Sustainable Green Communication: Indian context

Dr. Mahendra Kumar Padhy*

Abstract

Frequent climate change due to biodiversity depletion is real and impacting our lives to a greater extent than ever before. The scars it leaves on society might not be visible yet, but sooner or later the impact will manifest itself in several ways. It is at this juncture that proactive leadership is of greater importance to avert the looming dangers caused by rainfall and temperature variability and also climate change. There is need for more awareness to educate the populations on the impacts of climate on their livelihood. India is likely to suffer the worst impacts of climate change, with rises in sea levels, droughts, flooding, and depletion of the tourism industry. The country’s dependency on climate-based activities such as agriculture and tourism complicates its capacity to adapt and be ready for any mitigation project. This is also compounded by the fact that the nation is poverty stricken, has weak budgetary funds and also weak policies and institutions to effectively deal with climate change impacts.

This paper seeks to examine the factors that make lack of awareness a cause of concern in India. Green communication as an information discourse is faced with multiple challenges in its efforts to disseminate messages that can bring forth social changes and make people appreciate and acknowledge the imminent problems posed by climate change in their societies. The role of the media as agents of social change is the cornerstone of this paper. The media as culture industries have the power to change socio-cultural and political cognition’s and re-direct people’s choices and attitudes. This paper argues that India is at the receiving end of worst climatic changes and also at the same time the least aware of the term and its repercussions. This article carefully examines factors that stand in the way of green communication. A handful of elite in towns have access to the internet and have the technical know-how. This has also seen further divisions along the digital divide. More so, the media practitioners are not trained to report on climate change issues, they hardly know anything about the subject, making sustainable green communication nothing more than a dream for India.

Introduction

Sustainable green communication is the vehicle through which information on the presence, impacts, adaptation and mitigation of climate change can be disseminated efficiently. Green communication is a new media genre that is directed towards climate change awareness, with the main agenda being to make communities conscious of the harm caused by climate change and educate them on how they can adapt and mitigate the negative impacts of climate change. This in a broader sense helps to sustain the present and future generations against the traumatizing dangers from the change in climate. Green communication will give people more power to control nature and lead in the transition from controlled change to changed control. Shifting the role of the media from its orthodox roles in society involves a lot of work from the side of scholars and policy makers. There is need for a complete paradigm shift from the way climate change issues are reported and interpreted in the media that is if, they are given the green light to be reported about. It is even more difficult in India to mainstream the green communication genre itself among media practitioners before moving to mainstreaming climate change. India in its totality is the least prepared to embark on an environmental evangelism and preach the climate change discourse, but at the same time it is the worst affected by the climatic hazards. It is critical and important for us to realize the role of the media in making the climate change discourse alive. The majority of people in rural India are increasingly ignorant citizens who are not familiar with the climate change story, yet it is a relevant and current subject. There is greater need for Asian countries to look at challenges in the way of green communication and design strategic policies to overcome it. This must be done to consolidate the economic, political and social harmony brought about by a green society. Time has come for the nation to identify the critical role of information, information not only in terms of the print media, but also other communication mediums such as broadcasting and the internet, and also the emerging usefulness of narrow-casting in shaping development agendas in the world, for example the use of the telephone network to send development messages to diversified subscribers. These mediums must be made accessible to the people who are at the heart of missing the climate change story. The paper’s point of departure is that the media are central to climate change awareness as primary sources of public information and also as agents of representation and social change. The news media function specifically as an authoritative version of reality that specializes in orchestrating everyday consciousness for the public. Green communication as discourse practice requires an informed citizenry that is capable of interpreting climatic and weather patterns that will enable them to take informed decisions with regards to their environmental actions as individuals, groups and greater communities. The media is regarded as the most effective means for regularizing the green revolution in society. The accessibility, immediacy and intrusiveness associated with the media is critical to the effective mainstreaming of the climate change story.

Conceptual Framework

The United Nations Convention on Climate Change defines climate change as a change in climate that is attributable directly or indirectly to human activity that alters atmospheric composition. However it can be noted that climate has always varied naturally, but the changes that have been noted in the last century have outpaced the natural variations, which occur over larger time scales. Scholars and scientists within the climate change spectrum concur that the recent manifestations of global warming indicate something exterior and unnatural, something driving the climate change gear beyond the normal speed limit. The amount of green house gasses in the atmosphere is beyond the capacity of the available sinks. This has and is worsening the ozone depletion thereby exposing the earth to ultra-violet heat waves that are anti-plant, animal and human existence. Climate change will have disastrous outcomes for India. The change will result in the transformation of the current patterns of agriculture, relegating some districts to semi-arid regions and semi-deserts. This is likely to force population pressures into the productive areas causing socio-economic strife and even civil and trans-border conflicts. This will also increase human poverty and starvation. It is anticipated that climate change will cause water stress. Crop and animal production are also projected to suffer from the changing climate impacts as areas suitable for agriculture will diminish. The length of the growing season and yield potential especially along the margins along the semi-arid and arid areas are expected to decrease .This exposes the lives of people and humans to disaster due to recurrent droughts. Droughts will adversely affect the continent’s food security and exacerbate malnutrition.

