Por Kuldip Rampal
Christmas eve 1999, Chandigarh, India: France's Fashion Television,
one of the fastest expanding international channels in India, is
taking a break from its transmission of the latest in haute couture
from the fashion houses of Paris. It is time for the latest in lingerie.
Millions of Indian viewers on this Christmas eve, still wondering
what kissing would be like in Indian movies or television programming
because the country's laws bar such scenes in domestic productions,
are in for something elegantly provocative and sensuous. Fashion
TV has just started showing the latest in lingerie. To the tune
of Prodigy's "Smack my bitch up," models wearing eye masks
purr up to the catwalk, concealing their faces more than parts of
the body that lingerie is supposed to hide. It does not take the
viewer long to sense that it is more of a display of full breasts
behind the often sheer bras and bottoms left alone by Rio briefs
than anything resembling the Victorian-era undergarments for women.
Just as the protected Indian viewer
is taking all of that in comes another line of high-fashion lingerie
to the song of "Going up, up, up . . . Going down, down, down."
The highly suggestive bras and briefs are now supplemented with
suspender belts, stockings and heels. The models have stepped down
the catwalk and walk around the audience tables coyly. As if that
was not enough to shake up the conservative Indian sensibilities,
Fashion TV gives a peek into Le Lido, one of the most famous Parisian
cabarets in the world, showing bare breasted women aplenty.
Welcome to the world of international
satellite television in India. Fashion TV, which reached 30 million
viewers in 125 countries in December 1999, is one of about two dozen
international channels, many of them from the United States, available
on cable and through roof-top satellite dishes across India (The
Economic Times, July 14-20, 1999, p. 4). The Internet, which
is already a big craze in India, is projected to have 30 million
subscribers by 2004.
At the dawn of the 21st century,
Marshall McLuhan's projected global village (McLuhan, 1967) is increasingly
a reality made possible by the communication revolution -- satellite
and cable television, multinational media conglomerates such as
those of Rupert Murdoch and TIME-Warner communications, and, increasingly,
the Internet. This writer, having traveled to some 25 countries,
has seen first-hand the pervasiveness of American culture being
imported through a variety of media, especially movies and television
programming. The Washington Post reported that international sales
of American entertainment and software products totaled $60.2 billion
in 1996, more than any other U.S. industry (The Washington Post,
Oct. 25, 1998, p. A01).
American television is practically
everywhere and young people are tuning it in at a viewing scale
often unparalleled in the ratings levels of indigenous programming.
When the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, for example, canceled
MTV for contractual reasons in 1994, young Singaporeans spoke out
in frustration and rejected an alternative local music video program
as "unexciting." MTV has not only been a vehicle for the
globalization of American music, but it has also attracted a young
audience throughout the world, including in highly conservative
countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The implications of the offerings
of free-wheeling Western commercial television programming and movies
have long been a subject of concern and research in Western countries.
How do people with substantially different social and cultural values
cope with such entertainment fare? Writing in Mass Communication
and American Empire in 1969, Schiller cautioned that the implications
of the cultural influences brought about by American programming
were far-reaching, especially for developing peoples of the world.
"Everywhere local culture is facing submersion from the mass-produced
outpourings of commercial broadcasting in the United States,"
he said, adding, "To foster consumerism in the poor world [through
American entertainment programming] sets the stage for frustration
on a massive scale" (Schiller, 1969, p. 111).
More recently, Jerry Mander, co-founder
of the International Forum on Globalization, has voiced a similar
warning. Writing in The Nation, Mander (1996) said that global media
corporations of Rupert Murdoch, Ted Turner and very few others "transmit
their Western images and commercial values directly into the brains
of 75 percent of the world's population. The globalization of media
imagery is surely the most effective means ever for cloning cultures
to make them compatible with the Western corporate vision."
Re-visiting the theme of the dominance of American cultural products
around the world, Schiller wrote in 1998 that "the machinery
of mind management is so entrenched and pervasive that nothing less
than seismic movements can be expected to loosen or weaken its pernicious
authority" (Schiller, April 1998, p. 195).
This chapter examines the sociological
implications of satellite television programming, both Western and
Indian, for the urban youth in India in the areas of sex, violence
and drugs. We will also examine if there are any indications of
positive effects of satellite television. Research for this paper
is based on an examination of literature and quantitative data on
the subject, and focus group interviews in India by this writer
during the summers of 1998 and 1999.
Satellite Television in India
Western television's popularity in India, especially in urban areas,
is traced to 1991 when CNN became prominent in the country, as elsewhere
in the world, for its live coverage of the Gulf War. The availability
of international television in India for the first time in its history
that year was aided, in no small measure, by the introduction of
economic liberalization by the government the same year. A democratic
government with a pronounced economic liberalization policy would
have found it difficult, had it tried, to legally keep international
television out of the country.
For decades, Indians had been restricted
to the fare served by state television known as Doordarshan (DD),
a diet of tedious discussions by government bureaucrats, old Hindi
movies with generous amounts of singing and dancing, and news programs
usually promoting the government line rather than always providing
objective and balanced coverage. During the Gulf War, urban India
was swept up in the Cable News Network craze. Satellite dish manufacturers
worked overtime to provide equipment to hotels and apartment buildings
and many people spent hours riveted to the first war seen live in
India. But after the war, the repetitiveness of CNN and its concentration
on American news caused many Indian viewers to drift away from the
In the fall of 1991, as hundreds
of unregulated cable TV operations flourished in urban areas, new
channels began appearing on Indian televisions courtesy of Hong
Kong-based STAR-TV, including MTV, an all-day sports channel for
the cricket-hungary South Asian fans, two entertainment channels
carrying a heavy dose of American programming, and BBC World, which
the British Broadcasting Corporation launched, no doubt, as its
answer to CNN.
Practically overnight, millions
of Indian television viewers, long used to DD's staid educational
programming and dramas based on Indian mythology, found themselves
tuning in to the likes of "Baywatch," "Dallas"
and "Dynasty." In a land where kissing has never been
allowed in Indian movies or television programming, TV viewers could
now experience the "sex and violence" culture long decried
even in the West. Further globalization of television has brought
dozens of additional channels to Indian viewers, especially since
free and democratic India's (Freedom House, 1999) laws do not bar
people from setting up their own satellite dishes. A survey of urban
youth by India's influential newsweekly Outlook found that
more than 85 percent of the respondents spend "over two hours
daily" watching television. "Sidney Shelton is their [the
Indian youth] top author, Dicken a lowly tenth" (Outlook,
Nov. 8, 1999).
Commenting on the new phenomenon
of the popularity of Western television in India, Edward Gargan
of The New York Times (Gargan, Oct. 29, 1991) wrote: "For
India, a nation long padlocked to the government's version of reality,
the candy-store variety of programming has brought a poorly contained
In early 1999, there were 20 million
cable households in India, including at least two million multiple-TV
households, and the reach of television was expanding fast. The
more than 40 channels observed by this writer in the northern Indian
city of Chandigarh in summer 1999 included SONY Entertainment, STAR-World,
STAR-Plus, STAR-Movies, STAR-News, MTV, [V] Music, Music Asia, ZEE-Cinema,
ZEE-Drama, Fashion-TV from France, BBC World, CNN, Cartoon Network,
National Geographic Channel, and TB-6 from Russia, in addition to
the three news and variety channels of DD and many other Indian
and international entertainment, sports and news channels. The next
wave in the Indian television industry was expected to arrive in
the country by early 2000 in the form of direct-to-home (DTH) television
planned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation and Indian broadcasters.
Consumption of Western English-language
programming is facilitated in India by the fact that English, which
is one of the official languages of the country, is widely spoken
in urban areas. Indeed, according to David Dalby, eminent scholar
and linguist from Great Britain, "by the year 2010 India will
have the largest number of speakers of English, the world's language
of communication" (Vaidya, Nov. 9, 1998).
Although Indians of all ages have
been fascinated with Western television, a variety of articles and
ratings surveys indicate that the youth of India are particularly
enamored with Western television and cultural values that it projects.
Ratings indicate that MTV is the most popular channel among teenagers
in India followed by other music channels and channels carrying
dramas and movies, both Indian and Western. Programming that typically
carries advisories for parents in the United States to keep inappropriate
programming beyond the reach of their children is routinely available
from Western channels in India without issuing such advisories as
a matter of rule. The cable television industry was brought under
government regulation in 1995 to manage its further expansion, but
no moves were made to call for a programming code until early 1999
when the information and broadcasting minister in the federal cabinet
spoke of the need for such a code (The Times of India, March
In a study of Indian satellite television
(Crabtree & Malhotra, Fall 1996, p.6), the authors say that
"early indications suggest that the presence of Western programming
via satellite has had some influence on the social discourse of
middle class Indian youth." We now examine the nature of influence,
if any, in the areas of sex, violence and drugs before turning to
the issue of any sociological benefits from international television.
Satellite Television as a Factor
in Sexual Behavior
Vasanthi Nail, a 17-year-old girl from the city of Bangalore, India's
silicon valley, told the country's premier news weekly, India
Today, in October 1997 that she listened to the Spice Girls
track "I wanna, I wanna" over and over again because "there
is some kind of subliminal message telling me to go ahead and do
my own thing" (India Today, Oct. 13, 1997). [V] Music
channel's "Beach it out with the Spice Girls in Bali"
was so popular with Indian teenyboppers that the British pop group
was dropping by for an India tour later that month.
The article also noted that the
Spice wannabes were not stopping midway. "They have not only
donned the attitude, but also their body-hugging gear. Today, it
is commonplace to see groups of leggy teenage girls showing a sexy
navel peeping over their hipsters" (Ibid.). The magazine
reported that this "new breed of girls are tougher because
of constant Western media exposure and are also 100 percent resistant
to authority." College girls often skip lectures and head for
"watering holes" which run special afternoon hours for
students. The magazine quoted the manager of a trendy Bombay pub
as saying, "Girls now associate alcohol and skimpy clothes
with hip culture" (Ibid.)
This hip generation finds that information
on sex is also widely available courtesy of media globalization.
Talk shows on adultery, seductive soaps like "The Bold and
the Beautiful," and titillating pictures on the Internet are
commonly accessible in urban India today. The number of Internet
subscribers in India had shot up from 120,000 in February 1999 to
500,000 by the end of the year (The Economic Times, Jan. 3, 2000,
p. 1). Even Indian TV serials like "Swabhimaan" and "Kabhie,
Kabhie," which are clearly copying the commercial success formula
from their Western counterparts, are spiked with illicit sexual
relationships and sexual metaphors. Indian film actress Deepti Naval
said that "vulgarity in Hindi songs today shows that filmmakers
take the audience to be buffoons and even a little retarded. I call
today's age as the 'pelvic age', where hero and heroine simply gyrate
to the music" (The Tribune, Sept. 8, 1999).
Asha Das, an official in the Women
and Child Development section of the Ministry of Human Resource
Development, said, "I've seen TV even in the West. But ours
is much more suggestive with far more innuendoes" (India
Today, Sept. 21, 1998). A 15-month study conducted on 100 adolescents
in India found they took most of their pointers on sex from television
and movies. A 12-year-old boy, who said he thought about girls all
the time, added, "It's all there on TV -- that's where I learned
how to hook girls" (Ibid.).
Newspapers, magazines and novels
too have been found to be major influences in the early sexual awareness
of adolescents. In a New Delhi school, students asked to read the
newspaper as part of their curriculum suddenly discovered the graphic
reporting of the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky case. According to
a national newsweekly (India Today, Sept. 21, 1998), "They
lapped it up -- especially the jokes. One joke went like this: Why
doesn't Monica open her mouth? Because -- ha, ha -- she harbors
the evidence there." A school principal commented, "Sex
has become as banal as shaking hands -- it is much more in your
face than ever before" (Ibid.).
As a result, said Dr. Achal Bhagat,
a psychiatrist, "More than any generation in this century,
children today experiment with sex, drugs and alcohol at a much
earlier age" (Ibid.). A study conducted on adolescent
girls in 1981 by Dr. Alka Dhal, a gynaecologist, found that 90 percent
of the girls surveyed had practically no knowledge about sex"
(Ibid.). In contrast, teenage pregnancies in recent years
have reached an all-time high in India. For example, health ministry
figures for the state of Maharashtra, of which Bombay is the capital,
show that in 1997 girls younger than 15 accounted for 21.7 percent
of all abortions -- more than 41,000 -- carried out in the state.
There is also a sharp increase in the number of young people turning
to prostitution, both as a business and as "customers"
A 1998 study, "Child Prostitution
in India" by Centre of Concern for Child Labour, found that
the number of children below 14 years in commercial prostitution
is increasing at the rate of 8 to 10 percent annually. Nearly 20
percent of the customers of these young prostitutes were found to
be students, particularly in the urban areas. Sexually transmitted
diseases were becoming a significant problem (The Times of India,
Nov. 10, 1998).
In a 1998 survey of 3,000 young
people, ages 15 to 34, in small and big towns by MTV-India, 29 percent
of the respondents said "yes" to the question: Is pre-marital
sex a way of life in the '90s? (The Times of India, Nov.
13, 1998). That percentage of approval may not be high by Western
standards, but for the traditionally conservative Indian population
this finding is very revealing about the sexual values of a significant
percentage of today's youth. Others saw this finding as evidence
that Western influences have not overwhelmed the Indian youth ,
with most displaying strong traditional moorings with regard to
issues like sex and marriage.
G.C. Gupta, a psychologist and professor,
citing a number of studies, surveys and trends said that the phenomenon
of teenage sexuality has come to stay in the Indian society (India
Today Plus, 1998). He said trends indicate that it will prosper
in the 21st century as a consequence of "free mixing between
members of the opposite sex, exposure to increasingly uninhibited
mass media, more permissive family/home environment, and the desire
to indulge in it just for the kick of it" (Ibid.). Cyber
romance will also be a major stimulant for the information technology-savvy
young population of India, said Gupta.
Satellite Television as a Factor
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in India reported that
in 1997 young people in the 16-25 age group were responsible for
56 percent of all crimes committed in the country. In New Delhi,
the country's capital, 93 percent of all serious crimes in 1998
were committed by young men trying their hand at crime for the first
time. A total of 767 robberies were reported in the capital in 1998
compared with 602 in 1997, a jump of 27 percent. Of people committing
robberies in the capital, most were below age 30, a third from middle
class background, and almost 40 percent were school educated (Times
of India, March 16, 1999).
This Times article also reported
that the crime graph in the entire country has shot up. The following
crime data were recorded in 1998: 38,000 murders, 15,000 rapes,
23,000 robberies, 900 cases of extortion, and 35,000 cars stolen.
Kidnapping and abduction cases also scored high. A study on crime
patterns done at India's prestigious Tata Institute of Social Sciences
found in 1998 that the crime rate among the youth had gone up by
as much as 40 percent in the past decade. This study also found
that although the youth crime wave flows across all races, classes
and lifestyles in India, there was a "noticeable increase in
the number of heinous crimes committed by young people from middle-class
and upper middle-class families" (India Today, January
Achal Bhagat, a New Delhi psychiatrist
who runs a counseling center for troubled youth, offered the following
explanation for increasing youth crime rate:
In a world where cutthroat competition
begins from kindergarten and the concept of having 'made it' is
defined by satellite TV images of the rich and famous, most children
today prowl tirelessly for a better deal that will free them from
the restraints that their parents faced. Ambitions soar and images
of making it big (cars, exotic holidays) constantly play on the
mind. But when failure strikes, most can't handle it. A squeeze
in the job market and the general lack of opportunities frustrate
them. And soon the tremendous pressure to succeed builds up anger
(India Today, Jan. 18, 1999).
This view was shared by Pramod Kumar,
director of the Institute of Development and Communication in the
northern Indian city of Chandigarh, who said that young people "suddenly
find crime and brute force has a premium" (Ibid.). Several
studies by non-governmental institutions in India indicate that
the "sensation-seeking" younger generation facing an unemployment
rate of approximately 23 percent increasingly feels insecure and
socially frustrated. Crime suddenly becomes an option for a number
of young people, even those coming from middle and upper middle
class backgrounds, to quickly attain the lavish lifestyle they are
seeking. For example, a newspaper report (The Times of India,
March 16, 1999) said that a young man in New Delhi had stolen approximately
$3,500 from his own house and "to impress his friends got himself
a secondhand car."
