Media diversity is supposed to provide people with a multi-dimensional understanding of issues. However, this cannot be confused with a multiplicity of newspapers or TV news channels, or even the ‘anarchic’ and continuous debate over social media. In fact, catering to ‘niche’ markets in the name of serving particular tastes has confined readers and viewers to corners of their own choosing, without the need to explore beyond their comfort zones.
It is worrisome that despite the seeming choice, the similarity of content in every genre is only on the increase. The conduits through which control over the media is acquired either in terms of ownership or content are few and quite narrow, ensuring a near monopoly for a certain class of thinkers and ideology. This is why it is extremely depressing to see more or less the same take on every event in every newspaper and channel, even in both sides of the argument. The only ‘difference’ is the extreme to which a subject is taken.
Also, the ability to choose and stay with just a niche of one’s preference, say lifestyle, music, film, ‘glamour’ and other content, means a lack of interaction with others aspects of life, which may not be of interest, but necessary all the same. People need to be aware, for instance, of issues involving economics, commerce, environment, science, technology, nature, etc., to be able to make informed choices as citizens, consumers and voters. They do not, in the normal course, acquire the required information in this regard. At a time when the only channel available was Doordarshan, for instance, a viewer did have to ‘suffer’ through Krishi Darshan, classical dance and musical performances, regional and ‘art’ films, science awareness programmes, etc. As a result, everybody acquired a smattering of each subject.
The only ‘inclusive’ content that could overcome this fragmented ‘specialisation’ is mainstream entertainment, in particular, feature films and TV serials. To remain interesting and stay involved with viewers, the content needs to be contemporary and interest the average level of intelligence. Since most households in India own single TVs, the content has to be directed at the family, requiring a layered inclusion of material interesting to all. So, if the general average is to be judged, it is the entertainment channels that need to be studied. At the present, this cannot be described as very inspiring and, yet, it provides the greatest hope for expanding the worldview of the audience.
This is why greater effort needs to be put into improving the economics and quality of mainstream entertainment. Movies or sitcoms have to be located in a milieu and the greater understanding the producers and directors have of the subject, the better would the story communicate a sub-textual content. A plot involving police detectives, for instance, would benefit from the reality that exists in the Indian context, rather than just be straight lifts from serials in other countries. The ‘flavour’ of Pakistani plays (when they could be seen), for example, came from the reflection of a refined, conservative and patriarchal culture, a contrast to the brash materialism of Indian content. So, why should not entertainment be more educative and, thereby, actually improve the quality of the content? Even if the corporations and the black money fuelled financiers of movies are interested only in the profits, even slightly superior content will deliver these better.