Voices Of Progress

by Garry Jacobs

The most effective instruments of education are the printed word and the media. Journalism has the power to awaken the population to new values, the power of supporting what has been achieved and also the power of extending widely what has been a traditional possession. This social power is carried by the institutions of the press and broadcasting.

In one sense, journalism is more powerful than formal education. There is a tendency of people at all levels of the population to accept the printed word implicitly. One can observe graduate students in the 30 to 50 age group accepting the wisdom of the vernacular weeklies. The fact is that people of all levels of academic achievement respect the printed word even when it issues from far lower levels than their attainment.

Journalism has played a very crucial role in the development of North America and Europe and even in colonies like India. The speed of communication and wide area of coverage add to its effective power. Recently the media are devoting more attention to the problems and tasks of development and achievements in industry or agriculture. But it is only a small beginning in a very limited area. Steps must be taken to increase public awareness at all levels as to the goals the society is working towards, the problems to be overcome, the rewards from successful achievement, the actual accomplishments to date, the possibilities which have been realised elsewhere, and perhaps most important of all, the social value or prestige that will accrue to those who are in the vanguard of that effort.

This will require not only greater attention to these subjects in existing newspapers and journals but the creation of new ones specifically designed to meet the need. There must be encouragement for the development of local newspapers throughout the country that can concentrate on local achievements and potentialities which the larger urban papers are unable and unwilling to do.

Legal, professional, tax and monetary incentives can be offered to dailies, weeklies, and monthlies started at the district headquarters and smaller towns. These district level newspapers can focus on local news and events of significance to the local population which lie outside the scope and capacity of the larger urban papers. They can support agriculture by spreading news of successful agricultural practices, plant disease occurrence and prevention techniques, current and anticipated market prices, etc. Similarly they can carry articles on prospective industries suitable for the local area or of activities in more progressive areas. Special attention can be given to outstanding individual achievements in every field.

Great fiction literature is almost always the product of stagnant traditional societies. As a society awakens to the value of general education and emerges into modernity, there is a marked shift in demand toward non-fiction literature, and the quality of new fiction writing is also greatly diminished.

The newly educated man has an unquenchable thirst for facts and information, and takes joy in acquiring them. Traditional journals are often slow to perceive the changing needs of their readers and to shift their emphasis. Over the last thirty years America has witnessed the birth of literally hundreds of new non-fiction journals. Some of them provide general information for the average citizen on topics like national and international news, business reports, sports, cinema, science, and home care. Others are professional journals catering to specialists in fields such as medicine, agriculture, engineering, psychology, and economics.

Non-fiction journals play an important educational role in transmitting information to the public at no cost to the government. Incentives similar to those suggested for local newspapers should be extended to journals as well, in proportion to the percentage of space they devote to non-fiction topics related to national development, dissemination of science, education, history, geography, tourism, parliamentary proceedings, etc.

Agriculture can be greatly benefited, if government research institutions publish journals carrying articles on crops with good commercial potential such as the fast growing tree, leucaena, or jojoba, the desert shrub whose economic value has generated a sensation in the USA. Articles can also be published on agricultural practises and results from different countries, on drip and sprinkler irrigation technology, on methods of soil enrichment, and many other useful topics.

Industrial and export trade journals have become more common in recent years, but there is need to encourage more of them and wider circulation. New journals can be established at the local, state, and national level, to promote greater awareness of industrial and export potentials, and provide technical information specific to each field. The most effective articles will be those which describe the personal achievements of entrepreneurs and companies rather than relating mere impersonal statistics. People love a success story and respond to it more than anything else.

Fiction too can play an important role in development, if it is properly tuned to the changes taking place in society. Problems of life and development can be more inspiring and exciting than the normal themes of today's literature and cinema. The government can offer to publish or sponsor publication through the National Book Trust of stories, essays, plays and reports written on actual development achievements, artistically portraying the challenges, adventure and suspense of real life events. A minimum number of copies can be printed and distributed to government libraries. Awards at all levels from the Centre to the village should be instituted to recognise and encourage the growth of development literature and literature reflecting the culture of each area.

Presently the government spends a lot of money on publicizing its achievements. Part of this advertising expense or an equal amount could be utilised to buy space in journals and newspapers, to broadcast information on development, report true stories of achievement, inform an area of its own agricultural and industrial potentials, report on achievements in other areas, point out the relationship between education and accomplishment, inform the public of government schemes, the role of banks, and promote tourism to more developed areas, etc.

A board can be constituted under the auspices of a central authority like the Planning Commission to see that the research results and plan priorities decided upon by the experts are projected and communicated to the public through the media and integrated into the educational curricula at all levels to increase general public awareness of these issues.

Journalism is not merely a trade. It is an act which requires talent and training. It is not enough that more newspapers and journals are started. It is also necessary to provide educational facilities to properly train new journalists and promote the highest professional standards of journalism in the community.

A major step would be the establishment of a Journalism Development Authority to offer courses and training programs for writers and reporters, as well as guidance to journals regarding circulation, advertisements, printing, reporting, editorial matters, etc. The authority could also be empowered to encourage district level newspapers and trade journals, and to issue awards for quality journalism at all levels in all fields.

But in order to really bring about a significant change, journalism should be given a special status by establishing a National University for Journalism and the Media, and schools of journalism in every state to offer complete university level education in this field.

The curricula could cover subjects like the history of journalism, journalism as literature, the impact of journalism on history, the social role of journalism in modern society, etc. along with specialised courses in journalism for specific fields like fiction, poetry, economics, education, entertainment, advertising, engineering, etc. Courses in journalism may be made mandatory for all aspirants to upper level government posts. Separate departments in the University could be established offering parallel courses in radio and television broadcasting and in the motion picture arts.

All that applies to journalism applies in equal or greater measure to audio and visual broadcasting. In fact these fields represent an even more powerful medium, since they directly communicate by both sight and sound even to the illiterate.

An important place was given to extending radio coverage during the previous plans. By the end of the Fourth Plan, there were 83 radio stations reaching 90% of the population. Now that coverage extends nation-wide, efforts must be taken to broaden the types and extent of coverage and the choice of programs. In many western countries, a listener can choose from between 3 and 10 or as many as 20 simultaneous broadcasts. As a first step, district level radio stations can be introduced, focusing on the events and topics of particular relevance to the local area.

The most effective use of cinema will be in the introduction of development themes into the dramatic plots of the ordinary films being produced by the film industry for public consumption. The film producers and writers must first be made to realise that development themes possess a very great dramatic value and can enrich the plots of ordinary films. The theme of man starting an industry, creating field prosperity, or becoming educated, can have all the psychological impact of love and war themes, if the writer is sufficiently inspired. It is worthwhile instituting awards for development-oriented film scripts and films.

Documentary Films possess a very great potential for education which is not being sufficiently tapped. One reason for the low quality and lifelessness of most documentaries is that they are produced by educators who regard them as audio-visual textbooks, rather than by artists who know how to utilize the full power of this medium.

A special Documentary Films Corporation should be created to produce high quality films in all languages on a wide variety of topics of public interest and importance.

For instance, very interesting films on agriculture can be made stressing the profitability of flower cultivation or planting trees as a border crop. Films on industry can report on past individual achievements by entrepreneurs in existing fields or focus on new fields with great untapped potential.

The Corporation can distribute the films and arrange for their showings in every panchayat union headquarters as well as in educational institutions at all levels around the country.

This is potentially a very powerful means of stirring the energies of the country. The impact of these films will be in proportion to the professional skill and artistic imagination employed to combine education with entertainment.