Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Science, Media and the Integrity of Design

Dr. Nibir K. Ghosh addressing the audience as Keynote Speaker at the Two-day National Conference on ‘Science in Media’ organized by YMCA University of Science and Technology, Faridabad from December 3, 2012 to December 4, 2012. 

           Science, Media and the Integrity of Design
                          Excerpts from the Address:
                 “A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.” - Arthur Miller

In 1965, in an article in Horizon, Alvin Toffler coined the term "future shock" to describe the shattering stress and disorientation that are induced in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time. The term led to the epoch making book by Toffler titled Future Shock. The concept of future shock strongly suggests that there must be balance between the pace of environmental change and the limited pace of human response. For future shock grows out of the increasing lag between the two.
If Toffler were to view the accelerative thrust brought about by unprecedented scientific advancement and information technology in a far too shorter time span, he would simply be dumfounded with amazement and probably ask us to recall the lines of T.S. Eliot from Choruses from the Rock:
With all the technological advances and change, “Endless invention, endless experiment,” we are compelled to ask is mankind happier or wiser than he was 100 years ago? Perhaps, we haven’t traveled too far from the predicament described by Mathew Arnold: “YES: in the sea of life enisled,/ With echoing straits between us thrown./ Dotting the shoreless watery wild,/ We mortal Millions live alone.”

Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

If we subject the pace of the accelerative thrust of scientific change to the domain of Media, we can easily visualize a transformation that may be called revolutionary to the core. It is true the arrival of the digital revolution – the evolution of the Internet, the emergence of new forms of media, and the rise of online social networks – has reshaped the media landscape and made the current-day Media something we couldn’t have imagined even 15 years ago. The Internet has turned what used to be a controlled, one-way message into a real-time dialogue with millions.
A realistic appraisal of the current electronic and print media scene would acquaint us with the pros and cons of the Media revolution. What comes readily to my mind is the applicability of Gresham’s Law. Gresham Law states, "When bad money and good money are both circulating side by side as a media of exchange, bad money drives good money out of circulation, other things remaining the same." Gresham’s Law, it is clear, operates in the media field as well: shallow, soap-opera-led commercial programmes drive the serious and worthwhile out of the Market. With the growing reliance on social media, we no longer search for news, or the products and services we wish to buy. Instead they are being pushed to us by friends, acquaintances and business colleagues. In the words of our former first citizen, Kalam: "Why is the Indian media so negative? Why are we in India so embarrassed to recognize our own strengths, our achievements? We are such a great nation. We have so many amazing success stories but we refuse to acknowledge them. Why? We are the first in milk production. We are number one in Remote sensing satellites. We are the second largest producer of wheat. We are the second largest producer of rice. In India we only read about death, sickness, terrorism, crime. Why are we so NEGATIVE…?"
North East sms episode
We are all aware how recently social media and other sources of technology were used to threaten people from North-East leading to amass exodus from southern states. The sms’s with inflammatory matters and doctored pictures and videos were used blatantly to create social unrest in the country. Facebook emerged as a tool to incite violence or spread hate.
If the media, with all its modern gadgets, had the time and inclination and even a small measure of social responsibility, it should have delved deep into the malaise and found out the source of the problem. Rather than counter the panic created by the sms and other social media networks, the Media found it more convenient to give hype to the exodus. Perhaps, from Media perspective what was of paramount concern is either Gopal Kanda’s tryst with beautiful females in remote farmhouses or its 24x7 preoccupation with guests at the Saif-Kareena wedding. Unfortunately, the Media is being seen less and less as a neutral observer and more and more as participants, or even collaborators.
Media is just a word that has come to mean bad journalism. Thomas A. Edison Said: “We will make Electric Light so cheap that only the wealthy can afford to burn candles.” If Thomas Edison invented electric light today, the TV channels would probably report it as, ''Edison threatens Candle making industry.'' Phone line pe bane rahiye.
Integrity of Design
In an era when there was neither radio nor television, Gandhiji’s publications like Young India, Harijan and Navajivan galvanized the whole nation to action against an empire where the Sun never set. An effective communicator, fearless and eloquent with his words, he reached out to millions of people with the outpourings of his heart and soul and convinced them of his cause. These publications were to Gandhi "a mirror of his own life." He was clear about the nature and content of his newspapers. They would not carry any advertisements nor try to make money. Mahatma Gandhi said: "The sole aim of journalism should be service. The newspaper is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges the whole countryside and devastates crops, so an uncontrolled pen serves, but, to destroy.” Similarly, Bande Mataram, edited and published by Shri Aurobindo, between the brief period - beginning in 1907 till its abrupt winding up in 1908 -  changed the political thought of India. It is needless to make a mention of the impact Munshi Prem Chand’s Hans had in the evolution and promotion of economic and social concern of the common populace. Going by such line of reasoning, how many publications in the world today would be able to measure up? 
Watergate Scandal
Importance of Watergate in journalism history. Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein created a new milestone in American journalism when President Richard Nixon had to step down. Says Leon Jaworski in The Right and the Power: The Prosecution of Watergate: "From Watergate we learned what generations before us have known: our Constitution works…and that no one - absolutely no one - is above the law."
In 1961 Jawaharlal Nehru had reminded us: “It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, of a rich country inhabited by starving people…. Who can indeed afford to ignore science today? At every turn we have to seek its aid.” But while adoring the blessings that science can provide, he also asked us to cultivate the scientific temper. This involves the application of logic and reasoning, and the avoidance of bias and preconceived notions in arriving at decisions, and becomes particularly valuable while deciding what is best for the community or the nation.
Thus, rather than indulge in propaganda, manufacture of consent, irresponsible and unethical journalism, distorting or sensationalizing news reportage, hyper-commercialization, private treaties with corporates; rogue practices like paid news, and bribe-taking for favourable coverage etc., the Media barons must cultivate the urge to shape public opinion through debates of high order and discussions that reflect the fiery touch of intellectuals and the humane concern of patriots. Refraining from setting the ‘Page 3’ approach as its topmost priority, the Media has to undertake the responsibility of deciding as well as propagating what is best for the community or the nation as envisaged by Rabindranath Tagore a century ago:

Where words come out from the depth of truth,
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way,
into the dreary desert sand of dead habit,
where the mind is led forward by thee into
ever widening thought and action,
into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake.


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