Shamali Gupta Bose

Shamali Gupta is the Principal of MET Institute of Mass Media, Mumbai. Earlier, she was Assistant Professor and Head, Department of Communication & Media, Ramnarain Ruia College, Mumbai. A free-lance journalist, she has over 200 feature articles (on the music and dance) to her credit for national newspapers and magazines. Shamali has hosted several shows on Doordarshan. She was awarded as best educator during the 6th Annual Women Leaders of India 2015 event held at Taj Lands’ End, Mumbai.

Mass Media and Social Change

Shamali Gupta Bose

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“To achieve self-directed change, people need to be given not only reason to alter risky habits but also the behavioural means, resources, and social supports to do so. It will require certain skills in self-motivation and self-guidance” (Bandura 1994: 25)

In the 1950s and 1960s, the wave of decolonisation in the developing world saw the need for nation-building and social, political and economic development. Mass media has an important role in contemporary democratic society as the main channel of communication. The population depends on the media as the central source of information and the basis on which they form their opinions and elective decisions. According to the cultural selection theory, any selection of messages in the mass media will thus have a profound consequence on the entire society. This saw the emergence of development communication as a strategy to use mass media to foster social change, which in turn was believed to enhance the socio-economic development of a country.

“The Passing of Traditional Society” (Daniel Lerner and Wilbur Schram) was the founding text of development communication. Their basic principle was that appropriate social change could be produced by scientifically planned and executed communication campaigns. Bandura’s Social Learning Theory maintains that humans acquire symbolic images of actions and behaviours, which they adapt and then use to inspire their own behaviour.

In India, over the years since decolonisation and the subsequent Green Revolution and economic reforms, development issues could range from the government’s decision to subsidise the price of fertilisers to its planned products, rural tourism, clean-up of major rivers, women’s welfare, child trafficking, rural employment guarantee schemes, reservation policies, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Swaccha Bharat Abhiyan etc. These issues basically call for a detailed mosaic of development information intelligently pieced together from a variety of sources that will provide an articulate opinion to both the people and the government.

The goals of development communication are:

  • – To determine the necessities of the people and give credibility to the expression of those needs. To provide the citizen sufficient access to the communication system to serve as effective feedback to the government concerning its development goals and plans.
  • – To provide horizontal and vertical communication linkages at all levels of society; communication channels through which people at all levels of society and in all regions and localities have the capability to communicate with one another to accomplish the coordination necessary for both resource re-development and human development.
  • – To provide local community support for cultural preservation. (The preservation of culture through events and entertainment on national radio or TV is not sufficient to preserve that culture which includes the activities of local people in their local communities).
  • – To raise people’s awareness of development projects and opportunities. (PIB)

Role of Films

Mainstream Hindi films have chipped in, albeit in efforts which are few and far between, to bring about changes in the mind sets of the audiences. There have been films dealing with physically disabled.

Web_2_Black Hindi Film PosterThere have also been films dealing with the dreadful realities of the caste system as it exists in India. Achhut Kanya, Sadgati, Ankur, Sujata have, all in their own ways, dealt with this problem. Khap was a socio-political drama based on the real-life honour killing case and Khap panchayats in villages of Haryana, Rajasthan and UP which order honour killings to prevent marriages within the same gotra. In Matrubhoomi, director Manish Jha scrutinises the influence of female foeticide and female infanticide on the gender equilibrium and consequently, the stability and attitudes of society.

 Koshish depicted a deaf and mute couple and their conflicts, pain and struggle to carve out a niche for themselves in a desensitised society. Black portrayed the tender relationship between a blind-deaf girl and her teacher who later develops Alzheimer’s disease. Inspired from Helen Keller’s life and struggle, the makers of this film had hoped to bring about a change in the perspective of educating the physically challenged people.

The National award winning film on Family Welfare, Taare Zameen Par focussed on young children with developmental disabilities and protagonist little Ishan’s problems indicative of dyslexia. It set the stage for remedial techniques implemented in teaching in schools and junior colleges. Guzaarish was the story of the hopes and despairs of a quadriplegic who files for euthanasia (mercy killing).

