Television

Workshop urges media education to filter television messages

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MUMBAI: If the soaps don't change, the audience will have to.



That was the gist of a day-long workshop on media and gender equality held jointly by the Maharashtra State Commission for Women and the Delhi based Centre for Advocacy and Research. Agreeing that neither advertisements nor content on television are going to turn a new leaf overnight, panellists - who ranged from adman Prahlad Kakkar, UTV director Zarina Mehta and documentary filmmaker Chandita Mukherjee, concurred that the right way to deal with the medium and the message would be raise the levels of media education in the country.



Amid some lively sparring in the session on Making Satellite Televison accountable to public interest-setting and exchanging perspectives, CFAR's Akhila Sivadas pointed out that the challenge today was to create qualitative difference in response to what is currently being shown on televison. While self regulation among broadcasters came up as an viable alternative to perpetuating politically correct gender equality on television, Sivadas also stressed on the need for media education among citizens, particularly among children, as one of the coping mechanisms to deal with conflicting messages from TV.



The workshop turned out to be one of the rare forums in recent days that heralded the implementation of conditional access in the country with warm anticipation. "CAS is going to be real arbiter; now we will really know where viewers are willing to put their money," Mukherjee said. Added Sivadas, "CAS will now determine whether the channels' claim that viewer preferences dictate programming strategy holds water."



Mukherjee stressed that media education should be integrated with mainstream education so that kids learn to filter the messages that they are constantly bombarded with, former Zee TV president and now independent producer Madhavi Mutatkar opined that often parents themselves do not filter out programmes that could be skipped by children. 



The result is echoed in studies done by CFAR which show that throughout the country, televison viewing increasingly dominates out of school activities making children restless, inattentive and distracted. The studies also show that children are exposed to one dimensional representation of the family, which is the site of oppression and rigid sex role modelling. Blurring of distinction between the real and the reel and excessive violence on screen is adding to the next generation's skewed view of reality, the study indicates.



Prahlad Kakkar, who spoke on advertising and gender equality, said that while some ads blatantly exploit the female form in advertising and some play on skin colour, it is the more insidious messages that certain ads convey which are more dangerous. "Don't get derailed by the issue of the female form in advertising," he added, "It is ads like the Surf (Lalitaji) ads which distract from the main issues and implicitly question a woman's competence outside the home, reaffirm her role as a homemaker." 



The simplest way to change the current advertising mindset, he said, would be to reject a product and run it out of the marketplace or to mobilise celebrity support for a campaign against offending ads, which would be more effective in generating public opinion.

 

UTV's Mehta, the only production house representative at the workshop, defended the current crop of soaps saying they are the only ones working today and that if they didn't evoke a strong emotional chord with viewers, no one would be watching these. While Doordarshan Mumbai station director Mukesh Sharma pointed out that his was the only regional channel to take up issues like sex education on live phone in interactive shows, Mehta countered that UTV's Shaka Laka Boom Boom had taken a similar route by incorporating the theme of tackling blindness by including a blind character in the serial. 



Sharma however maintained that the public broadcaster's hands were tied due to paucity of funds which do not allow DD to come up with better quality programming. Secured funding to allow experimentation needs a revenue stream like television sets license fees ( a proposal recently rejected by the Centre). Sharma added that DD Mumbai had nevertheless managed a revenue of Rs 250 million last fiscal.

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