Kalam’s media legacy

BY B.P. Sanjay| IN Media Practice | 26/07/2007
The ideas contained in Kalam’s views or advice to the media encompassed a classical model of mass media and national development.



B.P. Sanjay


APJ Abdul Kalam’s tenure as President of India coincided with a certain consolidation of media business and practices. By the time he assumed office in 2002 the media scenario in India had stabilized with regard to the fact that television has not necessarily limited the growth of the print media and commercial radio albeit with cross media linkages had taken roots at least in the metros. Content of mass media continued to dominate the critique with circulation and price wars relegated and accepted as contending business practices.


The India Shining phase in which media had enthusiastically participated became a plank for introspection with the change in government when the mantra of disconnectedness and addressing the real problems became an avowed professional goal. For Kalam, whose mission and vision was development, partnerships with institutions was essential in reaching the goals and therefore his recurrent theme for his speeches at media related functions was media as a partner for national development.


Scanning for his views on media and its functioning on his official website (www.presidentofindia.nic.in) one could find at least ten to twelve lectures and speeches on various occasions such as the national press day, interaction with PTI journalists, talking to Times group persons, address at the women press corps function etc. Though his speeches on such occasions were repetitive they reflected his abiding faith in certain projects and missions such as providing urban amenities to rural areas (PURA), village kiosks, knowledge centres and multiplier effect and the  potential of mass media for  carrying development messages.


An example he was fond of citing was the efforts made by Malayala Manorama in preparing a translated version of his talk to Kerala Legislature and circulating a million copies to the readers. The talk became a topic for discussions and seminars leading further to an assimilated document and action plan for various missions to alleviate poverty. By quoting this example to the journalists of the Times group (December 2005) he wanted the group to devote at least one page in a week on National Development topic(s) with emphases on our successes in rural areas. In June 2007 when he had an opportunity to interact with the PTI trust board he reiterated his partnership proposal. A 2020 vision for Kalam includes reduction of urban-rural divide, equity and access to energy and water, education with a value system etc. A criterion for reporting developmental progress particularly in the rural areas was needed. Such stories would, Kalam believed, act as great motivator. His perspective on areas that needed coverage is perhaps an indication of his assessment. North Eastern States, events in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, hilly and forest areas in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and J&K.  He also wanted the news agency to provide news in multiple Indian languages apart from Hindi and English.


His academic leanings were evident when at an award function in Thiruvananthapuram (July 2005) he emphasized the need for research: "In our country it is essential to have research wings in the academic institutions developing media personnel in reporting news…The owners of newspapers should encourage research being carried out by experienced and young reporters for acquiring post graduate qualifications which will improve the quality of the print media." At the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations of the Press club in Kolkata he explained the challenges of the print media: "Our news is mainly urban based in many of our states…and partner in our national development means...somewhere an innovative use of organic cultivation is taking place…this news must be studied, analysed and propagated in many places in the country…" The fact that the Press club did not have a website led him to advise them to have one. "No one is better aware than the Press about the advantages of information and communication technology and I am sure that the Press Club is already working on this if they have not already done so."


The celebrations of the National Press Day (November 2006) provided him another platform to discuss the partnership potential of the media. He wanted the national press to transform into a media of billion people and referred to "unique ambience of the seven hundred million people" living in the villages: "a scene of sweat. It is the farmers in the agricultural field; it is the fishermen in the rough seas, worker…teachers…who have to be always remembered by this great media community." The media was preoccupied with "political politics" whereas the nation’s need was "development politics." Given his mission orientation he wanted the media to take up various missions such as developed India before 2020,  a partner for PURA, celebrating rural success stories, a corruption free India by 2015, promoting an enlightened society, bringing honour to womanhood and a code of conduct for ensuring that all reporting is analysed, evaluated and researched prior to publication.


National development was a pet theme and in many cases he never tired of giving the same examples or models. His sincerity and simplicity were never suspect allowing for a large following across a broad spectrum of the society especially children who were an essential part of his audience at various meetings etc. His last formal presence at a media related event was the Goenka awards function. Apart from discussing his pet themes it was to some extent biographical in terms of recounting the influence of Dinamani (express group publication) in developing his formative interest in aeronautics.  Reorientation of news values in favor of development stories, necessity of research wings in newspapers and promoting the cause of farmers were essential.


The parting message was definitional and prescriptive: "Journalism is truth expressed in intelligible language for information and education of the readers. True journalism vitalizes the nation. There is no room for sensationalism in it even if in the short run it might sell. It will be sacrilege. True journalism is courageous, truthful, inspiring and exalting."


The ideas contained in Kalam’s views or advice to the media may not necessarily be radical or new as it encompasses a classical model of mass media and national development.  However, the fact that as the President he sustained this perspective reflects his true commitment and beliefs for development causes.  Justifiably, media may not have much time now for Kalam as their focus will be on the new President. The media may not necessarily miss his advice but would perhaps be happy with its so called perfect understanding of what their readers/viewers want.




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