Saturday, March 3, 2012

Little beauties

"Kochusundarimar"a short film on little flowers that we see around us, for children.

The film won ' A ' Grade at the Kerala State Children's Educational Film Festival 2010, held at Tirur, Malappuram from Nov 14-16.

Producer : Hibiscus Digital Media Pvt.Ltd.
Script, Direction: KS Manu

Friday, April 1, 2011

 The imminent war against Iraq has become significant in a couple of respects, particularly for the media. Firstly it has turned out to be an opportunity for competing news organizations to show their prowess as advances in digital and communications technology have created a more level playing field for all media players, and secondly it would mark the emergence of the Internet as the principal disseminator of war stories around the globe, unlike the first Gulf War of 1991. What will make the online affair so significant is the watershed of information that is likely to go through the Internet at the time of the war, particularly in the form of ‘newsblogs’.
The first Gulf War has seen the rise of the satellite television, particularly as a medium of political propaganda with the ascent of the CNN and it took almost a decade for an alternate voice like Al-Jazeera to come up. CNN’s live coverage of the war had a tremendous impact on viewers around the world, who did not know that most of it was a stage-managed affair, shot in the CNN studios at Atlanta. It was totally a partisan version of the war that helped create a pro-American sentiment, and news stations the world over were compelled to replay the CNN clippings because there was no other alternative source available. Running a television network is enormously expensive business, but not so that of an internet portal. The internet has rendered news and its distribution more democratic, as anyone with access to the Net, can publish news.
News and commentary sites' known as Blogs, offer this possibility for every netizen. Blogs-short for Web logs-are selective collections of links to news items, often, accompanied by the compiler's commentary. Since a blog can be created by any­one with an Internet connection, read­ers should take some of the matter with more than a pinch of salt. But the fact remains that it helps in bringing forth diverse accounts and opinions. The average blogger's role is in filing 'sec­ond-day' stories than first-hand live information. Most blog creators have ideological leanings, and it is upto the user to discern them. One such blog is the widely-read
Thus the war on Iraq will be car­ried more on the Web than on televi­sion screens unlike in the 1991 war. The Internet as it is now known didn't exist in 1991; today, billions of homes and businesses have access to the web. The fact that the Internet can provide more detailed coverage than traditional media because it can carry complete documents, and video on demand, among other things, has firmly placed it on the top rung of the media ladder, above satellite television. The post-9/11 coverage was the real road test for this new media vehicle, and it helped to establish the Internet as a primary news medium.
 Today along with hundreds of news blogs, all the global media contenders are in the race for covering the impending battle. The greater integration of websites with their corresponding broadcast and print entities, has enabled them to be on a high war­-alert, with each happening hitting the website even as it happens. Leading newspapers, wire services such as As­sociated Press and Reuters, and ma­jor US broadcast networks such as Fox News, MSNBC and CNN, are to lead the coverage. A recent article in Online Journalism Review tells us about the preparations made by an MSNSC correspondent. He functions as a one-man band, delivering a vari­ety of video reports, live commentary and conventional text stories, with a videophone, which is a 264k satellite phone and a box which channels the lines together into a 128k connection that's enough to give a decent video signal. This is the way most of the pre­mium news sites go about their busi­ness. An array of such reports can be found at special pages of these sites,, and dedicated sec­tions of the CNN and the BBC. The Web is also replete with well-main­tained alternative voices like, Middle East Report (,, , and which offer excellent material and links to the Iraq crisis

