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Chitra Subramaniam| The News Minute| March 23, 2015| 5.20 pm IST Follow @chitrasd Lost in the din of the cheating show in Bihar, Solar Impulse 2 stuck in Ahmadabad over customs clearance and the tragic death of DK Ravi in Karnataka was a news item last week that deserves serious attention. According to reports from New Delhi, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry (I&B) is looking at a Chinese model of teaching communications to produce world class media professionals, including broadcasters in India. The Communication University of China, which is an arm of the state, is reportedly the choice of Indian bureaucrats and experts who have been tasked with ensuring that this project takes off. “The architecture and approach of the university will be decided in the next few days. We would want it to be a consultative approach,” Bimal Julka, secretary of (I&B) ministry told the Economic Times. The newspaper also quoted other ministry officials as saying “media institutes in the west are basically schools of journalism. We wanted an overarching university and the Beijing model appealed the most to us.” We at The News Minute (TNM) are generally an enthusiastic lot but this one has left us stumped – a Chinese model? Sunit Tandon who heads the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIIMC)* and is closely involved with the process said too much importance was given to discussions over the Chinese model which is one among many under discussion. “These are very early days and we are going to engage with all stake-holders to make this process truly transparent and representative. Arun Jaitley will launch the consultations by April this year,” he said adding that media reports were premature.  The IIMC is an organ of the I&B ministry. The process will involve some 80 people from all concerned organs of the government, academia, intellectuals, important journalists and interested parties. Our question is something more basic – what is the need for such a university when there is no dearth of similar institutions in the country? Does this not feed into the Congress journalism versus BJP journalism drama that saw one university come up in Jaipur (Rajasthan) under the Congress government only to be shut down by the BJP? A new institution has come up in Raipur (Chattisgarh) under the new BJP government.  Many of these centres have fewer than 100 students and one has three staff members. Is this comedy going to play out on a national level at the cost of Rs 200 crore to the exchequer, the amount that has been set aside for the new university? Would this money not be better spent if it was used to strengthen existing government run media-communications in the country? The media industry in the country is not in the doldrums because of lack of talent or commitment but because political interference and money has vitiated news rooms and news gathering beyond recognition. There are many reasons for this but the principle one is the corporatisation of the media sector with the bottom-line becoming the headline to such an extent that systematic and systemic corruption (including financial corruption) continues to thrive and grow. Ownership trends in media controlling patterns point to oligopolies. Political interference is why good stories are spiked in newsrooms. Lack of solidarity among journalists defending the métier is another. The Delhi elections where media houses failed to predict the AAP win recently shows that nothing, absolutely nothing can replace ground intelligence, legwork and privileged sources. The proposed university is planned along the lines of IITs and IIMs so that quality journalism can emerge. This plan suggests that not only will stories be planted and killed but students will not be able to tell the difference between a plant and a story. The ministry is also addressing the problem from the wrong end. Journalism standards have fallen because journalism graduates do not find quality jobs and most of them end up joining companies as public relations or marketing staff. It is a fact that many journalism schools in the country are left leaning and students study Häbermas before they get to edit a copy. I ran a one-day workshop in one of India’s prestigious colleges here third year students of journalism had not consulted a style book but quoted Chomsky with ease. The solution is neither the Chinese model nor American one (the latter is supposed to have sparked the need for this university) but one that reclaims India’s robust journalistic compass. Television, radio and other media skills can be learnt at the country’s many institutes including at the IIMC and its five centres and the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). Journalism is a conversation with society and about society. It is not a dictation. Trying to harness or channel that freedom is as dangerous as it is ridiculous. What Indian journalism needs is set of fearless navigators, not a new university that will sink the ship further. What is being promoted as the new government’s dream project could well turn into a nightmare for journalism. *The author is an IIMC (Delhi) alumni. Tweet Follow @thenewsminute 
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