At a seminar in July 1999 in Chandigarh,
several school teachers attributed youth violence to satellite television
in particular, although they cited the high unemployment rate and
travails of social relationships faced by young people among the
contributing factors. The "invasion" of young minds by
violence-heavy programming on various cable channels was said to
be a catalyst in the rising incidence of crime among the youth.
In what is clearly consistent with Albert Bandura's "Modeling
Theory" (DeFleur and Ball-Rokeach, 1989, p. 212), one high
school principal at the seminar said: "What they [the youth]
see on television is what we get from them. They imitate their real-life
heroes [role models] on the screen to become real-life heroes themselves
(The Tribune, July 26, 1999).
Rajni Kothari, an eminent Indian
social scientist, wrote in July 1998 that the fast pace of social
and cultural changes in the country was contributing to a rising
amount of tension. "We are likely to witness criminalization
of tensions. Most of the problems emanate from social changes,"
he said (The Tribune, July 31, 1998, p. 4). That was also
the view of some experts speaking at the World Conference on Injury
Prevention and Control sponsored by the U.N.'s World Health Organization
in New Delhi in early March 2000. Dr. Emmanuel Rozental, a surgeon
at New York General Hospital, noted at the conference that economic
globalization has led to increasing inequality, with concentration
of wealth and power in the hands of a few and massive exclusion
and deprivation among growing majorities. "Social exclusion
within contexts characterized by inequity and poverty is fertile
ground for all kinds of violence," Dr. Rozental said, adding
that when deprivation and opulence co-exist, violence is perceived
as functional to the satisfaction of needs that appear otherwise
inaccessible (The Hindustan Times, March 7, 2000).
Satellite Television as a Factor in Drug Use
A study published by the Ministry of Welfare and Development in
India in 1998 found that there were 3 million drug addicts in the
country in 1997 out of whom 15,000 were female drug abusers. Drug
use was attributed to stress, peer pressure, permissive social atmosphere
promoted by both international satellite television as well as privately
owned Indian channels and other media, increased availability of
drugs, and often just "to experiment" with drugs. Dr.
Aruna Broota, a clinical psychologist, noted that illegal sale of
drugs was on the rise in the country. Increasingly young women were
getting involved in such a trade "to make a quick buck or earn
extra for that new dress or jazzy bloc heels" (The Times
of India, Aug. 12, 1998, p. 5).
Although use of illegal drugs in
India is nowhere close to their use in the West, the problem is
getting serious enough for national publications like India Today,
which came out with a cover story on the issue in its April 5, 1999
edition. Titled, "Drugs: New Kicks on the Block," the
investigative story said that the use of cocaine and ecstasy was
on the rise, especially among wealthy entrepreneurs and young professionals,
"a generation that is rich, successful and wants to party hard"
(India Today, April 5, 1999).
In what the magazine noted was a
typical example of many young urban professionals trying drugs just
for the fun of it, it quoted Vicky Kapuria, 32, who runs a computer
business and "does drugs every weekend" before going to
parties, as saying:, "More than half the crowd in these parties
do cocaine and ecstasy. I know because only a user can spot fellow
The magazine quoted Dr. Harish Shetty,
consulting psychiatrist at the National Addiction Research Center,
as saying that cocaine use "is very high in this segment of
kids from rich families." Another psychiatrist, Dr. Sanjay
Chugh, who managed a de-addiction center in a south Delhi hospital,
said, "two years ago, I didn't know a single cocaine addict.
Now I treat 25 to 30 cases, all of whom belong to the upper crust."
Yusuf Merchant, president of the Drug Abuse Information Rehabilitation
and Research Center in Bombay, said that 15 percent of his patients
were addicted to cocaine, adding that "the [actual] number
is higher since most of these drug addicts don't believe there is
a problem." Maneka Gandhi, the country's social welfare minister,
whose ministry looks after the de-addiction aspect, confirmed the
wide of use of drugs among the wealthier by saying, "Among
a certain class this winter, there wasn't a party in Delhi that
didn't have cocaine" (Ibid.).