The Press

The Press in India is still pre-occupied with reporting events and proceedings, thus disregarding the processes which produced the events. This means that while the Press reported a famine, it did not interpret the long process of food scarcity that controlled the famine. While the Press would report on famine, it seldom found it worthwhile to write on the process through which the country gained self-sufficiency in food. The same is the case when reporting on population growth, AIDS, female foeticide, dowry deaths, farmers’ suicides, economic scams and other issues.

Later on, some reconsidering started among journalists on the role of the Press in development as they became increasingly conscious of the magnitude of the crisis one after another, from population to rural poverty, from continuing instability in commodity prices to spiralling inflation and widening inequalities within nations. This rethinking led to a positive role of newspapers in the development process of the country.

There is a serious need for journalists to change their priorities from sensationalism to socio-economic change, development and improvement of education. The powerful wielder of the PEN has to take up the role of a catalyst for change, of a motivator and finally of a change agent.

The news media are the most important channels for the propagation of culture, ideas and opinions. Most opinion formation takes place when people sit and watch news and debates on TV. Millions of viewers sit in their armchairs with remote controls, surfing between action films, revivalist preachers and commercials for a new fragrance, hardly realising that by choosing which cultural and political influences they expose themselves to, they also choose the cultural and political evolution of their country.


In the 1970s, the idea of using television as an instructional/development medium appealed to both administrators and development experts because of its immense potential in propagating useful ideas and practices. The satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) launched in India in the mid-1970s and broadcast instructional television programs to remote villages. However, research studies later showed that most viewers prefer television entertainment shows to educational programs.

Entertainment-education is the process of purposely designing and implementing a media message to both entertain and educate, in order to increase the audience’s knowledge about an educational issue, create favourable attitudes and change over behaviour. This strategy uses the universal appeal of entertainment to show individuals how they can live safer, healthier, and happier lives (Singhal and Rogers 1999: xii).

Singhal and Rogers (1999) point out that entertainment-education programs either directly or indirectly facilitate social change:

  1. 1. At the individual level by influencing awareness, attention, and behaviour toward a socially desirable objective; and
  2. 2. At the larger community level of the individual audience members by serving as an agenda setter, or influencing public and policy initiatives in a socially desirable direction.

The idea of a telenovela with a pro-social theme originated in Peru in 1969 with the show, Maria, which told the rags-to-riches story of a single mother who achieved financial success through her proficiency and hard work on her singer sewing machine (Singhal Rogers 1988, 1999).

Indian show, Hum Log, is the story of an Indian middle-class family in the 1980s and their daily struggles and aspirations. Balika Vadhu highlighted issues of child marriage and widow remarriage, Bidaii focussed on `fair brides in the marriage market’, and Bandhan Saat Janmon kaa took a peek at bride harassment. This is to speak of a few till the tracks took a turn. Satyamev Jayate has had a far reaching impact on the minds of viewers.Web 4_Satyamev Jayate

When Nagdarwadi’s novel solution of harnessing water was featured on Satyamev Jayate’s Water episode in 2012, little did sarpanch Hanumant Kendre imagine the impact it would have. In the last two years, over 40,000 people have visited Nagdarwadi to understand how a drought-prone village has no water shortage today. At least 100 villages have now begun replicating the Nagdarwadi model.

Women across villages have spoken about how their lives have improved now that water is available to them. Nagdarwadi and all the other villages who have solved their water problems reiterate the fact that change is indeed possible. Mumkin Hai.

Community television is picking steam and one of the earliest community video/participatory video initiatives in India dates back to 1984 when Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) launched the Video Sewa project. Since then, women members in this under-developed region of Gujarat have been producing videos that educate, inform and motivate other women into action.

In early 2000, the Deccan Development Society launched a participatory video project focusing on local, traditional, sustainable farming practices with about 10 Dalit women wielding the camera. They tied up with the local cable so that 69 more villages could watch programmes made by members of the communities. Another notable initiative has been Video Volunteers (2009) which has rapidly grown to be a formidable community video experiment across the country. Through its projects such as India Unheard, Video Volunteers seeks to train community video producers ‘to produce videos that effect positive change through social action’. The videos are distributed through the internet and several videos have been telecast by national and regional television channels. Digital Greens is yet another initiative that has been launched recently in many parts of the country. Digital Greens has community producers (farmers themselves) who share their agricultural practices and experiences with other farmers in the region. Children As Media Producers (CAMP) is an initiative of the UNESCO Chair on Community Media that seeks to build capacities of children and adolescent/youth in participatory media to tell stories of the world they see from their perspective. Videoshaala by Drishti and WAVE (Women as Video bloggers for Empowerment) are among others are making their presence felt through their experiments.


