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COMMUNICATION EDUCATION AND ITS NEEDS

Communication Education and Media Needs in India

How well are Indian communications and journalism departments equipped to teach new courses in fields like online journalism? How can the media industry and the education sector in India cooperate to meet the needs of students and media organizations? What should their long-term and short-term strategies be, and how is this affected by the increasing commercialization and digitalization of media?

These are important questions for media education academics and policymakers in India, and their answers will shape the health of our media sector and society as a whole.

This informative study published by the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre of India addresses many of these issues, based on a systematic survey of 77 media organizations and 35 communication/journalism training institutes conducted in 2001.

The media in India need multi-skilled people with an understanding of the nature of information and well-versed in the new communication technologies, and society as a whole needs more skilled people in media production as well as critical thinking in relation to new ICTs across the economy. This calls for a curriculum with a mix of practical media production (including Internet publishing), media effects, political economy, cultural studies, and suitable internships.

Given the uneven pattern of economic development in the country, India's media scenario across traditional and new media can be characterized as "poverty amidst plenty."

Indian dailies enjoy a daily circulation of 13 crore copies, of which a lion's share is accounted for by 200 big dailies. The 350 main newspapers employ a total of about 5,000 reporters, 2,000 fulltime correspondents, 5,000 stringers and 5,000 editorial staff. All India Radio employs 24,000 people including 4,500 in news production. Doordarshan has 19,000 employees of which about 4,000 are in production and news. All the other private networks (such as Sun, Eenadu, Zee, ATN, Sony, AsiaNet) employ about 1,700 people with only about 500 in direct production and news (outsourcing is a common practice).

The advertising industry in India is worth Rs. 7,000 crores a year. 55 per cent of India's ad spend is devoted to the print media. The major ad agencies employ 3,000 professionals in all.

On the technology front, new ICT innovations have transformed industries like newspaper publishing, but many media departments' curricula are lagging on this front. And those which do have good media labs face other challenges in servicing and maintenance facilities.

The induction of new technology like computers and the Internet in the media sector suggests that familiarity and working knowledge of related ICT skills should be part of any curriculum in the training institutions, according to the report.

Indian media education institutes cover a wide range of university and non-university entities, such as Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media, Manipal Institute of Communication, Kerala Press Academy, FTII, Ad Club Chennai, Public Relations Society of India, Bangalore University, Sophia Polytechnic, Xavier Institute of Communication, MICA, and Symbiosis Institute of Mass Communication, to name just a few.

The comprehensive surveys indicated that many educators feel their role is not necessarily to meet the manpower needs of the industry, but to meet broader holistic social goals and non-media roles as well. Many industry representatives seem to feel that media education should not follow guidance from the government, but take inputs from the industry; the program should be geared towards entry-level jobs in the industry.

The survey also revealed a growing importance placed on students' competency in English, interpersonal skills, and fact-checking. The kinds of Internet skills needed include hypertext publishing, graphic design, and cyberlaws. Other skillsets covered in the survey include storyboarding, editing, social psychology, rural marketing, crisis communication, and broadcast technologies.

"Despite the IT bubble burst, new media and associated technologies are still relevant and the journalism and mass communications institutions should keep this in mind," the report recommends.

"The nature of the course content should recognize that news is now broken on the Net first and delivered through a variety of media including mobile phones. Convergence of media has happened and accordingly the orientation of instruction should change," according to the report.

India Needs a Communication Strategy

Much more needs to be done to get alumni more involved in media capacity issues. Curricula need to be updated more frequently. Umbrella organizations like AMIC India can play a greater role via e-forums in exchanging curriculum and other resources between media educational institutes in India.

Students need to be imbued with a mix of skills, passion, professionalism and creativity in old and new media, in terms of developing a "news sense." Emphasis should be laid on connecting communications media with people, and not getting distracted by elitist concerns.

The report also recommends the setting up of a National Media Council which can act as an accreditation agency to ensure standards in media teaching and training.

Other issues which future studies could address include the rapid proliferation of wireless media and their impact on news and community formation, inculcating a sense of social responsibility, mid-career refresher programs, competing against a preoccupation with entertainment and commercialized media, issues surrounding legal and privacy considerations, partnerships with business schools (on topics like e-commerce), increasing media capacity programs in Indian languages, status of library facilities, community empowerment, the digital divide, and the FM radio boom.

We have all watched with a mixture of upset and grudging admiration, the way Musharraf communicates to the world, via the media, far better than the way India does. While we clearly don't want to be like him or say the same things as him, surely an equally forceful, equally unambiguous, equally engaging and attention getting communication from India would help us in the eyes of the watching world?