Telecom Tangle

 The telecom scenario has precipitated a shameful situation characterized by an inefficient regulatory mechanism, dubious political interferences and immature policy decisions, which culminated in the exit of its high profile Minister. Everyday we get to hear about a new fight between the Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRAI) and the main players – either on a new tariff plan, a service provision or a violation of the accepted norms. What forms the basis of all these is the lack of a sensible telecom strategy or policy.
Telecommunications to put it mildly, plays a pivotal role in the development of the country. At the same time in the context of the new market practices governed by liberalization and  globalization, it isa business opportunity apart from a social need and national priority. It is here that the role of the government as regulator comes in. As a regulator, the question is whether to intervene in the market to act as a catalyst or to underline the social necessity and the national priority in a vital area like telecommunications. As far as market is concerned, a mature market is itself a regulator, thus the government becomes only a facilitator to achieve it. On the other hand the government, is the watchdog of the rights of the common man, and has to see it that the fruits of technology drip down to the grass roots. But the present scenario shows that the government has failed in all the above terms. As a facilitator, it has failed to define the technological parameters, leading to a murky row between CDMA and GSM services, and as a regulator, it has equally failed to create a level playing field for similar services.
The TRAI has not been able to clarify whether the CDMA and GSM services are cellular services, instead it has put the CDMA in the ‘wireless in local loop’(WiLL) category, and the stands confused when the principal CDMA player Reliance announced ‘roaming services’ across the country. If the mobility attached to the new wireless technology mooted by Reliance and Tata goes beyong 10km, and if the transmission is going to be at 2GHz and above, it is purely cellular albeit in WiLL’s apparel. For, this is similar to the multi-channel multi-point distribution service (MMDS) and the local multi-point distribution services (LMDS) now being deployed in many Western countries. In the US they operate in 2 GHz and 28 GHz frequency bands for covering distances over 50 km and 5 km respectively, from a central transmission point. In many European countries and also in the US, MMDS, and LMDS spectrum are provided only after bidding process.
Here, a avery interesting question asked is why are regulatory bodies prescribing different standards for different categories, if all these services work on a common platform of convergence? If convergence and information technology is meant to bring voice, data and image on a common platform, why restrict these to a particular category. The WiLL providers are not allowed to give ‘plus services and roaming’, while they are exempted from the spectrum fee and biding for the same. Similarly cellular operators have to go through competitive bidding and pay the ‘spectrum’ fee with low returns as interconnection charges from WiLL and fixed line provides.
Recently, Reliance made a counter move to scuttle the interconnection agreements by mooting a “Zero Access Charge” initiative based on bill-and –keep formula in which there is no settlement of access charges between two operators (cellular, fixed-line or WiLL mobile in any combination) at the month end. Such two network generate the same traffic at the volumes ensuring uniform utilization thus dispensing the need for any access charges settlement. This will definitely create a fresh row between the cellular and mobile service providers and the WiLL operators, as the huge traffic imbalances between the WiLL mobile and cellular networks will result in huge loss of access revenue for the cellular industry. How will the TRAI overcome this move?
A recent report says that Reliance Infocom has logged in 2.2 million subscribers for its limited mobility services in just one month since bookings commenced across the country, even as mobile subscriptions fell drastically in the month of January. If the trend continues at the present rate, the company could well manage to lap up five million customers by the end of this fiscal, as against the estimated 11.16 million cellular subscribers in the country, which would give them a good bargaining power. Similarly alarm bells are ringing at BSNL, which is facing a strange predicament. According to official sources, around 25 lakh telephones have been surrendered over the past one year, and the total number of new connections provided by BSNL has gone down by around 20 percent this year.
These are some of the bitter realities that competition has ushered in the telecommunications arena. Thus these giants leaps in service and technology have to be complemented with similar leaps in policy abd regulation making. To sort out these complexities, stability, consistency, fairness and maintenance of a level playing field are necessary. But that is what the government lacks.
The proof: the Convergence Bill is still gathering dust.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Laden head, Bush body