Explaining reasons for drug use,
Delhi psychiatrist Dr. Achal Bhagat said: "The single-most
important reasons seems to be the desperate desire to party hard
-- stretch those definitions of fun. Today their whole lives seem
to revolve around a partying culture. They live for instant gratification"
(India Today, April 5, 1999). Although available research
indicates that critics are not blaming satellite television directly
for promoting drug use, liberal and permissive social values that
run through their programming themes combined with their promotion
of a sensation-seeking culture are said to be instrumental in the
increasing drug abuse in the country. Rising frustration among the
youth with high social expectations but inability to achieve them
because of the unemployment problem is also cited as a key reason
for drug abuse. India Today's investigative story mentioned
above said that drug use is also linked with copious literature
available on the Internet that explains how to do "drugs safely."
Satellite Television and Sociological
An extensive review of literature on the sociological implications
of new media technologies, especially satellite television, in India
indicates that there is a positive aspect to what satellite television
has to offer. For example, the huge popularity of the Hindi-language
programming carried by STAR-TV for its Indian viewers has been promoting
understanding of this language among non-Hindi speakers in the country.
As a brief perspective, it should be noted that although 15 different
languages with hundreds of dialects are spoken in various regions
and states of India, the Indian constitution provides for Hindi
as the national language of the country. But Hindi is spoken by
only about 40 percent of the Indian population, forcing the government
to maintain English, the language inherited from British colonial
rule, as an associate national language of India along with Hindi.
The Education Ministry's efforts
since the 1960s to promote Hindi through its "Learn Hindi"
campaign have often faced stiff resistance in parts of multi-lingual
India, especially in the South, where understandably people prefer
to learn and use their own language. For example, the southern state
of Tamil Nadu refused to carry the Hindi news service from the national
television network, DD, in early 1990s and has been insisting that
Tamil be made an associate national language. A common sentiment
expressed in the South has been that English has been serving the
country well for over 100 years, so where is the need to have Hindi
as the national language. Moves to teach Hindi across India have
been seen as an attempt by the Indo-Aryan people of the North to
impose their culture on the Dravidian South, which the South has
resisted, at times with demonstrations and riots.
Amidst this continuing row came
Hong Kong-based STAR-TV, and then Indian satellite channels such
as ZEE-TV, which began to broadcast Hindi movies around the clock.
Although India's movie industry, the largest in the world (The
Washinton Post, Oct. 25, 1998), produces movies in a variety
of languages, Hindi movies have attracted the best of talent and
financial resources. The Bombay-based Hindi movie industry, commonly
referred to as "Bollywood," produces hundreds of movies
every year, with a huge popularity in India and a substantial viewership
in the Middle East, Africa, the Central Asian republics and in Southeast
The popularity of Hindi movies and
other Hindi-language entertainment programming carried by STAR and
ZEE is providing an incidental benefit: It is promoting understanding
of Hindi across the country, a development that the Indian government,
no doubt, welcomes. Since entertainment programming brought by satellite
television does not appear to have any hidden agenda, it is apparently
contributing toward addressing a sociological problem that the government
has not been able to solve through its "Learn Hindi" policy.
Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corporation owns STAR-TV, told the Indian
prime minister in 1994 that Indian critics needed to tone down their
rhetoric of "cultural invasion" by satellite television
in view of the obvious sociological benefits that were accruing
Interviews conducted by this writer
with a focus group comprising 10 college-aged male and female students
in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh in July 1998 about the
effects of satellite television revealed another positive aspect
of this entertainment and information source. Although the respondents
were often concerned that sexual content in television programming
was "harmful" for children and teenagers, there was a
consensus that satellite television had made them aware of the larger
world and the possibilities and opportunities that it presented.
As this writer explored this positive
aspect associated with satellite television with the focus group,
he was reminded of the "empathy" variable that the American
sociologist Daniel Lerner had spoken of as playing a central role
in the societal modernization process (Lerner, 1958). Lerner had
discovered in his research that media exposure cultivated one's
sense of "empathy," which he defined as the capacity to
see oneself in desired situations, say a preferred job or a lifestyle,
that the empathic individual could then work to achieve.
