The British Council, New Delhi, 8-9 May 2004

A conference organised by the Media South Asia project at IDS, Sussex University, with support from the British Council, New Delhi


Day 1
  • Welcome by Edmund Marsden of the British Council and William Crawley of MSA 
  • Dr Kiran Karnik, President of NASSCOM: ‘The public interest in a liberalised world: towards a new definition’.
  • K.Krishnan, CEO of AajTak: ‘The view from the corporate sector’.
  • Ambika Srivastava, media planner and consultant:
  • B.P.Sanjay: ‘Prioritising the challenges’
  • David Page, MSA: ‘Making it tangible: a new phase for MSA’.
  • Kanak Dixit, Himal Association: ‘The public sphere: issues for regional public discourse.’
  • Akhila Sivadas, Centre for Advocacy and Research: ‘Is there a domain of the viewer and listener?’
  • Communication for Change: new media opportunities
    • Afsan Chowdhury, BRAC
    • Mitu Varma, Panos South Asia
    • Ashish Sen, Voices
    • Sajid Mansoor Qaisrani, Aurat


Day 2
  • Future of Media South Asia - general discussion
  • Discussion of Four Key Issues:
    • Community Empowerment – moderated by Ashish Sen
    • Spaces for Networking – moderated by Afsan Chowdhury
    • Capacity Building – moderated by Jai Chandi Ram
    • Regulatory Issues – moderated by B.P.Sanjay


  • Eamoinn Taylor, DFID, London: ‘The donor’s viewpoint’
  • Concluding session

Day 1 - 8th May

Edmund Marsden Director of the British Council welcomed the participants.

William Crawley, Co-Director of the Media Project at IDS Sussex, expressed thanks to Mr Marsden for the hospitality of the British Council in New Delhi and to Akhila Sivadas, Director of CFAR, for her and her colleagues’ work in arranging the conference. He gave a particular welcome to participants coming from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Kanak Dixit had come for the first day of this workshop, sandwiching his flying visit in between a conference in Texas and a political cliff-hanger in Kathmandu. Dr. Crawley regretted the absence of colleagues from Sri Lanka. Two close associates of the MSA project were keen to come but were committed to being in Costa Rica - an indication of the global networks of which media practitioners from all over the region are a highly active element.

He welcomed participants from Calcutta, Mumbai and Bangalore as well as Delhi itself, at a time when India was in the middle of the complex and extended election process which determines not just the government of India, but to a great extent the climate within which civil society operates and the opportunities which we are discussing over the next two days.


Dr Crawley said that the Media South Asia Project had been involved in a number of conferences and workshops in the past three years in different venues. David Page would be saying something in a later session, about the outcomes and lessons of these ventures. Some of them were very positive. A record of these meetings would be posted very soon on http://www.mediasouthasia.org/  or it could be accessed through http://www.thehoot.org/, the website managed by Sevanti Ninan, media critic and correspondent of the Hindu newspaper, whose own work was the first to look in an authoritative and accessible way at the implications of the satellite TV revolution in India .


The aim of the current workshop was to focus on the possibility of promoting an alliance between organisations working in similar areas of media-related activity in different parts of the region. Even where the core interests and activities of these organisations are quite dissimilar, it was hoped to focus on the potential value of a dialogue and sharing of expertise and experience from across South Asia . 


Specific areas for possible discussion on the second day of the workshop were the Regulatory Environment, in which there had been big developments in the past three years, not all in the same direction. Dr Crawley noted the significance of the regulatory environment in every country, not least in Britain , where the new regulatory authority OFCOM was cutting its teeth, and established institutions like the BBC were bracing themselves for close scrutiny.  Dr Crawley compared the position of television viewers in Britain , who, despite the great European project and supposedly because of the language barrier, had little or no opportunity to see what French, German or Italian television was broadcasting, with the situation in South Asia , where cross border listening was entirely feasible and a reality. What were the implications of that for MSA? Who was setting the cultural agenda? Did the public have a say?  In a commercially dominated environment what spaces were left? And were new spaces being created for public interest programming? Other issues for discussion included CFAR’s special area of expertise in gender and representation, and the championing of a voice in the media for socially marginalised individuals and communities.


Dr Crawley said he was privileged to welcome the first keynote speaker, Dr Kiran Karnik. The key roles that Dr Karnik had played in the development of the electronic media in India over the past thirty five years – in the Satellite Instructional television project (SITE) in the 1970s, through being the boss of the Discovery Channel in India , to his present role as President of NASSCOM, were well known. His generosity with his time and advice to the Media South Asia project since 1998 had been of enormous value to those working on it. One of the messages that Dr Karnik had stressed was that people who value public interest broadcasting may be critical but should learn to work with the commercial environment.



Dr. Kiran Karnik – President of NASSCOM

‘ The public interest in a liberalised media world - towards a new definition’


Kiran Karnik said that newer technologies were very much part of the media scene and we should embrace them rather than regard them with hostility. The market was a tool that could be used to advantage. It was wrong for NGOs and others to regard it simply as a tool of the oppressor.


Surveying the media scene, Dr Karnik described the growth of thematic programming as a means of integrating small audiences across a wide area. Many channels were very similar but there were also specialist channels and niche channels catering for a geographically widespread area. These trends had tended towards the homogenisation of audiences. Despite the growing number of regional language channels, geographical localism or the concept of ‘localisation by language’ in TV channels had almost disappeared.


In contrast, FM radio channels were well suited to serving a local purpose. But the networking of FM channels was the antithesis of this local purpose and spelt the end of localisation. Dr Karnik said he was in a small minority in opposing FM networking, which he argued led to a lack of diversity either in content or organisation. The concentration of ownership did not necessarily mean lack of diversity of content. The argument continued as to whether diversity of content or of ownership should be the priority.  Organisationally the trend was towards consolidation, and this trend was being pushed by technology. Costs had dropped both in TV and – hugely - in Radio. The present Indian policy on cross-media ownership was not clear and this made India vulnerable. Organisations like CFAR were building an influence on TV content but Dr Karnik said: ‘I worry about the bigger picture. You get it right on one channel and then it is bought out.’ Regulations were not in place and the debate had dropped off.  Foreign direct investment, consolidation and cross-media ownership were all being allowed in a piece-meal way and this was going to impinge substantially on the public interest. There had been insufficient debate about this issue.


