The South Asian region comprises Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka. Given the relatively undeveloped nature of communication as an academic discipline in most of South Asia with the exception of India, the major focus of this article will be on the scenario in India.
Phase 1: 1940 –1989
Communication as an academic field in South Asia has until very recently been closely tied to journalism education. This is not altogether surprising given that the first communication programs on the subcontinent were tied to promoting journalism education. The first was a short-lived course in journalism education in Aligarh in 1938, followed by the establishment of the Department of Journalism at Punjab University, Lahore, in 1940. The University of Dhaka, in what was then East Pakistan, started a journalism program in 1962, and a Department of Mass Communication was established at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, in 1973. These programs were promoted by newly independent governments who were keen on training journalists in the art of public communication and for careers in the news services, broadcasting, and publicity.
A free press was promoted as an essential foundation for democracy, and US-based foundations and agencies were involved in establishing the first media programs on the subcontinent. The New Delhi-based Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), envisaged by the pioneer US communicator Wilbur Schramm, and established by the Indian government under its Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, exemplifies an approach in which the state was vested with overwhelming authority to control the scope and character of communication education. In turn, this embrace of communication education by governments in the region affected its character, shape, and scope.
The Indian broadcaster Mehra Masani (1976, 1–2) has observed that the inability of the state broadcaster, All India Radio, to fashion an Indian identity in post-independent India could be explained in three ways: “the first would credit our former rulers with extraordinary foresight and understanding of broadcasting; and the second would reveal our lack of initiative and capacity to create appropriate organizations to our needs; and the third would expose the Government’s decision to retain, for reasons of expediency, vestiges of our colonial heritage which were neither democratic nor progressive.”
This may also account for the lack of an identity for communication and journalism education in South Asia, at least in the first phase of its growth up to the 1970s. Given the focus on a narrow, instrumental education, the advancement of knowledge based on research was assigned a low priority. There was very little original research output and the early books on communication in India were descriptive accounts of classical and traditional media and comparative studies of rural and urban communication. The diffusion of innovation was a popular subject for any number of doctoral students and for many years the only substantive “research” in communication was closely related to communication in agricultural extension. The only research of note was policy studies on broadcasting produced by interdisciplinary government committees: the Chanda Committee, the Verghese Committee, and the Joshi Commission.
In terms of research, the period 1975 –1977, which coincided with the launch of India’s Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE), saw some innovative research in communication strongly influenced by sociology and social anthropology. SITE arguably spawned the most comprehensive studies on communication research in India to date on media structures, processes and audiences, distance education, and methods. Studies by Agrawal and Sinha (1981) and by others explored the role of satellite television in distance education. The Kheda project, an offshoot of SITE, led to innovative, critical, advocacy communication research, although, in hindsight, its findings did not affect the constancy of mainstream research. Ironically, this was also the period of the Emergency in India, a two-year dictatorial interregnum, the cessation of which led to a number of mainly descriptive studies on the freedom of the press. The Kothmale Community Radio project in Sri Lanka, which was begun with substantial funding from UNESCO, led to significant research on community radio, the first of its kind in South Asia.
Overt government control has indirectly been responsible for the lack of a single nationally or internationally recognized center of excellence in communication research in South Asia. This rather doleful state of affairs can be contrasted with other areas in the social sciences and the humanities – economics, politics, sociology, literature – that were allowed to develop without overt government control and which, as a consequence, can boast of several centers of excellence. There is no equivalent communication school in India that has the reputation of the Center for Developing Studies, the Madras Institute of Development Studies, the Delhi School of Economics, the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, and the Indian Institutes of Technology and Institutes of Management.
Communication as an academic field did survive in some private colleges – for instance the Xavier Institutes in Mumbai and Kolkata, and the Unit for Media and Communications at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, although the most fertile academic studies in communication and culture emerged from interdisciplinary, often individual, research initiatives carried out in social science and humanities departments at a number of universities in India, including the University of Delhi, Jawaharlal National University, the University of Hyderabad, and research centres such as the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, the Centre for the Study of Social Sciences, and the Madras Institute of Development Studies. The subject of film in India received some academic attention along with academic writings on the history of the press and development communication. The IIMC did produce a journal called the Communicator, although it was discontinued in the early 1980s. The journals Vidura, Communicatio Socialis, and the ICCTR were in circulation for a short period. The India International Centre Quarterly and in particular Seminar (vols. 292, 300, 327, 342, 390, 458, 561) were devoted to issues related to the media. Critical research-based articles on the media were infrequently featured in the Economic and Political Weekly. The bestseller on the media in India was Mass Communication by Keval Kumar, which was widely available throughout India – from bookshops to book kiosks at railway stations and airports. This book was primarily a descriptive account of the media in India, although later editions did include researchbased chapters on broadcasting and media education.