 Digital technology has revolu­tionised virtually all faculties of human interac­tion. It has also come as a blessing to the print media, which, without the digital rev­olution, would not have been able to neutralise television's advantage of speed. Digital photography, satellite phones, PDAs, and the Photoshop software have changed the ways of journal­ism, and have stretched the limit of artificial intelligence, human imagination and cre­ativity. This has obviously precipitated new experiences such as newscast by a virtual newsreader, Ananova, and the innovative multimedia messaging service capable of sending pictures through mobile phones.
But the digital revolution's tryst with photography, while opening up novel ways of seeing and believing, has raised ethical questions as well. Brushing up and manipulation of images through programmes like Adobe Photoshop, have become all too common in photo-journalism. Digital manipulation or digitisation involves effecting changes in images using the computer. It has become a 'creative' affair, almost similar to dig­ital art, as the new medium has proven to be more expressive than collages and powerful than pho­tomontage. (Photomontage is the simultaneous presentation of a num­ber of images in the form of a com­plete picture, either by cutting and pasting, in the camera itself, or on the enlarger. Images would overlap each other, merge into one another or occur "in separate conjunction.) Thus the “lasso”, the "magic wand” and the "marquee" tools of Photoshop, have replaced the blade used in earlier times to make new photomontages. Photoshop also renders ideas through images giving the artists immense possibilities to experiment and explore.
All the magazines, particularly the newsy ones, have now turned to digitized covers. The latest issue of a Malayalam weekly, Kerala Sabdam, shows a digitized image depicting police atrocities in Kerala. Other major Malayalam newsmags such as Kalakaumudi and Samskarika Keralam also have resorted to digitized covers inorder to caricature political dramas. But the pertinent question here is about the extent and admissibility of digital manipulation and the ethical aspects involved. Time magazine’scover picture of OJ Simpson and a National Geographic cover showing two pyramids squeezed into a camera frame were examples of digitised images, which triggered moral and ethical questions and cast doubts on authenticity. Most of the western newspapers and magazines digitize cover pictures to deal with whom they see as villains. The American magazine’s depiction of Osama bin-Laden after the September 11 attack serves as a good example in this regard.
But manipulation of photographs for political reasons is not a discovery of the digital times. During Stalin’s regime there was a common practice of brushing people out of the photographs when they became dissidents. So when somebody fell out of favour with Stalin, suddenly they would disappear from photographs of the Communist Party leadership, only to reappear after their relations with Stalin were mended.
An analysis shows that most of the Malayalam magazines are better at the digital game than their English counterparts. The ‘Malayalam pictures’ mostly deal with political humour-they could be collages, politically significant photomontages, or pure digital art, which do not make any moral or ethical transgressions. In this regard the Madhyamam weekly definitely deserves praise for the creative use of the technique.
But the cardinal principle is that while digitization has got a creative flair to it, and is a handy mechanism in describing, documenting and corroborating historical events, it should not mar or erode the credibility of the photograph, or the profession of photojournalism itself. What we want now are clear guidelines in this respect which most of the western nations already have.