Dr Karnik said ‘there has to be a very strong public service broadcaster’ but he said the fate of Doordarshan was comparable to a dowry death. It was ostensibly suicide but actually homicide. Prasar Bharati was dominated by administrative considerations. It was ‘a subordinate arm of the Information and Broadcasting ministry’ and its professionalism was ‘completely diluted’. The ‘must carry’ policy was designed to promote diversity. But Doordarshan was not even providing an alternative viewpoint.


Dr Karnik expressed concern at the growth of bias in the Indian media. He cited a US study of bias, written from a right wing view point but showing the lessons of systematic bias in the media, tilting in one direction while appearing to be fair. He said in the case of the BBC, there had been discernible bias in its coverage of Iraq but there had been a quick corrective afterwards. But debate on the bias in the Indian media and on ownership issues was missing.


The Internet was heading in a similar direction to broadcasting – search engines, gateways and filters were reducing diversity. When it started everyone was to be a source but now the Internet is becoming an aggregator. There were few gatekeepers and that had attendant dangers. In India the Internet reaches only a few opinion makers and this was a shortcoming, though it was good at promoting networking.


In conclusion, Dr Karnik said there needed to be caution over calls for censorship. He personally would rather err on the side of licence than clamp down on freedom of expression. What could be done to promote localisation?  Radio and especially public service radio, had great possibilities, particularly now that costs had come down. But the agenda-setting role of the media was causing increasing concern. Dr Karnik noted the segmentation of audiences in South Asia . The ‘media mafia’ in Delhi ensured that there was little coverage of either Nepal or Bangladesh .  


In discussion, Ashish Sen asked about the future of community radio. Dr Karnik advised that since it had been established that the airwaves were public property, advocates of community radio should go to the courts to uphold that right. He anticipated two new developments – some concession on community radio and on news on FM. Asked what sort of agenda-setting mechanism he recommended, he said that Television and Radio journalists should be more aggressive in pushing the boundaries of what was allowed on air. Self-censorship was not the answer. In response to a question from Gargi Sen, Dr Karnik said Indian participation in the World Summit on Information Society was focussed on the role of the summit in setting the agenda at a global level. Information, like water, was no longer a public good but was becoming an increasingly commercial entity. It was heading for privatisation and it was important for India to influence the way it is done. Asked about the future of Prasar Bharati, Dr Karnik said it was a good system but it had not been allowed to operate. There was a danger that two years down the line it would be privatised. There was a need for a Third Space, which was neither government-controlled nor commercial in its motivation, but it had been completely neglected. 


Kanak Dixit argued that existing government channels should be converted into public service broadcasters; he suggested that the abolition of government news would be a way to assist the evolution of public service broadcasting. Dr Karnik thought that was not the way to go; news was central to public service broadcasting.


Mukesh Sharma, Station Director, Doordarshan Mumbai, said that it was wrong to talk only of DD’s national services. Dr Karnik acknowledged that some regional channels were doing well and that the best work done by Doordarshan and All India Radio was that furthest from Delhi .  Asked if there was scope for regional cooperation, Dr Karnik said that in practice regional exchange was not happening.


K. Krishnan, CEO of AajTak  

‘The view from the corporate media sector’ 


K.Krishnan noted that a condition of a radio licence was that the station should not broadcast news. By contrast, Aaj Tak was the first news channel in Hindi to broadcast out of India . It was the channel’s aim to make TV news more accepted as a source of news, and to challenge people’s dependence on the print media. After 10 years of the cable and satellite business, the industry still lacked regulation. Cable operators were the gatekeepers of the TV channels - and the broadcasters needed a ‘must carry’ clause, which would effect change in that area. Public broadcasters were operating in the commercial arena but the commercial channels had no access to funds to enable them to get into public service broadcasting. Aajtak aimed to provide a First Information Report on significant news developments. He argued that by ‘putting people in the picture’ the commercial channels helped to pre-empt demonstrations and riots and hartals.  Visuals had a powerful influence; people could see what is actually happening. Commercial news channels catered for large audiences and they were responsible in the way they provided the service. There were now 7 or 8 news channels and ‘more and more accountability’. News viewership had already grown from 1% to 4% and would grow further over time.  He said: ‘We believe we play a role in providing a public service through offering free NGO advertising and news that matters to this cause’.  


Ambika Srivastava, Media planner and consultant


Ambika Srivastava looked at the future of public interest communication and of MSA from the perspective of someone who had worked for twenty years in advertising and had a sustained engagement with health issues.  How best to carry the public interest forward?  There were a number of options, including censorship, use of law, collaboration with the public sector. There had been a number of initiatives by different organisations but they had not been sustained. There was a need to set five key priorities, to develop a campaign to move them forward and to back those priorities with a strong research base. She did not believe in an advertising ban for cigarettes, for example, but research had shown that the ban had worked. As to the corporate sector, corporations wanted to be associated with ‘safe’ issues such as education instead of tougher and sometimes more controversial areas of health advice. But views had started to change. She argued that partnerships do work, whether with government, or civil society or with either public or private broadcasters. She pointed to the success over 12 years of South Africa ’s ‘ Soul City ’ in conveying public health messages. One question to consider was: ‘Who becomes your advocate?’ Celebrities from the entertainment world could become champions of public health and other objectives. Another question was: ‘How do you reach critical mass?’ She would read a ‘must carry’ clause rather differently. She felt that private channels must devote a certain amount of time to public interest broadcasting. The corporate sector would take seriously a network that spread across India . She said: ‘It has to be a movement, with regional representation’. The Indian Broadcasting Federation had adopted a campaign of public service messages. This was a good idea and but not enough had been done. Among broadcasters, there was little clarity about what form of self-regulation was being practised. It would help to track programme initiatives which had been rejected as well as those that have been adopted. It was also important to work with all stakeholders and not just with the national broadcasters. 


