Below is a summary of the  report that chronicles the proceedings and deliberations of an international seminar on Contours of Media Governance: Technology, Institutions and Practice. It was organized by Centre for Culture, Media & Governance , Jamia Millia Islamia , New Delhi, organized in 2008. 

The necessity to be attentive to the challenges of governance in a milieu that is marked by a series of inte

nse transformations in the dynamics of information and media over the last two decade is widely felt. The ability of an interdisciplinary Media studies to systematically engage with various facets and level of this transformation promises a lot but yet to be explored in fullness. The foremost challenge of the governance, however, is to locate the points of references that shall facilitate the comprehension of breaks and continuities of this period of transformation. Such an exercise will pave the way for, which consequently shall permit identification of institutions, instruments and actors and populate this sphere.

The dialogue on “the contours of media governance” that took place in the International seminar organized by Centre for Culture, Media and Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia on 8-10 December’08 was principally inspired by the credence that Media governance has gained at operational and epistemological grounds, today. By bringing together select scholars and advocates from India, Europe, North America and the Asia pacific, this dialogue aimed to

  • engage with the multiple sites, institutions and actors constituting the sphere of media
  • governance highlight the most relevant cross-national issues and national approaches to them, and
  • refine the agenda beseeching academia, public policy and advocacy.

    Prof. Bishnu Mahapatra chaired the first session "The Complexity of Governance"
    Prof. Bishnu Mahapatra (Ford Foundation, New Delhi) chaired the first session “The Complexity of Governance”

What is Media governance?

The discussion revolved around defining the concept of media governance in the present context. Media governance is a multi-faceted notion that could encapsulate the triad of governance of media, governance by the media and the impact of media on the governance. Where governance of media is the traditional connotation for media governance which essentially reflects the way in which media is sought to be influenced by the narratives of governance. It should be borne in the mind that in addition to the spatio-temporal factors, the governance narratives are subject also to the organizing principles of the society. Governance by the media is the way media reflects the larger picture of the society and the concerns of government, which people consume and tend to believe. Lastly, media governance which consists of the impact of media on governance, focusing on the relationship between institutions of the media and the functioning of the government. It deals with the efficacy of a well- functioning media as a watchdog.

Prof. Stephen McDowell‘ presented on 'Borders and Mobility in the Infosphere’
Prof. Stephen McDowell, Department of Communication, Florida State University presented on ‘Borders and Mobility in the Infosphere’

Media governance and media policy

Media governance is often used interchangeably with media policy, although it entails a much wider conceptual ambit. Media policy has a restricted mandate and refers to the legally and formally qualified mechanisms to regulate media, none of them being absolutely accurate and comprehensive in explaining the activities surrounding media. In contrast, media governance refers to all processes, formal and informal, where actors with different degrees of power and autonomy, define and express their interests, produce relevant knowledge and cultural practices and engage in political negotiation while trying to influence the outcome of decision-making in the domains of media and communication. To deduce the argument, media governance entails a wide range of activities and practices, with the involvement and influence of a wide range of players, per say, Multi- lateral organizations like World Bank, UN, International Clubs, regional groupings, Nation states, Trans-National Private sector, global civil society etc. The role of these actors or the multilateral bodies is almost never transparent. Keeping in view the multi-perspectives, multi stake holder and multi-objectives of media governance, media governance, as explained by Marc Raboy, is “a brokering process between the state and economic actors, it is about frame-work structuring and enabling rather than control”.

A slide from presentation of Prof. Marc Raboy (Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University) on Sociology of Media Governance.
A slide from Prof. Marc Raboy’s presentation on ‘Sociology of Media Governance’

Internet governance occupies an important space within the discourse of media governance. The internet has been used since the dot com boom of the early 90’s till today as a public domain of voicing dissents or debating larger political issues and most for pro-democracy movements within autocratic countries. The web thus has become an important tool for political dissent. However, soon the authorities became cautious of the ways in which online sites were being used to critique the political system; these were spaces they could not control. It is these particular spaces within which governance issues began to emerge.

This discourse around internet governance reveals a peculiar paradox; where the new forums are focusing much more on the internet when only 40% of the world has access to it, compared to radio which is accessed by 95 % of the population.

The mobile subscriber base in India that continues to annually grow at 90% is currently the second largest in the world. The expanding market structure of this sector, the spread of technology, and variety of operators brings to the notice the workings of the mobile industry, its infrastructure and the mechanism of spectrum allocation. The spectrum policy in India had undergone various processes like auctioning, de-linking license from spectrum, and criterion for spectrum allocation. The problem lies in the government arguing for less spectrum used by incumbents at a time when spectrum became more productive; hence, 2G was destroyed compared to 3G, even though it could be a major driver for development. The challenge is to surmount spectrum being treated as a commodity.