We have a collective national disdain for what we call 'media warfare' and 'spin doctoring'. But it is a fact of life that communication received through the idiot box today shapes perceptions of not only idiots but of wise men, as well. And shapes views not only on the issue at hand but leaves a residual impression about the brand that is talking, which in turn shapes the way future communication from the brand is received. Think about the communication from America post September 11th. We may have a lot of disagreements about their specific positions on specific issues, and a lot of disappointments about the abandonment of objectivity by the US television media (who sometimes do seem like a glitzier version of Doordarshan in the old days!) But we cannot but admit that their position and 'brand personality' comes across with sledgehammer force and focus.

Contrast this with the way India communicated after the recent attack on our Parliament. While cover pages of magazines later screamed that India was 'outraged', the entire first round of communication that went out from India, via television, was wishy washy and meandering, to say the least. An interesting device is used by advertising folks to check what the total communication emitted as a result of all the television advertising and PR done for the brand over a year is. They take all the bits and pieces of communication, check how many people received each piece, and edit it into a 10 minute 'weighted by audience' communication capsule. Viewing the capsule then provides an easy to assimilate picture of what was beamed to consumers as a result of one year and millions of dollars. Was there a story at all? Was it clear and coherent? Did it leave behind a sharp residual impression of brand personality? Or was it a confusing array of images and messages that made no impact? If we did this exercise for communication emanating out of India, after the attack on Parliament, I suspect that we would get a very fuzzy picture. Was India communicating 'scared'? "Outraged'? "Philosophic'? 'Will avenge itself'? "Will wait and watch'? "cautious and mature'? All of the above? None of the above? In the 10 minute 'weighted by foreign audience' communication capsule, we will have at least 3 minutes of the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs saying that it is particularly significant and very clear that while the rest of the world had called this a terrorist attack, Pakistan's president had called it an armed intrusion. What exactly was he communicating about India's stand on this whole thing? What was our media communicating to the world about how India felt and what India was thinking, and how she would act? What was the residual impression created about India's 'brand personality'?

I am not going to quibble about the right or wrong of India's communication strategy. I just want to be reassured as a concerned citizen that (1) we have a communication strategy which is clear and coherent, (2) that it is not a well kept state secret but made known to all those who put out communication on the subject (including our television media and everyone who faces the TV cameras to air his or her opinion on the subject) and (3) that some thought and training is given to all concerned on how to execute against the strategy. Spin doctoring? Maybe that's one word to use. I prefer 'proactive perception management' as a way to think about this.

Does perception matter? Of course it does. Many of us have been in a situation where we saw an intrinsically good candidate being passed up by the interview panel, despite all his virtues, because he communicated so poorly. (I am told that the word for this is 'underwhelming', the opposite of 'overwhelming'.) And then, there is the good candidate that you wanted to hire but hesitated to, because he communicated profusely, but inconsistently, signaling different things about himself at different points in time, and in the process, came across as confused. The same applies to brands with badly designed communication. Either no one takes them seriously because they don't make a clear and forceful statement about themselves, or they send out so many different values and personality signals, that people wonder for a while what they are all about, and abandon the effort to figure it out.

I am suggesting that an India Perception Management cell be created, which strategically manages the India brand perception, so that we influence the world in terms of how they see us, rather than feel 'had', later. As with all good sounding ideas, this one too has a fatal flaw - how on earth will it get implemented? I once heard a speech by Dewang Mehta who said that India's successes in IT and Beauty were because these were the two areas where we did not have a ministry! Maybe the CII along with the advertising / public relations / market research fraternity can take this on? Maybe the answer is not to create a managing entity but to create an opinion wave, do surveys about how our communication is received abroad, provide customised feedback and training to all concerned, so that being sensitised, they will do a better job when communicating about India to the world.

I think the good part here, is that there are no vested or conflicting interests. We are all on the same side. We as Indians, don't want to steal our own thunder and accept less than our entitlement -- warts and all, we still make a pretty picture and have a compelling story to tell for ourselves -- because we haven't managed our communication well. And we don't want the world either thinking that we don't know what we are doing, or that we are a lightweight, pushover nation. And we certainly don't want to, by default, speak in so many ways, that people around the world puzzle and say about us, to borrow from Ogden Nash, "tell me Octopus, I begs, which is arms and which is legs?

 

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Please note that this is the opinion of the author and is Not Certified by ICAR or any of its authorised agents.