The Info War

 Alwin and Heidi Tomer, begin their classic work, War and Antiwar, with the horrific pic­ture of a Bosnian child whose face has been half ripped away by explosives and its mother staring at what is left. Exactly a decade after the book was published, we again see a similar pic­ture but from Iraq proving the theory of the Tomers that the book is a prel­ude to the wars and anti wars to come. But the difference in the two pictures is that if the Bosnian child's was caught by the CNN, the dying child in Iraq was shown to the world by Al­-Jazeera, and if the former picture was about war, the latter is about the anti­war that is being waged.
That is exactly what the Tomers did not foresee, for they thought that even anti- war efforts are domain of the war mongers. The Tomers could not have imagined a powerful alternative channel like the AI-Jazeera to fight for the cause of the "second wave nations" against the might of the "third wave superpowers" to put it in their own terms. They believed that media ac­tivity in the future would be the ex­clusive sphere of the big conglomer­ates, and if any competition arises for CNN, it would be from other players from the industrialised info-rich na­tions of the "third wave" stable. (Alwin Toffler's "third wave" is char­acterised by knowledge and brain­based economies.)
Toffler talk about a new world order threatened with wars and anti-wars, and where "knowledge has become the central resource of destructivity just as it is the central resource of productivity". Information is central for "third wave" warfare, and hence, an equally competent anti-war force characterised by dissemination of counter-information, is necessary and vital.
In this context of anti-war, the ef­forts of AI-Jazeera and a host of dedi­cated websites and newsblogs, de­serve unreserved appreciation. Unlike the first Gulf War of 1991, the ongo­ing battle has given rise to an equal volume of media coverage of both pro-­war and anti-war activities. The prin­cipal voice of the warmongers has been the AP, Reuters, CNN and BBC," who carry nothing but pro-war propa­ganda. The BBC and CNN reports are stuffed with Coalition Forces' press briefings that show military generals defending their actions, and saying how their "humanitarian" laser-guided smart bombs have avoided great human casualties by selective target­ing. As proof, they show clippings from the weapon video systems of demolished targets and satellite pic­tures of the target before and after detonation. Never before have military generals shown pictures of war from such angles to substantiate their argu­ments. Toffler too refer to this, saying that these video images of tar­gets and hits, amplify the real situa­tion. Even pilots engaged in actual combat sometimes reset their cockpit video displays, to make themselves look better on CNN. The likes of these video images are part of the Toffierian "third wave" information warfare. In this warfare, it is even easy to simu­late entire battles that never took place or summit meetings, showing the en­emy rejecting a peaceful negotiation.
The info war does not end there. Take the Reuters report of March 25: "For Iraqis war is better than hunger". The report goes on to say that plenty of people in southern Iraq are trying to "surrender" as a means of getting food and water; it ends by saying that the PoWs are being treated fairly and humanely with "good halal food"­ - the punch-line. Yet another Reuters reportage expresses immense doubt about the Saddam Hussein images shown on Al-Jazeera, and tries to ex­plain that there is no concrete proof as to whether he is dead or otherwise. Interestingly, the report ends with a quote from an Iraqi doctor and mor­phologist that the "real Saddam died because he had cancer of the lymph nodes and since his death in 1999 they're just showing his doubles". Another instance is an AP picture of a British military doctor "saving" the life of a four-day-old child, thereby highlighting the humane face of the war mongers. Or was it to neutralise the Al-Jazeera picture of the dead Iraqi child? Such is the dreadful nature of this information war.
As Toffler says, the "third wave media is characterised by such tacti­cal approaches to information, creat­ing a sense of unreality over real events. The jamming of the AI-Jazeera websites and the attacks on its televi­sion stations, are also part of the "knowledge strategies" to aid destruc­tion.
The US might win the war, but for sure, they would not stop there. Any country with great natural resources would be the target of American ex­pansionism. What the Thirld World needs is a more mature anti-war strat­egy, more effective use of knowledge resources and the creation of a new "information ecology"

When Ads lie...

 Kerala has been a land of paradoxes. From zero infant mortality to surging suicides and co-operative enterprises, to global investors’ meet, or from secular festivals to political carnages, paradoxes have proved to be part and parcel of this land. The newest paradox you find here is the media itself. For example, the Marxists here have travelled a long distance from the underground litho press to a digital television channel. The Marxists can reason it out as an initiative to give real meaning to "mass" in "mass media", and as part of a new strategy "to socialise the means of production", at a time when "revolution" has become obsolete and a word of the past century. This leads to some basic questions beginning from the 5Ws of news­ writing to broader issues like ethics and social responsibility. In Marxist theory, the mode of production and the social relations that express it, are mutually embedded-that is, one brings about the other. How can a new economic equation characterised by a shift from the tiny contributions of the proletarian class, to a rolling capital contributed by multinational advertisers, serve the causes of the working class?The Malayala Manorama daily gives you the right answer but in a different way. Recently the newspaper has been advertising itself in major business dailies and magazines. The campaign that appeared in the Economic Times speaks of a different Manorama, which is all set to change the world. The baseline of the campaign says, ”you needn’t read us to understand us”. One of the advertisements portray an aged man from the under privileged Pulaya community. The ads speak about the historical wonders that the newspaper has carried out to elevate the Pulaya community to literacy. Another ad highlights the story of Reena and Meena, two orphans brought up in Germany, who came to Kerala to trace their parents. Another is that of Anitha, a nine-year old girl, who was able to build a home with the help offered by Manorama’s readers. The newspaper seems to have discovered that the cause of the depressed, oppressed and the minorities can be a wonderful marketing mix, while also giving the paper a noble veneer even if the actual content of it does not at all disturb the elite social order. Manorama's campaigns cannot be ignored as mere advertisements. It is a deliberate attempt at misleading the minorities about the sources that voice their concerns and is also a calculated step in writing a new history of journalism whereby alternative voices are devoured not only of their skeletons and fossils, but also of their commitments and responsibilities. It is here that we find the greatest paradox; when the principal voice of the mainstream media climbs down to the poor and the oppressed to market themselves, the alternative proletarian voice climbs up to the elite. Naturally, one question arises: who is more responsible and reliable? The recent advertisement of The Times of India gives the game  away: "As a newspaper we usually record history, Sometimes, we go ahead and create it." Yes, that's what many of the media outfits are doing - writing their own histories.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Televised Politics

 Indian politics underwent a sea change after the Ramayana serial. .