A slide from the presentation of Mr. Rohit Prasad, Management Development Institute,  on 'Spectrum Management in India: A Critique'
A slide from Mr. Rohit Prasad’s presentation on ‘Spectrum Management in India: A Critique’

The challenge of governance has not only been an area of concern in the latest forms of media like internet and its governance and its spectrum allocation, instead there is a need to understand and compare all the available mediums to recognize the larger issue of media governance and its challenges. In comparison to different sectors of the media industry, based on the parameters of directionality, richness and diversity of space, to spot the role of the regulator and its amenability to technological change an analysis can reveal that internet is the most vibrant public sphere, least restricted by policy and less dominated by government. This argument can be substantiated by the fact that in sense of directionality, radio is an uncontested unidirectional medium as it is heavily controlled by the government despite its widest reach.With only a handful producing and disseminating content, the case of television is no different. In the similar vein, the fact that in case of telecom, a false scarcity of spectrum was created and it has been used inefficiently is evidence enough for their one-directionality. Here, Internet is the answer as an interactive medium availed at less cost.

In respect of the diversity of number of player, radio is dominated by A.I.R (government owned) and those private players allowed do not have the permission to air news & current affairs. Terrestrial space has government monopoly in case of television and the private channels which operate through satellites, telecast content which is disappointingly similar. The case differs for telecom where the user is a content producer with little intervention by the service provider and yet again, Internet comes out as a medium with no content monopoly and diversity of voices.

On the question of content filtering and regulation, internet yet again comes out as a medium with least censorship and filtration. Thus keeping in mind the above measures, internet is evidently vibrant public sphere, least restricted by policy and less dominated by government- this explains why huge investment in taking place in the realm of internet. However there is other side of the story, that openness and freedom of internet is often taken for granted. The medium needs more support from civil society in staying unfettered and diverse.

Elena Pavan (University of Trento) presenting on ‘Mapping transnational networks on Internet governance’
Elena Pavan presenting on ‘Mapping transnational networks on Internet governance’

Governance and Broadcast Industry

There has been decline of Public service Broadcasting (PSB) along with its transition to the Public service media (PSM), specifically in the instance of Europe.There have been recommendations for use of PSM in place of PSB on the ground that PSM is a technology neutral term and, also, it offers a variety of services in diverse forms and through new platforms.

To investigate into the practicality of the PSB/PSM, one may study British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in United Kingdom. BBC has a strong presence and mandate in the country.  Germany has a restrictive mandate on internet, while Norway too has an ambivalent regulatory approach over the online and mobile activities. It appears that Europe has been exerting policies of inertia in stark contrast to the policy of innovations. There is little direct support for innovative content. The issue not being just Europe sensitive,PSMs are discussed widely to combat and provide alternative for media concentration and commercialization.

A slide from the presentation of  Prof. Minna Aslama Horowitz (Research Fellow / Program Officer, Fordham University / University of Helsinki) on ‘European Public Service in Transition from PSB to PSM’
A slide from Prof. Minna Aslama Horowitz ‘s presentation on ‘European Public Service in Transition from PSB to PSM’

Problematic of emergence of private news channels and the blurring lines between news and entertainment is what that arrests the attention of those who engage with the contemporary scenario of Indian broadcasting. With more than 56 news channels,India is world’s most linguistically diverse and competitive news media. The popularity of news can be attributed to popularity of crime, cricket and cinema. Out of these, what really dominates the news scenario is Bollywoodisation of news, which might have its relations to the expansion of Hindi Film industry in the last couple of decades. This trend that is justified in the name  of providing what people want to watch, is a means of diversion from real issues such as poverty, unemployment etc. Since news in not merely a media product but a vehicle for engagement with the democratic process, feeding off and into domestic politics and international relations, this tamasha of TV  news can act as conduit for corporate colonization of consciousness.

A slide from the presentation of Prof. Daya Thussu (Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Westminster, London, UK) on ‘Tamasha of TV News’
A slide from Prof. Daya Thussu ‘s presentation on ‘Tamasha of TV News’

This trend also points to a wider regulatory lacunae faced by broadcast industry in India. This regulatory lacuna is a consequence of the following factors:

  • liberalization that has not been accompanied by necessary regulation,
  • technological convergence that has created uncertainties like films are more regulated than TV programmes, and also
  • Continuing difficulties in passing necessary regulations.

The broadcasting scenario in India has grown from an all- government system to a number of private players, the regulatory regime that could cater to former, now required a structural overhaul. Thus, in the absence of any regulatory system, the Self regulation is seen as the solution, such as Self regulatory Guidelines for Broadcasting sector (2008) and Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards drawn by News Broadcasters Association. The impasse here is that self regulation in this case is a situation where industry regulates industry. But self regulation is feasible only when matter in hand is not of major social consequences. Because of interplay between social responsibilities on one hand and social consequences of media and the pressure of commercial interests on the other, self regulation is not a sustainable model in the long run. For self regulation to work successfully, it requires a motivated industry, small numbers of large players, government regulatory backstop and maturity in market. These pre-conditions indicate that self regulation is not conducive for Indian broadcasting scenario at the present.

