Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Media in India

Recently I and some friends were discussing the low standards of news reporting on Indian television. While some were complaining that the media does not address the real issues, the others were pointing out that it indulges more in short lived hypes than it creates meaningful debates. There was a general consensus though, that the responsibility of raising the standard of journalism lie solely with the media channels. And this point of view seemed quite reasonable until I realized that it was unsustainable.

To understand this it's important to analyze what causes the current scheme of things. If we go just a step further from the obvious we will realize that it is not the media channels that determine the content but rather the audience that does. If the audience didn't want this content, the channels wouldn't have any incentive to produce it. So, this is a demand side problem and fixing it on supply side will not be a sustainable solution. There will always be some other media channel which will be happy to produce what is in demand.

Further, who is to decide the meaningfulness of content? Aren't we a democracy that lets people decide what is best for them ? A few educated elite may not find the content the best but isn't it a trade-off we made when we chose a democratic set up (as opposed to, say, an aristocratic one). [1]

So what is the solution then? My answer is that we are trying to solve a "pseudo-problem". A problem which is but a manifestation of a larger deficiency in the system and unless we fix this deficiency our solutions will be short lived and unsustainable at best. Let me elaborate this last point.

It is a central assumption of democracy and free markets that participants always make rational decisions that are beneficial to them. Democracy further assumes that this collective decision is also beneficial to the whole. This last assumption is an approximation at best and a frequently broken one when the participants are largely uneducated. Our current scenario is yet another instance of this broken assumption wherein the general population is unable to figure out what will be most beneficial to them as a whole.

It's only logical to start repairing a broken model by fixing its broken assumptions. So, if we can somehow fix our assumption that theh masses can form informed decisions that are good for the collective then everything will be rosy again and our system should go back to working as advertised, at least until we find the next fault. And I think this can only be done by providing education to all the billion decision makers we have, so that they do not seek opinions from the media but seek only information and form their own opinions, which by definition of education have a higher probability of being correct.

This will ensure that not only does the media has an incentive to produce its content for the educated masses who are able to see through the subtleties but also that we remain true to our democratic spirit of letting people decide what is best for them.

Educating India might seem to be a colossal task, but then such an ancient civilization as ours shouldn't be looking to solve trivial problems.

1. Though, in a democratic set-up every one has a right to voice his criticism.
Media in IndiaSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

No comments: