Communication Research in India: A Status Evaluation
Prof. K. V. Nagaraj
Head,Department of Mass Communication,
Assam University, Silchar, Assam
Journalism education in India, for all practical purposes, is as old as independent India. Before Independence, the press with its obsession with political issues had little or no time to conduct even readership surveys. Circulation figures were the only source of information as to the readership. The departure of the British from India provided the press both challenges and opportunities. Industrialists took over the ownership of major newspaper groups and as a result journalism acquired the overtones of business profit and power were the twin motives behind these acquisitions. Not much importance was attached to readership research. On the other hand, the government owned All India Radio already had the listener survey or audience research unit that later paved the way for more expansive research into the field of broadcasting. Professional research organizations came into the scene only in 1970s. the ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulation) was perhaps the only source of circulation data considered authentic. Historically, academic research in journalism per se was not a phenomenon till 1970s. some research efforts in journalism could be seen in other social sciences, which were basically inter-disciplinary in nature, either in history or political science or English literature. In fact, many of the early teachers who took interest in teaching journalism were from the background of English literature.
With a steady process of Professionalisation, importance of journalism education was realized. However, as was in the United States and other western countries, the classroom-news conflict syndrome raised its head, and the working professionals often lampooned the theory loaded instruction in academic institutions. Unfortunately, most teachers in journalism were and are not from the profession and did not and do not have any professional experience. In the same vein, most professionals had learnt the skills by the trial and error method.
Unlike the West which had a flourishing media market linked to the industrial revolution, India started struggling to imitate the developing countries, attempting devise a middle road between two competing ideologies of capitalism and communism. Obviously, the media took, especially the print, in delight in the triggering of politico-economic blunder buss. The non-discriminate readership supinely accepted the political rhetoric provided by the new bread of journalist. The tradition still continues.
In the West, especially in the united states, the university-industry linkage is significant in the media sector professionals who have high academic qualification join universities and help develop research programmes. They also secure projects to produce high quality research output while the newsroom-classroom hiatus has narrowed down with the graduates in journalism hooding media houses and media houses in turn opting for campus recruitment, the two-way traffic is not happening professionals, except a few, do not have interest in academic programmes including research. For some, research seems to be a collection of information. (The National Knowledge Commission ) has bemoaned the quality of Ph.D.s churned out by Indian universities and suggested the production of Ph.D.s of more quality and quantity. The quality of Ph.D.s in journalism does not meet the rigorous parameters of international standards. Often the are products of ‘cut-and post’ business drawn from the Internet sources. Original research does take place, but here again the number of quality efforts are far and few. When it come to quantitative techniques and their application, it is merely duplication or multiplication of what has already been done. Even qualitative research is far from satisfactory. There exists an urgent need to train a dedicated band of researchers in universities.
In this context, we should also remember the industry investment in its own R and D as well as in academic institutions for research is abysmally low compared even to china. On the other, the media revolution in the form of television channel boom has prompted rating research, each channel vying for a higher TRP for its programmes than others. Obviously, several Indian and foreign players have entered the field. Among Indian organisations mention must be made of ORG (Operational Research Group), MARG, IMRB. A.C Nielsen has emerged a key player of late. However, most research organisations follow the technique of market research, different from media or communication research. Academic research in India as already mentioned is shoddy irrelevant and primitive. Imprecise application of methods and technique has been the scourge of academic research in communication.
Intermedia competition should encourage research in communication/ mass communication as it happened in the West Unfortunately. We are slow in catching up with them. The National Readership Surveys are a good effort, but do need the participation of more number of newspapers and magazines. The audience research units of both Doordarshan and All India can employ more sophisticated tools for better results. Though now under the control of an autonomous corporation, these units have to come out of the bureaucratic hung over.
At the application level, there should be a national debate on the relevance of western tools and techniques in the Indian context. Unlike many developed countries, the collection of primary data is not an easy task in India Social and other factors have made collection of date difficult. Most academic researchers depend upon secondary sources of information for their output. The logistics, accessibility and finance have been the main areas of deficiency for communication researchers in India. While science gobbles up a substantial chunk of government patronage, communication as a discipline is attached to social sciences get very little financial attention. The private investment in communication research is absolutely non-existent added to the inertia of most academics in government funded universities. The situation in private institutions disgustingly abominable. In reality, there exists no research tradition or culture in the field of mass communication in India.
The private –public participation (PPP) model has not taken off mainly due to the disinterestedness on both sides. The public institutions have framed such rigid rules that even the most enterprising academics back out when it comes to consultancy services including research. On their part, private media houses have very little faith in the quality of research work carried out in academic institution. It is disgusting to see many teachers in mass communication departments while away their time more in unproductive work than in research. The authorities should introduce an accountability clause that includes their research contributions that keeps on their toes. Added to the misery is the absence of peer reviewed research journals many a university department of mass communication makes a half-hearted beginning to float a journal and after a couple of issues, these journals make an unceremonious exit. In other countries, quality journals have survived unlike in India, we cannot boast of a single journal of standard let alone international. Some publications like the vidura and the grassroots so not strictly fall under the category of research journals.
It is also amusing to go through some of the research titles. No serious thought is given to the selection of the topics which appear mostly macro. The textual intervention of media history even in quantitative studies makes a mockery of the entire research process. For these reasons, institutions like the ICSSR should conduct workshops regularly on research methods to update and improve the knowledge level of young academicians and researchers. The establishment of a research institute the model of Institute of Socio-Economic change only for mass communication research can a feasible proposition. In the US Nieman fellowships are awarded to media professionals and others to do research on any subject of their choice without any strings attached. Similar arrangements can be thought of in India also. The prosperous media organisations can carmark a small portion of their profit for this purpose.
Advertising as persuasive communication, is a fertile area of research. The story is similar and it is left to the researchers in the management sector to take care of it. Neither copy research nor the design aspects have been researched upon. Advertising agencies do have research departments, but for other purposes, public Relations firms have not evinced much interest in research activities for reasons best known to them only Likewise the new media sector calls for meaningful research efforts. Other Asian countries like China, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan have made enormous strides in communication research, keeping India for behind. The Indian habits and impact studies shows only the duplication of efforts and their lackadaisical attitude towards the issue. The urgent need of the hour is to introduce professionalism in academic research in the field of communication. The inference drawn here do not mean that we have to simply ape the western concepts and methodologies of communication research. What is needed is an expansive development of Indian contribution to methods of investigation. We have a strong background in mathematics and statistic and should we not produce new formulas of evaluation? Even our attempts at historical research are inaccurate, incomplete and often biassed with personal affiliations, ideological or otherwise. Time is ripe for a rethink on the issue and a structural overhaul along with intensive intentions for a corrective course.
We can replicate the national knowledge network suggested by the National Knowledge Commission in its report submitted to the union government for a nation communication research network to connect media institutions, university department, research organisations and other professional institutions to create an environment of viable research. No doubt, the reming masses of young men and women will have innumerable opportunities knocking at their door.
- National Knowledge Commission Report, Government of India, 2009
- Mass Media Research: An introduction Roger D. Wimmer and Joseph R. Dominick