Redesigning media education in the Northeast

BY TERESA REHMAN| IN Regional Media | 30/08/2013
Recently, the under-reported Northeast India has witnessed a media boom. Time to review the media education imparted to make it more enabling,
says TERESA REHMAN. PIX: Mizoram University

The under-reported Northeast India had also witnessed a media boom, with as many as eight satellite news channels being aired from Guwahati. This has led to a demand for trained professional manpower to meet the increasing job demands. And this has in turn led to a mushroom growth of media schools imparting training in journalism and mass media, especially in Guwahati, in addition to the various media-related courses offered by the state and central universities in the region.

Because the Northeast is an area like no other, eight states lumped together and covered by the mainland media as a composite entity, usually by single reporter stationed in one of the states, covering it is more of a challenge than any single state in any other part of the country. TV channels which cover the region cater to all the states, so personnel being trained would need area specific courses, covering the socio political problems of the entire region. Also, inculcating knowledge of the culture and history of each sub region.

But what kind of education are these media schools and courses imparting to the students from the region? Are they inculcating a spirit of critical thinking and enquiry which is imperative to produce a good journalistic work, or are they being mere functional, producing technicians and editors for the nascent media industry in the region? It was at an opportune moment that a symposium on “News Media Education in India” was organised by CMS Academy in Delhi recently. 

The symposium, which had media practitioners, both from the industry as well as academics, tried to analyse the unprecedented rise in media and falling standards and professionalism required for its effective functioning. It also tried to explore the gaps and requirements for the current Indian media landscape to encourage excellence in news media education. More specifically, the critical role of research culture, quality standards and faculty in the education sector was reviewed in all parts of the country, including Northeast India.

It is imperative to assess the curriculum of the media courses in the region and evaluate if it is enabling for the students. Is there a gap in the generic curriculum for media education which does not equip the students to use their skills and expertise in their own social milieu. If they decide not to become skilled manpower for the thriving media industry in the big metro cities, do they have an alternative? 

The courses various media schools, whether private or in central universities offer are more or less based on the UGC's model curriculum and cover whole range of topics like communication theories, advertising and PR, New Media, Photojournalism, Media Law and Ethics, Visual communication, Science Communication. The topics taught in all universities are more or less the same, only few universities try to focus more on some elements than the other, depending on the expertise of their faculty members.

For instance, there is a MA course in Mass Communication at the Rajiv Gandhi Central University in Arunachal Pradesh. The students are from different parts of this frontier state take the course, which is hardly 10 years old. The students, who rarely see their state featured in the so-called ‘national’ media, are now trying to grapple with a new discipline – media. They have to understand the difficulties in reporting from a state which has its own set of social, political and environmental problems. Most of them are not confident enough to explore the job markets in the big metro cities – Delhi, Mumbai or even Guwahati. They try to get absorbed in the eight local newspapers which are published from the state capital, Itanagar. They are then disillusioned by the meager salary and poor working conditions. The department, in a way, is trying to add a local flavor by providing audio-visual documentation of the various tribes of the state.

In Mizoram, there is the Mass Communication department in Mizoram University which was set up in 2011. There is also a branch of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication at Aizwal. Ratna Mala, a faculty of the department felt that there should be elements of Northeast India in the curriculum. She added, “We have a dissertation at the end of the course which is mandatory. The students have done research on a wide-range of topics like Facebook usage by Mizo college kids, case study on relevance of RTI in Mizoram, status of working journalists in Mizoram, Political economy of the dubbing industry in Mizoram (Korean films are a rage and are dubbed into Mizo) etc.” 

The media curriculum needs to be reviewed so as to equip the students to contextualise the different theories in their social milieu. There is also a need to incorporate the history of media in the region in the curriculum. Ratna Mala, a faculty of Mizoram University says, "Though it is not there in the syllabus, we try to make them think critically about what's happening in the region. But, we feel it should be incorporated in the syllabus."

Moreover, it is also important to generate job alternatives for the budding media practitioners because there is hardly any scope for the expansion of the media. Ratna Mala adds, "Media entrepreneurship and management should be an important component of the media courses in the future."

There are many private media institutes in Guwahati. Dinesh Baishya, Dean, Media and Cultural Studies, University of Science and Technology, Meghalaya, rued that in most media schools, the methodology and technology is taught but the philosophical, ethical aspects of responsible journalism are not taught. 

Baishya said, “Media is booming, especially in Guwahati because there is plenty of black money, party politics, competition for power. These are the main catalysts for the media explosion in Guwahati.” He felt that there should be a special curriculum for media students in Northeast India considering its strategic location and multiplicity of tribes and ethnicity. “A study of the history, geography, society and culture of the people must be an important component of the media curriculum,” he added. 

Kh, Kabi Associate Professor, Rajiv Gandhi University, Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh, feels that there is a lot of scope for development communication in the different NGOs operating in the region. "We also encourage our students to take up development communication as a career option," he adds.

Senior journalist Manoram Gogoi, who runs his own media school called Assam School of Journalism, has introduced a diploma course in Assamese journalism which trains students in the nuances of the Assamese language and even lessons on Assamese literature. Gogoi said, “The quality of vernacular media will improve only if we can improve the quality of the media education. For instance, many journalists in the vernacular media need to be trained to be sensitive when it comes to reporting on gender, disability, conflict and other issues.”

The fledging media industry in the region is experimenting with different kind of story ideas in the mad race for TRPs which often lead to disastrous consequences. For instance, the infamous Guwahati molestation incident where role of the television reporter present at the site was allegedly questionable. Then there are the regular episodes of public beating of thieves, burglers and ‘couples caught in compromising positions in public places’ in front of the television crew, creating an obnoxious reality show. It is therefore, vital to train a set of young media professionals who are sensitive, mature and responsible. And the educational curriculum of the media schools of the region should be mapped and be tailored in that direction.

Teresa Rehman is Managing Editor,
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