Phase 2: 1990 to the Present
The second phase of communication as an academic field in South Asia coincides with the liberalization of the South Asian economy, the privatization of education, and industry backing for the establishment of mainly media skills-training institutes for the burgeoning media industry primarily in India but also in other countries on the subcontinent. This development was a reflection of the demand for skilled media professionals in the advertising, cable and satellite, print and online journalism, and film and animation industries. There has been a professionalization of media in the region. There are, for instance, a number of journalist organizations in Sri Lanka today – the Free Media Movement, the Editors Guild of Sri Lanka, the Newspaper (Publishers) Society, the Federation of Media Employees Trade Union, the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association.
There is also a supportive environment for academic media research at institutions such as the Sri Lanka College of Journalism which was set up in 2003, the University of Kelaniya, and Jaffna University, which have encouraged research, mainly on aspects of the press in Sri Lanka – the Tamil and Sinhala press, democracy, regulation, and the role of the media in peace and reconciliation. Additionally, a variety of NGOs are involved in the provision of media-training and capacity-building in Sri Lanka – the Centre of Policy Alternatives, the National Peace Council, the Women and Media Collective, and the Centre of Peace Building and Reconciliation.
The Centre for Policy Alternatives is involved in media research, for example, the study on “Post-Tsunami Media Coverage,” and publishes the Media Monitor. Likewise, in Pakistan, there are currently more than nine universities that offer journalism or mass communication courses and a number of professional media associations. In Nepal, both Tribhuvan University and Kathmandu University offer courses in journalism or media studies and local and international NGOs, such as the Nepal Environmental Journalists Forum and Panos South Asia, are involved in media research and capacity-building. The Royal University of Bhutan, which was established in 2003, offers a program on language and cultural studies.
The most far-reaching and comprehensive change with respect to communication as an academic discipline has occurred in India. There are at present 60 universities, 25 agricultural universities, and 100 private institutions that offer media/journalism studies, along with a number of privately funded media research centers. To a large extent the incentive for change has come from the Indian media and entertainment industry which is worth US$7.6 billion. Given demand, student intake has increased in journalism and media schools. The veteran journalist and founder of the Chennai-based Asian College of Journalism, Sashi Menon, is convinced that this demand ought to be met by offering students ethically grounded programs that are strong on theory and practice. The setting up of private media schools such as the Manipal Institute of Communication in Manipal, and the Mudra Institute of Communication in Ahmedabad, has led to a renewed emphasis on journalism/media research. Two media journals have been launched in India during 2005 –2006, the Journal of Creative Communication and the Indian edition of the Internet-based Global Media Journal. Furthermore, institutions such as the Centre for Media and Cultural Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore, and the New Media Initiative at the Sarai Institute, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, have contributed to research on cinema, gender and the media, new media, intellectual property rights – from postcolonial, cultural studies, and political economy perspectives.
There is also demand for short and long-term market forecasts, audience research, and administrative research carried out by the Centre for Media Research and similar institutions in India. A number of NGOs, notably the Bangalore-based Voices, the Gujarat-based SEWA, along with other NGOs, have carried out grounded research on a number of media-related issues, e.g., ethno-religious conflict, gender, ICTs in development, community radio, and copyright. While research on issues related to the media and culture in India had long been a preserve of diaspora Indian academics, there are a number of internationally recognized researchers based in India today who are involved in interdisciplinary research on issues related to the media, culture, and communication, including Anjali Montiero, K. P. Jayasankar, Vivek Dhareshwar, Tejaswini Niranjana, Ravi Sundaram, Lawrence Liang, Ammu Joseph, Biswajit Das, among others. There is also a large market for applied research in areas such as health communication, development communication, ICTs in rural development, community media, and participatory communication. However, despite this apparent turn toward media research, the vast majority of government and privately funded academic institutions in media and journalism studies remain research-deficient.
While the future of communication as an academic discipline certainly looks bright for the region, it faces a number of challenges. The primary challenge is from the market, which is keen to shape communication as an academic discipline in its own image. There are other challenges as well – the need for indigenous theory, financial support for research, commitment to curricula development, emphasis on quality of teaching, and learning and research environments conducive to sustaining communication as an academic discipline.
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