Vinod Pavarala asked Mr Krishnan whether the growth of news had done anything to empower the poor or provide greater diversity of coverage. It seemed to him that news had become a form of entertainment in what he called ‘the ghoulish pursuit of eyeballs’. He also pointed to the very low levels of coverage of environmental issues as another sign of the same trend.


Sevanti Ninan enquired about the amount of advertising on news channels. Was there a limit? Mr Krishnan said that AajTak operated on a limit of 16-18 minutes per hour and 15 minutes in prime time. He warned against ‘disincentivising the advertisers’ and pointed out that there is no legal system in place to limit advertising at the moment


B.P.Sanjay, Director of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) Delhi : ‘Prioritising the challenges’


Dr.Sanjay focussed on issues of a) public interest communication and b) agendas for social change. He said it was important to decide whether the aim was change in the media landscape or change in the social arena with a media emphasis. Looking at different media sectors, he questioned whether public interest communication should be regarded as synonymous with the state, and advocated the concept of strategic partnerships of the media and civil society, as a means of effecting change. He stressed the role of training institutions. He said that students aged 19-25 made their choice of media and career options in the context of current media practice.  The corporate sector objected that there was too much theory, reflecting an objective of radical change in society. The corporate sector tended to say: ‘…Give us people with skills and leave the career path to us’. The question for the IIMC was how it balanced the social aspirations of the students and the wider needs of society.



Dr Sanjay identified a number of action points:


1) Media institutions should network among themselves to develop greater sensitivity to the needs of society.

2) The state’s perception of its role as regulator should be tested. Conditional Access left the broadcaster at the mercy of the cable operator. There was a need to follow up and develop new technologies.

3) Space should be provided for public interest communication generated by and for the community. Dr Sanjay said that recent conferences had focussed on creating an enabling framework for Community Radio.

4) Civil society should examine: a) who can legitimately and effectively intervene on matters of media content in view of people’s rights in different capacities (eg as consumers); b) how such interventions can be effected ; and c) who monitors the effect of the interventions. These issues presented problems both of ideology and mechanism.  Eventually the newspapers may pay the readers. There might also be a case for asking the corporate sector to sponsor content. But ultimately only a concerned civil society would be able to protect the rights of the viewer, reader and listener. There was a need for collaboration between educational institutions on issues of mass communication.



  David Page - Co Director Media South Asia project

 ‘Making it tangible ’ – A new phase for MSA? 


David Page outlined the background to the workshop and some ideas on the potential value of bringing together an alliance of South Asian organisations with a commitment to public interest communication.


The idea for the workshop had arisen from the many different contacts which the Media South Asia project had developed over the last six years with individuals and organisations involved in the wider debate about the public interest in broadcasting.  In the course of this work, it became clear that one way forward for the project might be to help to replicate the skills of particular centres of excellence across the wider region.


It also became apparent that MSA’s partners share common experiences, interests and preoccupations: experience of an increasingly commercial and competitive media environment, concern about the absence of an enabling regulatory environment, as well as an interest in learning from what was going on elsewhere in South Asia .


David Page then outlined some of the possible outcomes from the workshop, which had emerged in discussions so far.

  • A greater awareness of potential synergies between the activities of organisations currently ploughing their own furrow. For example, between those working in development, those working in radio, and those advocating for fairer representation of the poor and marginalized.
  • A consensus on what the key issues are for advocacy and research in the public interest communication field.
  • Linked to this, a consensus on key areas for capacity building and a programme to achieve this working through centres of excellence in different South Asian countries.
  • The establishment of a clearing house or houses for innovative development in the public interest communication domain. A means for a more sustained exchange of information on issues identified as critical to the public interest debate.
  • A consultancy which would draw on South Asian centres of excellence to address specific communication issues for South Asian governments, donors and others.
  • A common platform for the pursuit of common objectives - in dealings with South Asian governments,  or with SAARC.
  • The pursuit of common South Asian media in the broadcasting field – the creation of ‘Himals of the airwaves', space for public interest broadcasting with a South Asian rather than a national focus.


In examining these common areas of interest, MSA would argue that a South Asian perspective and approach is both necessary and brings many advantages because it plays to established and growing technological and economic trends.


Not only are satellites no respecters of borders, there are distinct trends towards greater South Asian trade and economic interdependence – despite historic differences and hostilities between India and Pakistan in particular.


In time, markets may correspond more exactly to the footprints of satellites and the need for South Asian civil society responses to satellite broadcasters and what they offer the public will become that much more necessary.


Such an approach may not fit particularly well into the current perspectives of donors or indeed into the more strictly national perspectives of South Asian governments.  So there is a case to be argued here.  But it seems clear that a South Asian alliance could bring national as well as wider regional benefits.


Kanak Dixit – Himal Association, Kathmandu  

‘The public sphere - issues for a regional public discourse’


Kanak Dixit declared a double interest of his own: 1) in journalism 2) in Nepali vernacular journalism. In defining the public sphere he posed the question: what do people get from the print or electronic media? There was a danger of forgetting the vernacular languages and media. Radio FM news had been a success in Nepal - as a result of banging on doors to allow it.

Looking at the Pan-South Asian media sphere, he said that the ‘ 7 capitals’ approach to a definition of South Asia did not work. The boundaries of South Asian society were amorphous, sometimes coinciding with state boundaries, sometimes not. Most of South Asia is in India , and India borders every other country. There were strong links across borders, e.g. between Nepal and India , in the interaction between Nepal and East UP and Bihar, not necessarily reflecting power relationships with New Delhi . Similarly there were links between Assam and Tripura, Rajasthan and Sind, and societal links between Kathmandu and Calcutta . 


But the Indian national media neglected most of the Indian regions, not just India ’s neighbours.  ‘Copycat regionalism’ cannot work in South Asia , Kanak Dixit said. English language journalism provides a contact point for elites. But other languages also provide contact points – e.g. the popularity of Hindi films provided a de facto link language - Hindi/Urdu/Hindustani - but  there was no discourse on ‘film language’.


The plan should be ‘to localise to the power of three’. There needed to be many more magazines and radio stations playing to local interests and taking account of cross border localisms. Radio was a cheap medium for achieving this but there were fears in India that Hindutva forces would hijack radio.