What colour does television have? It has been a point of argument amongst media and cultural, all of them contributing elaborate versions about television s social and cul­tural character. But its growth and consolidation over the later decades of the past century has indubitably proved that television's colour is predominantly political. It profoundly changed the context of politics as it helped in building images that cut across literate and illiterate masses to work as a political cata­lyst. Thus television became a weapon of the modem-day hegemonies. The rise of CNN and the birth of Al-Jazeera at the international level to the role of Jam TV, Sun Network, Jaya TV and lately the Kairali channel at the local level, all point. to how the new media has evolved as a modem-day combat equip­ment for precision bombing in political warfare.
In our country, the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign signalled a new phase of politics wherein a different relationship was es­tablished between the communication network and the public. Thus the Hindutva campaigners took with them the television as the main crowd puller. One of its spokesmen, Pramod Mahajan defends this without shying away from words such as "sell". "We must realise there has been a major revolution m communication. If we maintain that a good ad campaign can't sell a bad product, conversely people will never purchase a good product if they don't know about it."
The stage was set back in 1987 with the telecast of the Ramayan serial. This was of course a violation of the Nehruvian principle which wanted government institutions (read Doordarshan) to be secular and non-partisan. The weekly broad­cast thus inaugurated a new era not only in television but in politics as well, with the popularity of this serial allowing the ambivalent status of religion to be exploited, thereby sanction­ing Hindu nationalist activities to be conducted in the public sphere. This opportunity was seized by the Bharatiya Janata Party-hardly a significant electoral force when the serial be­gan in January 1987-in establishing itself as a major national party.
The mythological serials were actually successors to pro­-developmental soap operas which started with Hum Log aired in 1984-85. The official proposition of the Ramayan' serial stated that "Ramayan is not only a great epic of Himalayan dimensions, it is also a repository of our human and moral val­ues. The real challenge lies in seeing this immortal epic with the eyes of a modern man and relating its message to the spiritual and emotional needs of our age.  It stressed the importance of the epic's contemporary relevance to the human condition.
This was a contradictory phrase that could underwrite a projection of the present as a timeless condition as well as filter the epic's account of the past according to present-day convenience. With the advent of this mythological serial, a glorified image of national identity emerged in saffron colours, shared beyond and above latter-day di­visions. Thus was a Hindutva herit­age prepared for the modern age. While the Congress failed to capital­ise on this serial's vote-making capac­ity, the BJP cashed in big time.
The secular Nehruvian demand to exclude religion from programming assumed of course the possibility of separating and compartmentalising it from the rest of existing art and cul­ture. Probably, this helped in consoli­dating the communalists' stance. The Ramayan viewership hit the zenith every' week-it jumped from 40 million to 80 million in a few months' time. Rama's story now was firmly entrenched in the public domain. The result was that Hindu myths and ritu­als began to be declared as legitimately belonging to the public arena, invit­ing the participation of one and all in their commemoration and re-enact­ment. On another level, a relationship was established between the televised image of Rama and the religious con­cept of darshan (to see the God). Thus, among other things, the serial was a congregational experience as people acknowledged the importance of watching it even if they could not see the show.
Above all, the viewers could un­derstand the Ramayana as offering a way of talking not just about faith and the epic past, but also about the kind of leadership a society required and , the mode of public engagement appro­priate for its members. This was com­plemented by a clever strategy to sell Hindutva in retail outlets in the form of a range of consumer objects such as the bottled waters of Ganga to wrist­bands and audio cassettes. The Hindutva forces could not have asked for anything more to sow the seeds of their hegemony. That's how politics was reshaped after television in India.