 1881, he published a newspaper in Marathi called Kesari, to cater to the ‘mass of ignorant population who generally have no idea of what passes around them and who therefore must be given the knowledge’, and the English-language Mahratta, aimed at the educated segment of the community (Natarajan, 2017: 143). Indian-language newspapers were edited by a host of literary figures in their respective regions, who provided the local nationalist flavour of the movement. The Indian press became increasingly vocal about political authority and nationalism from 1880 onwards (Codell, 2004: 107).

Radio and nascent nationalism

By the time radio evolved in the 1920s, the nationalist movement was firmly established. However, it was clear that radio was ‘intended to serve as a medium for imperial propaganda’ (Zivin, 1998). Its origins and development before Indian independence are indicative of a significant lack of interest on the part of British administration (Pinkerton, 2008). However, the National Planning Committee, set up in 1938, recognized broadcasting as a necessity and described its functions as news, adult education, propaganda by the State and entertainment. Recognizing communication and broadcasting services as a monopoly of the state, it recommended it be continued but ‘run on commercial principles’ (Shah, 1948: 58, 85).The empire broadcasting services during World War II created interest in news and a fondness for the Reithian model for broadcasting in post-independence India (Chatterji, 1987; Rudolph, 1992).

 
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