In the print media, the so-called ‘language newspapers’ also had a major role. There needed to be a change in advertising practice in the vernacular newspapers. Vernacular media should move into the analytical sphere. TV wanted to provide a ‘one size fits all’ formula for local programming. There was a mismatch between what is given and the ability to imbibe it. With documentaries, for example, the public is ready to imbibe something better than is available. Well-crafted documentaries can fill commercial cinemas. Nepali experience showed that local content attracts audiences. The challenge was to upgrade local productions to attract mass public interest. In Nepal , radio had shown that there were no great social barriers. 


Kanak Dixit cited the example of Radio Sagarmatha, which adopts a flexible format, allowing for a mix of news, debate and music appropriate to a public radio service.  Despite the Maoist insurgency the government had not clamped down on local radio; there were 45 radio stations in Nepal - but there was scope for 300 such stations or 30,000 across South Asia as a whole. The Maoists had their own portable radio stations but there had been no reason for the state to fear the spread of didactic or propagandist radio. Radio had great potential in South Asia but national radio had been spoilt by a barrage of donor funding. Development agencies did not know how to release the power of radio. Addressing government concerns about the spread of independent radio, Kanak said radio was a sensitive medium capable of setting light to communal passions; radio had played a part in stoking anti Indian sentiment in Nepal . There was a lack of self-regulation in mainstream radio, and a need for a self-regulatory framework. However, he concluded independent local radio had proved its worth in Nepal . Nepal had the weakest and most unstable state structure in South Asia , but it had not been damaged by local radio. Kanak also made a plea to ‘get away from concepts of development journalism’. It was better to distinguish between good and bad journalism


V Paravala said that the public sphere often meant a pro-urban, pro-literacy, upper class, upper caste, masculinist perspective. There was a need for a sphere where communities are active producers of media content, not just producers, and where communication resources are seen as a common property resource. Internet linkages and participatory video projects suggested a possible alternative public sphere. In response, Kanak Dixit drew a distinction between alternative media and what he called ‘alternative alternative’ media. Sagarmatha came into the first category, which was defined by its non-profit character.


Gargi Sen drew attention to the different perspective of non-literates on radio as a medium.  Professionalism was required in development communication and the term needed to be re-defined. ‘We have used donors and occasionally they use us’ she said. ‘We need to move outside the current framework of development communication if we are going to make a difference’.


Kanak Dixit said that the village public understood more than film-makers realised. There was an energetic revival of Nepali music especially on radio, and it was not being swamped by Hindi film music. He noted that an illegal cross border station on the Nepal-India border, was broadcasting Maithili music into India .


Kanak Dixit recalled that community radio in Nepal had begun as a donor funded movement, led by Bharat Koirala. The governing legislation envisaged both a public and private sphere. Private radio stations also serve a public function. He noted that Radio Sagarmatha takes advertising but that no dividends are paid. He said that there was a need to professionalise journalism – local journalism in particular was not yet professional.


B.P.Sanjay asked whether weak or strong governments were more inclined to encourage democratic media.  For many people donor funding was a problem. Kanak Dixit said that radio stations had taken advantage of ‘anarchy’ where they found it, but were adept at playing the bureaucracy at the same time. Activists should aim to provide a mix of what people need and what they want. Donor funding had sometime meant concentration on issues such as AIDs but not tuberculosis. Broadcasting should be a state subject in India .


Nupur Basu endorsed K.Krishnan’s argument that TV had helped to prevent rioting by providing information. Public interest journalism could be a boring idea, she said; good journalism vs bad journalism was preferable. But donor funding could be useful to professionalise journalists. 


Eamoinn Taylor said that a donor funded radio station might be cheaper than a donor funded newsletter. But sustainability was an issue.


Sanjay Hazarika said that the content of journalism, and media ignorance, depended crucially on people. Journalists – with their poor levels of pay and personal insurance - were part of society; they shared its ignorance and prejudices. There were good and bad journalists. As Kanak Dixit said, it should be a priority to professionalise the journalists. Their competence and self-confidence were important in creating the public sphere. 


Akhila Sivadas - Centre for Advocacy and Research, New Delhi  

‘Is there a domain of the viewer and listener?


Akhila Sivadas gave a short history of the engagement of CFAR with media monitoring and advocacy. It had begun by instituting a simple feedback mechanism but that had felt parasitic. So they had shifted to a participatory focus, with pro-active viewers’ forums and collectives and with the aim of shaping and informing public discourse. Initially CFAR was extremely upbeat about this endeavour.  It seemed very purposeful and the whole business of creating a civil society discourse on media representation, mediating disagreements and difference of opinion seemed possible and worthwhile.


However, events like the Gujarat riots changed the situation. This affected the morale of the Collective. Given the seriousness of the issues, many key individuals drifted away from the Forum, others felt de-motivated and the affiliations were weakened. The Forum then decided to work on specific issues and concerns and seize every possible opportunity to influence policies and public debates on concerns related to the representation of gender and development. They deposed before the Parliament on the depiction of gratuitous violence against women in popular prime time television serials. The deposition was based on feedback from a cross-section of viewers. The Committee responded and recommended a specific provision urging the media not to glorify violence against women.  They also began engaging with new sections of the population more intensively, particularly children, young people and single women. They also expanded the feedback mechanism to new towns, particularly Gauhati in Assam .


They had used every opportunity to amplify the views of the people from the bastis. One of the questions the basti-dwellers ask of commercial channels is: Why don’t you cover the issues that matter to us? Why do you give so much space to trivia such as fashion shows?  Akhila said that the ‘media representatives, who are partly inured to such criticism and partly embarrassed by such comments, do not even bother to respond’. Their only defence is that times have changed and now media functions differently. She stated that what is frustrating the viewer is the inability of the media to be up-front and take people’s comments and feedback seriously and it is essential that this indifferent and evasive attitude of the media gets constantly challenged. 


Akhila Sivadas talked about the danger of co-option by government or corporate interests. She said in India there is a lack of debate on key issues and of meaningful qualitative work on the media. There is mutual incomprehension of business, NGOs, media and government. The state converts protests into regulatory power for itself. The commercial sector also wants regulation because it is inconvenient not to have it.  What is needed, she said, is ‘a regulatory structure free of government and commercial control.’