The focus group members emphasized
that they and their peers were concentrating on finding ways to
develop the economic ability to achieve the lifestyles that they
were learning about from satellite television. A good job and a
family with kids, a decent home, a car, good friends, holidays at
exotic destinations, and often a pet figured prominently on their
list of goals. Indeed, evidence indicates that more and more Indian
students are looking toward education abroad after high school and
college, either to settle abroad after education where jobs are
seen to be abundant or to improve their competitiveness for jobs
in India. Thousands of young professionals are also seeking employment
visas or educational opportunities abroad to be able to further
For example, the New Delhi office
of the British Council noted in late 1999 that the number of self-funded
Indian students going to the UK for higher education is expected
to increase to 6,000 by the year 2,000 from the 1997-98 figure of
2,193. An India-based Australian education official said that the
number of Indian students going to his country for further studies
is expected to jump to at least 10,000 by the year 2,000 from 3,800
in 1997-98. MBA remains at the top of the list of preferred study
disciplines for Indian students in the U.K. and Australia, with
the other popular disciplines being information technology, food
processing, fashion technology, media studies, hotels and tourism,
among many others. The United States, which has historically been
the favorite destination of Indian students wanting to study abroad,
still continues to attract the largest number of students from India.
France and New Zealand are also becoming the countries of choice
for Indian students seeking education abroad (The Indian Express,
Nov. 18, 1998).
A further indication that Indians
view globalization generally positively, in spite of the sociological
problems linked to it by many people, came from the results of an
opinion poll conducted by the Outlook newsweekly in early
March 2000 in six major cities across India. Fifty five percent
of those polled said American culture posed no threat to Indian
culture, whereas 33 percent said that it did. Fifty eight percent
supported the entry of multinationals into India, while only 29
percent were opposed to it (Outlook, March 20, 2000).
Although no definite conclusions were sought or can be drawn from
the foregoing analysis of the available data as to the effects of
satellite television in India, the available evidence indicates
that critics of "cultural imperialism" like Herbert Schiller
were only partially right in arguing that Western cultural products
are harmful for the youth of developing countries. Critics like
Schiller also needed to look into the possible positive effects
of exposure to Western popular culture.
It is true that many sociologists,
social psychologists, teachers, government functionaries and lay
people in India hold the permissive and promiscuous culture portrayed
by satellite television as a significant contributing factor to
problems in the areas of sex, violence and drugs. One forceful reminder
of that view came from an Associated Press story in late 1994. The
story said that "hundreds of people sick of violence and sex
on television shows have hurled their television sets out of the
window" in two large apartment buildings in Bombay (AP, Dec.
26, 1994) This action came amid rising criticism that Western soaps
and game shows, and Indian song-dance sequences which are increasingly
using the Western sex-and-violence formula for commercial success,
are overtly violent or risque.
The state government in Maharashtra,
with Bombay as its capital, announced in June 1998 that it had asked
the culture minister to police sexually suggestive lyrics in movies
and music video programs. Even the federal government announced
that it will have to devise a multi-pronged approach to meet the
challenge of "cultural invasion thrown up by transnational
electronic media which have invaded Indian homes" (The Hindu,
March 14, 1999). Fortunately for free flow of information advocates,
the government was not speaking of restriction of such a flow. Instead,
it advocated creating an awareness on the part of producers, programmers,
parents and people to fight the challenge by becoming responsible
producers and discriminating consumers of media (Ibid.).
But social scientists also point
to other contributing factors to problems in regards to sex, violence
and drugs that are commonly associated with media influences. It
is virtually impossible to conclusively study the effects of satellite
television separate from other influential variables such as parental
role in child rearing, unemployment, widening income gap between
the rich and the poor linked to economic globalization, peer pressure
At the same time, the positive effects
of satellite television cannot be ruled out. There are indications
from the new awareness and motivations acquired by young people
in India that such television, indeed the information revolution
at large, is instrumental in contributing to, and possibly hastening,
the modernization process of people in democratic societies. And
who could have imagined before satellite television that a Hong-Kong
based television service would help in addressing India's national
language problem someday? In retrospect, one can see why a "neutral"
foreign channel would have a better chance to accomplish that inadvertently
than the state-run television network based in the north of India.
There is little doubt, therefore, that there is more to international
satellite television than just "cultural imperialism."
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R. Rampal. Ph. D.
Professor of mass communication
at Central Missouri State University in
Warrensburg. His research on development communication, political
communication, press regulation, media ethics, international broadcasting
and international press has appeared in a variety of books and journals.