Affluent living rooms dominate on TV, says study

It is only the ‘privileged‘ urban homes that feature on satellite channels in India, finds a study conducted on gender representation on satellite television by the Delhi based Centre for Advocacy and Research.

While domestic space seems to be the preferred television setting for the dramas to unfold (79 per cent on terrestrial, 71 per cent on satellite), less privileged homes do not figure at all on Zee, Sony and Star - the three major mainstream channels, while terrestrial channels deign to give five per cent representation to the lower strata. The office, notes the study, is a far less popular setting, as are schools and colleges - thus implying that, despite the affluent lifestyle portrayed, the concurrent professional and livelihood struggles are not given due display on the tube.

The study conducted by CFAR along with Proshika and Asmita, pressure groups for the advancement of women through media activism in Bangladesh and Nepal, studied 50 hours and 30 minutes of fiction during early 2002. The satellite channels monitored were Zee, Star Plus and Sony, while the terrestrial channels monitored were Nepal TV, Ekushey TV and BTV.

The sameness of what is being portrayed on television finds an echo in the results of the survey which indicate that conversations on the telephone, be it a landline or a mobile, are one of the most popular activities on TV shows today. The activity is a close second to domestic conversations, which eat up 84 per cent of time on Star‘s shows, 56 per cent on Sony shows and 53 per cent on Zee‘s shows. Despite the predominantly domestic setting, however, the number of individuals shown doing household chores is a negligible three per cent on Star, an equal figure on Zee and a slightly higher four per cent on Sony.

The qualitative analysis done by CFAR points to a clear resurgence of the family on television, a departure from the serials which dealt with social issues and the assertion of women in the early 1990s, like Humraahi, Pukaar and Adhikaar. ‘Now, the family is being packaged and marketed as a ‘dynamic entity‘ that allows for continuity and change.‘

serials, points out the study, are almost exclusively about rich, business joint families far removed from the reality of millions of viewers. Marriage remains the anchor for the assertion of the family, so much so, that individual rights are subsumed to the collective welfare of the family.

The study has also highlighted some aspects about television which it says, could be potentially worrisome. Serials, says the study, promote the belief that the family is a private affair and above the law. Gender groups, says the study, need to pay attention to this because the issue of ‘rights‘ goes beyond morality and ethical values to the recognition of the individual‘s legal rights and that their transgression requires proper legal redress.

The one dimensional portrayal of men and women is also problematic from the point of view of social realism, says the study. ‘To depict the family as an end in itself without any interest in or interaction with the larger community to which it belongs, is contextually extremely limited. Efforts should be made to locate the family within a social framework‘, says CFAR.

Pointing out that television needs to become more pluralistic and representative to reflect popular history of the times, the study notes - ‘Given the fact that we have stark social disparities, it is important that TV channels, sponsors and producers be sensitised to the ethical problems of presenting such lavish and even irrational lifestyles.‘

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