She also spoke about CFAR’s recent work monitoring the coverage of the Indian general elections. A focus on a few personalities and the abysmal representation of gender and development issues had characterised the coverage. The coverage had been packaged under five broad themes and within this the representation had been highly concentrated on a few individuals, parties, constituencies etc. Akhila concluded that monitoring initiatives by independent groups were important because otherwise interested groups could put out misleading and biased information.  


  Communication for Change – new media opportunities


In this session, representatives of NGOs pursuing new media opportunities for development-related purposes reported on their experience.  


Afsan Chowdhury, BRAC, Dhaka Bangladesh


Afsan made the following points: 


  • The extremely poor live in a different world


Afsan reported that in Bangladesh 30% of the people consume less than 1850 calories per day. The challenge is to move them from being “extremely poor” to being “poor”.  The target was to reach 75,000 female-headed households -the most vulnerable- within 5 years and establish a model. There could be no improvement in their condition without social communication and conventional western style advocacy has no impact as their world is unknown and not touched by existing media. It is probably only the poor who can communicate with the very poor because the elite world and their world are worlds apart.


Most communication activities in the development world have been mass media-driven, following models derived in the western world. TV, billboards, radio etc, in tandem with inter-personal communication (IPC), have led this charge but reviews of the last two decades show otherwise. In the highest sector of spending, there has been the largest quantum of disappointment. Millions have been spent in applying such models but evaluations

show that this conventional  approach has failed.


The Communication Initiative has investigated more than 100 projects on AIDs and all of them have failed. Johns Hopkins University has been very influential in championing uses of the mass media for communication purposes directed at individual behaviour change but many experiences show that it is inter-activity in communication and social mobilization which makes the difference.  If you only use the media, where is your process? It is just delivery, he said. Message-driven approaches need to be substituted by process-driven ones. BRAC is running a large social communication programme where the focus is on inter-activity. For example, radio is not as effective as live music shows presenting the same music and theatre. Communication activities by themselves don’t generate change but social process can be triggered through participatory social communication. Non-interactive communication – tv, radio, posters- have distinct disadvantages compared to inter-active ones.

For these reasons BRAC is now concentrating on live shows. They have put on 3000 performances in 3 districts and are hoping to grow to scale in Bangladesh . They plan to have 2000 units of communication working in the villages. 


  • Advocacy and a military president – a paradox


Afsan explained how he had had tobacco advertisements stopped in Bangladesh in one minute – as a result of a conversation with military strongman, President Ziaur Rahman. Advocacy could sometimes be very effective in authoritarian political structures. In democratic ones, it could take much longer, even though civil society had more say. 


  • Behaviour change takes 5-10 years


He warned against quick fixes in achieving behaviour change. It can take up to ten years and this sort of timescale needs to be built into developing planning.


Mitu Varma, Panos, New Delhi


Mitu Varma spoke about Panos’s work in South Asia , with its priorities in the fields of public health, the environment, conflict-prevention and media pluralism. A major emphasis is on amplifying the voices of the poor and the marginalized and bringing them to the attention of government and policy makers.  Oral testimony is part of this approach and is being integrated into different aspects of the programme. There was a strong emphasis on research-based interventions in public debate on key issues. The work on conflict prevention had involved promoting closer ties between Nepali journalists, currently reporting on the Maoist insurgency, and their counterparts in Sri Lanka , reporting on the country’s 20-year old civil war. Efforts were also being made to build bridges between Indian and Pakistan media in the interests of more objective reporting on that long-running conflict.


Ashish Sen, Voices, Bangalore


Ashish Sen said that Voices was working to achieve media democratisation and increasing community media capacity, with a special emphasis on the role of community radio. It was working with the poor through its community media centre at Budikote in Karnataka and it was conducting media research to bring the voices of the poor into the media debate.  Voices believes that access and opportunities need to be centre-stage. It wants to see community driving communication (rather than the technology) and community ownership, management and control. The community should be producers not just consumers of information.


Voices is networking for media reform. The ministry of Information and Broadcasting had recently held a consultation with organisations interested in community radio to create an enabling environment for its introduction. This was a very encouraging development.  Voices seeks recognition for three types of media: public, private and community. Local broadcasting was not just a matter of getting a licence. Community radio stations would be happy to pay a small licence fee, up to 5000 rupees, if it could be  supplemented by advertising and local sponsorship.


Ashish Sen also spoke about the work being done by Voices in cable radio. The use of the audio channels provided through cable TV networks was ‘changing the nature of community’ in a cluster of 35 villages. Local cable operators are active supporters of the experiment, which had recently moved to two hours per day. There were a number of instances where cable radio had played a part in exposing local scams. Looking to the future, he said there was a need to review areas of capacity building.


Priorities he identified included: 

  • Training the trainers
  • Sensitising journalists to the importance of community media
  • Synergising with universities
  • Using the web as a conduit, following the example of the network of women journalists
  • Raising questions with paradoxical answers


Sajid Mansoor Qaisrani,  Aurat Foundation Pakistan


Sajid Qaisrani spoke about the work of the Aurat Foundation, which has 1400 information centres all over Pakistan . He said women are often defined as home makers and are provided with information in a domestic context. But the Aurat Foundation was working for their economic and legal empowerment and to protect them from violence. It had a Citizen’s Action Programme, which covers 66 districts of Pakistan and had established Legislative Watch Groups to interact with policy makers. It had drafted a bill to protect women from murders/violence in the name of ‘honour’, which it had presented to all political parties.


Sajid also spoke about Aurat’s use of radio to support its aims. Agricultural extension work usually focuses on men but women do a lot of the agricultural work and Aurat had decided to try to reach them. It had developed some ideas for a radio soap opera, using Hasina Moin as the scriptwriter. It took these ideas to Radio Pakistan and developed a close working relationship with it. The soap opera, which was funded by donors, ran over several months. Aurat is interested in developing the use of media in its work. It has 178 listening centres in villages in Pakistan and draws on them in shaping its policy.