Radio is the main source of news and entertainment for most of India. All India Radio is the top tier of radio coverage as it is the public service broadcaster. Private FM Radio Stations have now become the second tier. Community Radio promises to be the third tier, closest to the people. Call it by any name – community radio, rural radio, cooperative radio, or development radio — its supporters feel that CR holds the key that will unite India’s linguistic and ethnic diversity and improve the economic disparity and the huge rural-urban divide.

Sarang 107.8 FM

Sarang 107.8 FM

India is a country which has 18 officially recognised languages and a total of 1652 mother tongues. Given the country’s diversity and expanse, the problems that tribals, under-privileged, or minority cultures face in getting their voices heard is enormous. Community Radio stations act as vehicles for community and voluntary sector, civil society, NGOs and citizens to work in partnership for strengthening democratic institutions and practices giving common people access to information to make them informed citizen and also to foster peoples’ social rights like Right to Education, Right to Information etc.

Sarang 107.8 FM, run by St Aloysius College Mangalore, stands for ‘all colours’ of Mangalore signifying various social, religious, linguistic communities and their harmonious existence – which is a requirement now after the disturbance in the context of attacks on churches (post 14 September 2008) by radical saffronists, and the later assault on women in a pub in the name of moral policing by similar groups. The local communities of farmers, fisher folk, medical/legal experts, students and workers contribute regularly to this radio. The radio also spreads messages of peace and harmony, health and hygiene, agricultural messages, fisher folk issues, road safety, water conservation, rain water harvesting, folk culture and life.

Chala Ho Gaon Mein is prepared by people belonging to rural backgrounds. The programs cover issues like dowry, violence against women, corruption, social evils etc. Needless to say, Chala Ho Gao Mein has proved to be a landmark in providing common platform to the residents of Palamu district of Jharkhand from where they can communicate their thoughts without any restriction.

Mass campaigns are usually initiated by the Government and depend on sustained and intensive government leadership at the national, sub-national and local levels. Taking a trip back into our memory lane are the films made by Films Division to promote harmony and Unity another by NAB and the third by Incredible India’s Atithi Devo Bhava campaign. All three have created an indelible mark in our psyche and brought about changes in social perception.

A number of corporate houses too, as part of their CSR campaigns, have used print and PSAs (public service announcements/ads) to create awareness.

Folk Media

Folk media consist of a variety of forms: folk theatre, puppetry, storytelling, folk songs, folk dances, ballads, mime and more. They have served as vehicles of communication and entertainment.

Wang and Dissanayake (1984b:22) define folk media as a “communication system embedded in the culture which existed before the arrival of mass media, and still setting a certain degree of continuity, despite changes.” Ranganath (1975:12) defines the traditional media as “living expressions of the lifestyle and culture of a people, evolved through the years.” These definitions reiterate the origin and nurturing of folk channels in the richness of the indigenous culture.

The traditional uses of the folk media were primarily entertainment, social communion and religious activity. However, folk forms also became vehicles for persuasive communication wherein modern messages exhorted the audience members to limit the size of their families, live in harmony with their neighbours or lead more healthy lives. Newer concepts of development such as self-help, grassroots participation, and two-way communication led to a re-examination of the advantages of traditional media as vehicles for these purposes. Clearly, folk media have several advantages: they are part of the rural social environment and, hence, credible sources of information to the people. They command the audience as live media and are ideal examples of two-way communication,  generating grassroots participation and a dialogue between the performers and the audience. Many folk media formats are flexible, thus facilitating the incorporation of development-oriented messages in their themes. There are inexhaustible alternatives for experimentation in development communication.

Mass Media can truly be the leader to bring about transformation in society!

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