Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Kathavacaks & Feudal Remnants for the Info Age

While browsing through the "media" section of Indiatogether, I came across an interview with Arvind Rajagopal on the India Shining campaign, and more generally, on media's role in electoral politics. Most of what he has to say in the interview is now old news of course, but two little nuggets caught my attention:

To a question about differences b/w Engligh and Hindi language media, Rajagopal responds:

News reporters editorialize far more in Hindi television news, because they are usually better-educated recruits from the Hindi press. What is interesting is that they often echo the kathavacak tradition, where a story-teller is also engaged in moral exhortation, not simply reportage. As such their rhetorical range is greater, although when viewed from the perspective of English news it can seem didactic or opinionated.

And I would add that the figure of the sutradhar is an apt one if we consider how someone like Amitabh Bachchan does much more than just explain the rules of the game to contestants in Kaun Banega Crorepati. Btw, youtube has the KBC episode in which Sania Mirza and Lara Dutta teamed up to play for a charity :)

And about American-style news influencing the way news is done in India:

Fortunately or unfortunately, many people still do not rely on the media for their ideas even if they are exposed to it. This reflects a culture that is a blend of feudalism and state authoritarianism. Politics is an expression of power rather than of opinion in this context, and liberalism is mainly an aspiration. The result is that people distrust what leaders say. In India, few people believe speech is ever free. They also watch what they say. For example, when opinion polls are taken, people don't always tell the truth. This provides protections that should not be underestimated, as the recent elections showed.
It is ironic that the remnants of a feudal culture can serve as people's defenses in the information age, where everything is supposed to be known and regulated.


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