During question time, D.K.Bose asked Afsan Chowdhury how BRAC intended to scale up its work with theatre in the districts. Afsan said it would take some time but the process was drawing rural people into the theatrical groups and this was itself having a catalytic effect.


Gargi Sen asked Ashish Sen how he defined the community in ‘community radio’, pointing out that many Dalits reject existing ideas of community as oppressing them.  Ashish Sen spoke of the narrowcasting work of DDS in Andhra Pradesh, which is run by 7 Dalit women.  He also referred to the Lumbini community radio in Nepal , which is run as a cooperative.  The South African precedent – to hold public hearings in communities before awarding licences – was also noteworthy. Afsan Chowdhury said that a lot of donor development thinking was based on African perceptions of village communities. Trying to apply such models in Bangladesh had proved disastrous. 


Kanak Dixit queried Afsan Chowdhury’s assertion that the media was not effective in promoting development. It depended how narrowly one defined development. In the interest of a thriving civil society, he said, ‘there is a need to provide high quality, high volume public information’. 


Taking stock:


William Crawley noted that discussion in the day’s session had focussed on a number of themes, including:

1)     the importance of the public sphere – involving a high level of engagement by civil society and the formation of partnerships.  ‘Partnerships work’ (Ambika Srivastava)

2)     the creation of a third space in communications – non-government and  non-commercial

3)     the value of both commercial and government media

4)     the role of alternative media

5)     the concept of ‘alternative alternative media’

6)     technology creating spaces,  rather than closing them off

7)     homogenisation and fragmentation of audiences

8)     changing the language and style of the media to address new audiences

9)     close analysis of issues of representation

10)  interaction between local and corporate influences and pressures

11)  need for the media to be less accommodative and more aggressive

12)  instead of talking of categories of journalism, learn to distinguish good and bad

13)  avoid top-down messages in favour of messages borne out by community  experience.

14)  multiplying impact of direct theatre

15)  absurdity of the ‘no news’ rule for local or community radio

16)  creation of a level playing field

17)  practical techniques of advocacy

18)  the importance of research to counteract the non availability of information

19)  explore different notions of community

20)  explore different techniques of interactivity



Day 2 – 9th May


The second day of the workshop was given up to brainstorming around the themes identified as important for the future. But it began with a general discussion about the future of MSA and the need for improved coverage of cross-border developments within the region.


There was agreement that:

  • MSA needs to develop a stronger identity and branding.
  • It needs to develop a mission statement and to prioritise its objectives. 


The existing and potential characteristics of MSA identified by the group were that:

  • It brings a genuinely South Asian perspective rather than national perspectives.
  • It provides a Resource Centre.
  • It works for a broad framework of social justice in the media.
  • It aims to provide a framework to unite divergent organisational interests.
  • It supports media diversity and different kinds of media use.
  • It tries to harnesses the power of the media for the marginalized.
  • It provides a framework for understanding the working of the media – its structure and functioning and context.
  • It acts as a clearing-house for new developments and best practice.
  • It acts as a channel for the dissemination of messages through other networks and organisations - e.g. Press Institute of India.
  • It aims to identify benefits of participation.
  • It can arrange follow-up field visits, e.g. in the field of Community Radio.
  • It aims to promote Track 2 contacts across national boundaries.
  • It works for sponsored programmes for capacity exchange in south Asia .
  • It aims to influence opinion makers and identify shared issues across south Asia .
  • It seeks to identify and strengthen existing initiatives.
  • It aims to explore the implications and benefits of new technologies- new platforms e.g. DD DTH platform.
  • It provides a forum of cultural exchange.
  • It aims to legitimise what are currently black market cultural products.
  • It adopts a thematic focus on issues of media development.
  • It aims to monitor media coverage of south Asia and to develop a media-monitoring  capacity across South Asia




Points arising in discussion:


·         Nupur Basu said that all political leaders are talking about poverty - e.g. at the recent SAARC meeting – and she suggested it would be useful to confront media editors with their own poor performance in this area – ‘to bring the top guys to the table’.  


·         Arun Chacko, taking up a point Kanak Dixit had made in his presentation, said that there is a need to ‘redefine SAARC’ and to think in terms of new boundaries – between UP and Nepal, Assam and Bangladesh.


·         Akhila Sivadas said that Indian newspapers were developing their own line on development. There was a need to monitor what they are saying and to develop a dialogue with them. 


·         B.P. Sanjay stressed the need to sensitise journalists at the middle level and entry level to the profession.  The Indian Institute for Mass Communication was already running a course for middle level journalists on development journalism. He was willing to put on a course every other year for South Asian journalists, drawing entrants from across the region, and believed that donors might be willing to fund such a course.


·         Tasneem Ahmar spoke of some of the monitoring work which UKS has been doing of the Pakistani press, offering criticism and trying to catalyse change.


·         There was agreement that thehoot.org – the website run by Sevanti Ninan – could perform a valuable role in conveying information region-wide – but it would need extra finance and staff to do so.


·         There was some discussion of other South Asian media associations and initiatives.  It was agreed that the South Asia Press Union was not very effective. But the ABU – the Asian Broadcasting Union – or the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association – might offer platforms to argue for a more effective regional approach.


·         Nupur Basu pointed to the media opportunities offered by unexpected events. The fate of a six-year old Pakistani girl who had come to India for treatment had captivated the public and helped to humanise Indo-Pak relations. The media needed to be ready to take advantage of such opportunities.


·         Nayeem ul Islam pointed up the need to sensitise the reading public across borders on what he called ‘proximity issues’. The press in Dhaka was not covering West Bengal very well and the press in Calcutta was equally deficient in its coverage of Bangladesh . 


·         Sevanti Ninan suggested that a start might be made by tracking reporting on cross border issues  and in using the results to press editors for a change of approach.


·         It was agreed that this should be a priority for MSA in the future.




The workshop then moved on to look at some of the themes identified as important for the future. Each session lasted approximately one hour and had its own moderator.

