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Book Strategizes South Asian Satellite Broadcasting Policies

MUMBAI, INDIA:  The new book "Satellites over South Asia: Broadcasting Culture and the Public Interest" (Sage Publications, India), authored by David Page and William Crawley, was released in India in December 2000. It sparked an involved discussion at a Mumbai panel on the role of Indian broadcasting within the South Asian subcontinent (see box). A seminar "South Asian Broadcasting in the Satellite Age" held in New Delhi also coincided with the book's launch and the authors' visit to India.

Page and Crawley, sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex in the UK, which supported the IDS Research Project of Media South Asia, researched the impact of transnational broadcasting on the South Asian subcontinent. The book explores how satellite programs have created new electronic communities that transcend the boundaries of the nation-state, often thought to challenge state control, according to the authors.

Speaking to TBS from their Mumbai hotel, Crawley and Page discussed their book's charting the various changes the broadcast industry faces throughout Southeast Asia, and especially in India.

"The book evolved over two years, from l998 to 1999, in our visits to various countries in the Southeast Asian continent through Ford Foundation grants and teaching posts. It took a team of twelve research associates from the Media South Asia Project to work across the subcontinent--India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka--to document these findings," said Page, who serves as project director of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex and who spent eight months based in New Delhi last year.

"We chose to concentrate on rural areas and how they are affected by the development of broadcasting. There is a certain mismatch between the middle class and big business with the rural population where the satellite targets the audience and yet there is a shared structure encompassing all the communities."

In conjunction with the book, a documentary film exploring the same subject, "South Asian Media," directed by Indian television journalist and documentary filmmaker Napur Basu, was also released. The film, according to the director, is believed to be the first South Asia-wide collaboration of its kind spanning five South Asian countries on the same themes and using local crews. Television Trust for the Environment, a non-profit organization that works globally to promote the use of audio and visual media to discuss development issues, produced the documentary.

"Both the book and the film broaden understanding of the satellite revolution's significance for the development of broadcasting in South Asia and the globalization process with the economic and technological changes of the 1990s in the area," said Crawley.

"The explosion of choice in the context of shared traditions and structures of broadcasting and the social conditions for a mass audience for satellite television has developed into a globalizing process, transforming previous state TV monopolies into a competitive international television market."

More than four hundred experts were interviewed for the book, coinciding with an estimated one hundred discussion groups to further delve into the various policies of different South Asian states in response to the satellite revolution. Different South Asian states--Sri Lanka excepted, according to the authors--have concentrated more on preserving their control of broadcasting than on developing an effective regulatory framework to meet the changing situation.

"We feel that India as the largest country, now with an over one billion population, faces the largest challenge in the satellite age with its rural and regional culture being ignored by the medium, which appears driven by advertising and global reinforcement of consumerism," said Page. "The concentration of many satellite channels in the lucrative Indian middle-class market has involved a neglect, in fact, of the wider South Asian audiences. Findings showed an overall neglect of Indian regional cultures, particularly in the north, where Hindi language programming has gotten its largest audiences."

Through experts, discussions, and the author's findings on the key globalization factor of satellite broadcasting, the book stresses each South Asian government's reaction of "public interest"-hence the title of the book.

"We tried to suggest some strategies for reform of the state sector and decentralization of broadcasting as a means to give a voice to local and regional communities," said Crawley. "There is a growing need to adapt to all parts of the rural and urban communities so they can be better served by the new media, in social, educational, and entertainment development." 

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