Prof. Peng Hwa,Nanyang Technological University, Singapore speaking on ‘Possibilities & Limits of Self-Regulation of Indian Broadcast Content’
Prof. Peng Hwa,Nanyang Technological University, Singapore speaking on ‘Possibilities & Limits of Self-Regulation of Indian Broadcast Content’

Also, the history of public broadcasting in India has proved that it is more of a State broadcasting. The advocacy is not for strict regulations and laws but for putting some mechanism in place and creating some awareness to ensure media is not used for social harm. It can be also suggested that self regulation which has failed in numbers of cases, can be replaced by Quality check/assurance.

ICT and Governance

According to the global index of ICT access, the ICT penetration in India is 142 out of 180. Here arises the question of relevance and requirement of ICT in developing and less developed economies in terms of meeting development goals.

Product Cycle theory postulates, that as innovation takes place in developed countries, the manufacturing base shifts to low cost economies, making them industrialized in the process; which eventually reduces the gap between rich and poor. But historically that has not been the case until and unless there has been an ICT infrastructure within the economy of the less developed adopter country as in the case of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. ICT has instead inherent bias against resource –poor segment of economy because accessing them requires pre-conditions of education, resources, hardware and software.

A slide from the presentation of Prof. Pradosh Nath  on ‘ICT & Governance: Issues for Marginal Economies’
A slide from the presentation of Prof. Pradosh Nath (National Institute of Technology and Development Studies, New Delhi) on ‘ICT & Governance: Issues for Marginal Economies’

Governance of ICTisation, therefore, has to address the problem of creating access to resources and undoing the process of denial which requires three basic simultaneous actions:

  • creating social and economic opportunities,
  • enhancing literacy, and
  • enhancing empowerment and bargaining power of marginalized people.

Right To Information (RTI) and Governance

RTI is becoming a movement towards strengthening democracy and is giving a sense of empowerment to marginalized people. There calls for a need to facilitate peoples’ access to tools of RTI and social audit for transparency and accountability of government. The ultimate goal is to make accountability a part of culture.

RTI and Freedom of Information (FOI) are both easy to promise and hard to deliver. What explains this dictum in the Indian context is the fact that RTI applies only on public sector.Moreover, shrinking public sector operations and increasing public private partnerships further limits the utility of RTI as a tool of democratization.One solution to this is that while legislation applies only to public bodies one can still ask indirectly for information from those bodies which get financial assistance from government. The issue remains unanswered of how to bring Private sectors under the social audit and transparency advocated by RTI & FOI.

Alice Morris (UNNATI) presented on ‘Social Audit and RTI in the context of NREGS'
Alice Morris (UNNATI) presented on ‘Social Audit and RTI in the context of NREGS’

Media reforms, media advocacy and the marginalised

Media reform from a perspective of social interventions and social mobilization has brought about social movement. Multiple frames that have been employed world over for building such movements in general,include: Freedom of press, Freedom of expression, media democratization, right to free communication, cultural environment and media justice. A related debate is whether such a media movement should prioritize traditional media or development of alternative media. Nevertheless media reform movements are seen as meta- movements, as they are fundamental to the success of other social movements. Media reforms today seem better equipped to stand on their own.

Besides a macro media reform, there is a need for micro reforms, to make technology more conducive to the marginal publics, which in itself translate into a macro reform at an individual levels. These micro reforms at individual levels can be done by “innovation consulting”, i.e. business of creating new technologies that match with expectations of the user, while also helping realize development goals. To elaborate “innovation consulting”, recognizes the problem that market forces do not always operate in the interest of the consumer.Thus there is a requirement of a public and private partnership so as to contribute to societal changes, like innovations in making mobile telephony cater to illiterate segment of population, by designing non-textual signs, color clues to address the gap created by literacy in accessing technology and media.

Prof. Minna Aslama Horowitz  presented Prof. Philip M. Napoli's paper ‘A Social Movement Theory Perspective on Media Reform’ on his behalf
Prof. Minna Aslama Horowitz presented Prof. Philip M. Napoli’s paper ‘A Social Movement Theory Perspective on Media Reform’ on his behalf

Digital technology hence, ought not to confine itself to its conventional usages, and must be channeled for wider social goals by either state or non-state initiatives. In this regard large scale initiative of e-education, can improve India’s education enrolment rate, by blending conventional education and e-education. The education experiment of Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (1975-76) (SITE), and EDUSET, satellite for the purpose of providing higher education programmes can be cited here.

Such initiatives exploiting digital content and new media can/are also be used to empower rural India and are directed towards inclusion of marginal public. The problem with this formulation is the pre-disposition that villages are seen as consuming units and not providers. The paradox of this pre-disposition is that despite the fact that villages are seen as consuming units, the products are seldom created according to their needs. There is not even an attempt to incorporate knowledge of rural history, environment and culture into product and technologies that are sellable to villages. However, if new media and technology are adopted for rural entrepreneurship, returns are financial as well as social.

A slide from Mr. Osama Manzar's presentation on ‘‘Digital Content & Media for Inclusion’
A slide from the presentation of Mr. Osama Manzar, Digital Empowerment Foundation on ‘‘Digital Content & Media for Inclusion’