These key issues were discussed under four headings:   


1.  COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT – moderated by Ashish Sen

2.  SPACES FOR NETWORKING – moderated by Afsan Chowdhury

3.  CAPACITY BUILDING – moderated by Jai Chandi Ram 

4.  REGULATORY ISSUES – moderated by B.P. Sanjay.




·         As moderator for this session, Ashish Sen suggested the subject was interrogated under four headings: defining the base, policy impediments, information for an enabling framework and next steps.


·         He said he felt the key definition of community media should be ‘management for and by the community’  - a crucial consideration when deciding who gets the licence.


·         Sajid Mansoor Qaisrani asked whether community TV and cable TV were also being considered – to which Ashish said that community empowerment was not medium-specific.


·         Gargi Sen asked ‘how we ensure that Dalits have access to community structures and how we operationalise the  structures to make this happen?’


·         Sanjay Veniyoor, referring to recent discussions with government over the creation of an enabling environment for Community Radio, said that there were three radio frequencies which could be used for CR in each transmission area. But the government was concerned that CR should not be used for sectarian purposes.


·         Akhila Sivadas said that they were seeking a programming shift by the state broadcaster – and  monitoring could play a role in achieving this.


·         Mukesh Sharma of DD Mumbai said the funding of state radio and TV needed to be looked at.  ‘If you can free me from the funding imperative’ he said, ‘I will be able to do all sorts of public service programmes.’


·         B.P. Sanjay drew attention to the community media centres set up by the MS Swaminathan foundation and said they might be models for others.


·         Akhila Sivadas said that looking at community media was not enough. It was important to critique the dominant media and to make them take notice of the marginalized. 


·         Jai Chandi Ram said it would be useful to assess how far participatory media impacted people’s consciousness.  Such programmes as the South African TV Soap Opera, Soul City , had apparently achieved a great deal over a ten-year period.


·         Ashish Sen said that as far as community media centres are concerned, UNESCO has funded an evaluation of different types of centres operating across South Asia , including one in which Voices is involved, and this would soon be published.


·         Gargi Sen agreed with Akhila that it was important to look at representation of community issues in the mainstream media.


·         B.P.Sanjay said that an improved network would enable everyone to share experience across the region on solutions to community media.


·         Ashish Sen said that Voices was planning to upgrade its community media website and to link it to http://www.thehoot.org/  as a means of achieving this end.




Defining the base

  • Radio to be developed as a medium of assertion
  • Interventions should be media-specific; with entry at different levels
  • Focusing on PSB programming on FM
  • Local news on Radio - why not TV/cable?
  • Understanding the implications of Regulation by default


Policy impediments

  • Lack of enabling legislation for Community Radio
  • Ownership and management constraints
  • Limits of local control and accountability
  • Reservation and its alternatives - dialogue and consultation


Information needed   

  • Media education – develop a capacity to critique the dominant media
  • Let people speak for themselves
  • Evaluation studies of community empowerment initiatives


Next steps

  • Participation in networks e.g.  www.communityradionetwork.org  
  • Sharing experiences




·         Introducing the subject, Afsan Chowdhury said that a network will only be effective ‘ if it is something from which we all benefit’. MSA also needs greater visibility – and a sense that somebody is listening.


·         William Crawley said that one possibility was to use other platforms - the ABU was one example – to initiate a dialogue on the role of media and communication in South Asian societies. 


·         Ambika Srivastava thought that one common interest for such a network would be resource mapping in the different countries - whether we are talking of media monitoring or training in investigative reporting. There was also a need to identify different constituencies – journalists, parliamentarians etc – and to target them with our messages.   


Several people made the point that there are already many media networks across South Asia . We do not need to create something which already exists. It was important, therefore, to map these networks and to work with them where possible. Arun Chacko said other interested journalists could be reached through the South Asian Journalists’ Association (SAJA).


·         David Page made the point that the Communication Initiative had found a way of providing information on media and development issues which went beyond the role of existing networks. Such a thing might also be possible in South Asia , building on the experience of Thehoot.


·         Gargi Sen said that Magic Lantern was going South Asian – distributing documentaries across the region – but there were money transfer problems, which required practical solutions. 


·         Language was also raised as an issue for a website – if it wanted to communicate with non-English speakers.




  • Advantages of and constraints of networking
  • Unless there are benefits for all a network does not work
  • Governments want to shine – promote space for dialogue
  • Initiate a dialogue on role of media and communication
  • Provide a resource directory of monitoring and pressure groups on media
  • Foster practice of informed media criticism
  • Promote alliances to achieve a goal
  • Co-opt professional bodies reaching for south Asian links
  • Promote discussion - not prescription
  • Communication Initiative for south Asia ?
  • Understand and optimise the importance of language in networking
  • Survival strategy in a competitive environment




·         Jai Chandi Ram introduced this session by saying that there already were a number of players in the field. For example, Unesco had a project with the Indira Gandhi Open University on communication training. It was a question of evaluating what additionally was needed.


·         David Page said he felt that MSA had established that there was a demand for capacity building across the region in media monitoring and advocacy and with the help of CFAR a small start had been made to extend its expertise to other players in India and Bangladesh . A system of workshops and attachments had seemed to deliver results and could be replicated elsewhere.


·         There was agreement that we need to look at different sorts and levels of capacity building. What MSA brought was ‘South Asian sensitisation’ and a strong emphasis on civil society’s priorities.  What had been called ‘Generation next’ should now be added as an important target audience.


·         Another suggestion was to initiate awards for excellence in particular fields – as a means of giving MSA a higher profile. 


·         There was a warm welcome for B.P.Sanjay’s offer that IIMC should host a South Asian development journalism course. It was suggested that P.Sainath might be a good resource person in planning such a course.


·         Nupur Basu spoke of her experience of organising a media workshop on the Gujarat riots in Bangalore .  Delhi-based editors had given their time freely to attend the workshop, lawyers locally had also volunteered their services, and the government of Karnataka had provided some funds from its publicity budget. There were resources to draw on if the issues were compelling enough, she said. 


·         Another idea was to generate a number of short manuals on capacity building in different fields – which could be used across the region. 





