Thursday, February 20, 2020


Historicising Modernity and Communications
IFP Bureau | First Published: January 22, 2020 01:50:44 am
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Pradip Ninan Thomas, in his book, Political Economy of Communications in India: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, writes: ‘The legacy of modern communication bequeathed by the British has had a lasting impact and also imperial communication primarily aided the imperial cause, its cultures have persisted and those schooled in this tradition have exerted considerable influence in Independent India’.

It was during the British rule that the project of modernity was introduced using systems of communication. Thomas says that the telegraph, press, radio and films were introduced primarily as a means to reinforce the colonial regime. However, the print and folk media and, to some extent, the radio became a way to express the emergent national consciousness and anti-colonial stance till India achieved independence.

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The seed of communications in India was sown during the colonial phase. This foundation of communications in India was accompanied by a system of regulations over ownership and control of the media specifically from a governance point of view. The convention was durable enough to last even after the post-British rule phase getting support from the ruling elites in India. While the rules of the game did not change dramatically, the newly formed state retained the imperial role played by exercising control over national broadcasting in India.

In the post-British colonial phase, it was primarily the private firms that were interested in the business of the print media. The Tatas were already into the printing and publishing business from 1931, consumer electronics from 1940 and information technology from 1968.

Quite distinct from the private interests, the state took control of radio first, followed by television. Between 1947 to the late 1980s, the state showed great interest in acting as the regulatory body that had swayed over private media. The state’s seriousness of expanding the media under its control stems from the fact that in 1947, there were only six radio broadcasting centres in India. By 1983, the number increased to 86. Towards the end of the 1985, 95 per cent of the entire population was covered by the radio.

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From being an experimental project in the late 1950s to the formation of a separate division in 1976 there was a country-wide expansion. By 1982, almost 100 per cent of the country’s landmass could receive the Indian television network. However, by the mid 1980s, radio was marginalized to a great extent in favour of television.

With the change and opening up of the Indian economy to the logic of liberalisation, the Indian skies too opened up to foreign television channels. The satellite broadcast of the Gulf war by CNN literally sparked the cable television revolution in India and brought about unprecedented changes in the broadcasting rules of the game which was for long in the hands of the state. The changing nature of politics and shift in policies are also credited with the satellite and cable television revolution in India.

In India’s case, the marriage of the good old print technology with that of broadcast and information technology seems to have matured. The media houses are now seriously involved in the business of selling information as commodities using print, television and internet technologies. However, the advent of social media has diffused existent power structure. At the same time, there has been noticeable slicing of advantage and appropriation of internet based social media by the state in ways beyond the control of print, radio and television.  

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