  • Distinguish Networking and Advocacy
  • Promote access to a) training institutions

                  b) special training opportunities

  • Identify new ways of hiring people – e.g. for specific assignments
  • Identify levels of training and institutions that provide it
  • Identify centres of excellence in south Asia – e.g. IIMC – Delhi - Development journalism course
  • IIMC Delhi as agent for facilitating communication of South Asian expertise
  • Promote Media Foundation award for outstanding women journalists
  • Identify and promote ICT software training modules
  • Law and media – identify resource institutions for promoting an understanding of media law.
  • Co-production as capacity building
  • Produce a manual on issues of south Asian media concern
  • Organise tele-conferencing workshops




·         B.P. Sanjay identified a number of issues of relevance to the theme.


  1. The role of the state in facilitating media diversity, providing space for different media within the broadcasting environment.
  2. News-gathering: could regulation help with the growing problem of aggregated sources and the dominance of the news agenda by a small number of powerful suppliers? 
  3. Advertising:  could regulation help to tackle ‘ad clutter’? 
  4. Community empowerment: could regulation provide an enabling environment for this?


    • Mukesh Sharma made the point that there is a bill in parliament dealing with broadcasting regulation but that there was no provision for a media watchdog, which he felt to be important.


    • Nayeem ul Islam said that in Bangladesh many of these issues are so far academic. There is no terrestrial TV competition for the state broadcaster and no radio so far in the private sector. Nayeem also raised the question of ‘official secrecy’ and the strict limits this places in Bangladesh on the sharing of information.


    • Jay Chandi Ram talked about a recent Indian initiative to provide space for the documentary – through the Public Service Broadcasting Trust, which commissions documentaries and makes arrangements with Doordarshan to have them screened.  She also talked about AMIC’s interest in the area of regulation and the possibility of collaborating with it. Another source of expertise might be the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, with a paid membership of 60,000 people, which has played an important role in pressing civil society media concerns in that country. Canada has its own independent TV, with a budget of 100 million dollars a year and no ads. The Friends also monitor broadcasting and track violations of broadcasting codes.


    • Afsan Chowdhury talked about ‘must carry’ provisions and their importance in a multi-channel cable environment. There are no such provisions in Bangladesh .


    • Ambika Srivastava said it would be interesting to look at legislation affecting broadcasting in different South Asian countries and whether it contained public interest clauses.


    • B.P. Sanjay said that he would be willing to look at the position in India and to co-ordinate any such study. There was agreement that this could be a good starting point for a comparative study of broadcasting legislation. 


    • B.P. Sanjay also drew attention to the public hearing on broadcasting regulation being held by the Government on Tuesday, 11 May, in Delhi , and encouraged participants to attend.




  • Identify and make accessible sources of information.
  • Understand the broadcasting environment.
  • Promote debate on ownership issues. Dangers of cross-media vertical integration.
  • Discuss implications of advertising-sponsored programme content.
  • Enabling environment for community empowerment.
  • Tracking violations of regulation.
  • ‘Must carry’ powers – implications for cable and private broadcasters.


‘The Donor’s viewpoint’

 Eamoinn Taylor - UK Department of International Development (DFID)


·         Eamoinn Taylor of DFID gave an overview of changing donor perceptions of the importance of media to development, particularly in the UK . 


·         He detected an increasing emphasis on the significance of media in the pronouncements of key figures like John Wolfensohn, the Governor of the World Bank.  Most donors were now focussed on the MDGs ( Millennium Development Goals) but these were bald targets which did not take account of how they were to be achieved. The Media was increasingly seen as central to this process.


·         DFID has recently announced a new ICD ( Information and Communication for Development) policy, which Eamoinn Taylor described as ‘ a move from the tactical level to the strategic level’ in the use of media. Media is now being localised in issues of governance – and this gives it far greater salience.


·         Eamoinn Taylor made the point that development and politics are inextricably interlinked.  Both are about resource allocation.  And therefore, he argued, there is a need to ask which political systems are best suited to deliver development. It is in this context that the role of the media becomes very important.  Independent media are an important element in any democracy, as a means of providing information and ensuring accountability. The right kind of media, he said, is central to the development process – ‘the missing bit in the middle’ between the state and the citizen. 


·         But he said this is a relatively new field for donors. DFID has plenty of expert economists and advisors on governance and conflict resolution but very few media experts. 


·         Eamoinn put forward a number of ideas on how MSA might proceed. A starting point might be a media audit of different South Asian societies. This should include an examination of the values which drive media owners and the scope for any alignment of objectives. It might also expose divergences of purpose between stakeholders and stimulate a policy debate about what kind of media is required.  It could also come up with specific project plans. 


·         He said donors are concerned to improve service delivery in the countries they assist.


·         There is scope to include the ‘right to independent media’ as a service delivery objective. The media, he said, offers the chance for the ship of state to help to bring the marginalized on board – to use Mahbub ul Haq’s metaphor. 


·         In his view, development is what delivers legitimacy for governments and the media needs to play a fuller role in that process. Media South Asia’s work had created a beachhead but the project should now move on to more practical use of the media to aid development.


·         Responding to Eamoinn and ideas of changing political behaviour, Nupur Basu said there was a need for a dialogue with politicians – particularly those from what she called ‘Generation Next’. 


Final Session


Nupur Basu thought it would be valuable to capitalise on the meeting by starting a media monitoring exercise looking at how neighbours were represented in the national media of each country. In the wake of the Indian general election, which had put the media on the spot in terms of its awareness of political trends, it would be a good idea to produce some quick results and promote a debate with editors later in the year. This was agreed in principle and CFAR subsequently offered to take the lead on this.


There was also agreement to take up the idea of monitoring the presence or absence of public interest clauses in the legislation governing existing media regulation in the different South Asian countries. This would be a useful starting point for a wider survey of this critical area.


David Page and William Crawley said that they would write up the minutes of the meeting and circulate them to those who attended. They also planned to update the MSA phase 3 concept paper to take on board what had emerged from the discussions. That paper would also attempt to prioritise objectives for the future and would be circulated for comment. The next stage would be for those involved in the next phase to develop their own elements of the programme, with costings, to be part of a bid to donors for funding. 


The meeting finished at 6.15 on Sunday evening, with thanks to all who attended.


dp/wfc/9 July 2004.