Availability of Communication Infrastructure

Communicative action requires that the communicator reach a certain audience in order to make the whole communicative process a success. Reaching the target audience is predetermined by the availability of the means of communication that best suit the essence of that communication. This may include broadcasting signals, satellite signal transmission infrastructure, cable transmitters, and fiber optic networks. India’s communication infrastructure is a concern in achieving positive climate change and mainstreaming goals. As a developing country, India is still lagging behind techno-wise. Communication networks are located in urban areas where only about 17 per cent of the total population stay in these area.

The state of Broadcasting in India

In broadcasting, the television signals are only accessible within certain limit, marginalizing most rural areas. This is not withstanding the fact that broadcasting has proved in other parts of the world to be useful as a channel for mainstreaming climate change. In India, on an average the television signals are only accessible to 60 per cent of the population. This has seen the further widening of the digital divide. In such circumstances, it is only logical to merely dream of green communication because the broadcasting infrastructure necessary to facilitate and convey green messages is hardly available to larger populations. The rural populations are more occupied with issues to do with hunger and poverty alleviation and hence put less priority on leisure and entertainment products. This further complicates green communication initiatives. At the end of the day, very few people have access to the media, which means even if the information on climate change is made available it reaches very few people and makes no major impact. The lack of broadcasting infrastructure is a major barrier to productive communication in India. Almost 75% of the population lives in rural areas. In such areas electricity, telephone lines and fiber optic networks are rarely known or heard of. The issue of electricity unavailability makes it impossible for even those with the money to purchase television or radio sets. The only communities with electricity and telephone lines are those at growth points and business centers who constitute a meager percentage of the rural populations. To further complicate the situation, the most predominant languages used throughout the satellite channels are English and Hindi. Given the literacy rate that stands at 65 per cent in India, it makes sense to conclude that only a little over half the population can grasp the messages because of the language barriers.

New Information and Communication Technologies in India

The concept of an information society and information superhighway is still far from realization in all parts of India. The problem starts with the lack of implementation of policies on information technologies on the part of governments. Even though there is a lot of information about climate change on the internet, very few elites in cities and towns have access to it. To worsen the situation further, very few people even in average-size towns are computer literate. Some scholars posit that the computer literacy rate is not encouraging.  It is within this context that India needs to discover the urgency of mainstreaming climate change looking at the hazards which are being promised by the changing climate. It will be fatal for the continent to overlook the urgency of the moment and engage in the luxury of cooling off. The emergence of the internet and other information and communication technologies gave rise to media convergence; electronic systems have been connected to text, sound and picture. Communications have been made faster, firmer and deeper. Friendships, network associations are being established and experienced over the internet, which, of course, several people can access making public relationships that were formerly private. The new information and communication technologies have also connected audio, video and electronic texts into one network. The advent of the N.I.C.Ts reduced people’s dependency on the mainstream media such as traditional newspaper, television and radio. The internet in essence can be said to have introduced an alternative public sphere where groups and individuals in the “global village” can share information on issues that impact their daily lives and also climate and environmental information. As such climate change topics have been introduced online through the creation of climate change websites, networks and blogs. The subject is also topical on social associations such as Facebook and Twitter. This shift from mainstream to alternative media platforms have serious implications in regard to climate change mainstreaming in the developing India. The concept of the “Global Village” is yet to gain technological relevance in the Indian context. The technological proliferation has widened the digital divide gap between the Developed and Developing countries. Noting that the current global mode of production is greatly informed by “knowledge”, the society is now “knowledge-driven”, “information-driven”, and “discourse-driven”, all these developments taking shape on the penetrative and interactive internet. India in particular and the other developing countries in general have been left out of social development. Scholars note that scientific ignorance is an embedded and expectable feature in the knowledge society. While the idea of the “information society” has become a master metaphor of our time (Martin, 1995), there is an underside of this transformation in India that requires examination. That there has been rapid proliferation of scientific and technical knowledge, as well as other forms of data and information, is incontestable. But this information explosion and the associated revolutions in technology imply and in fact necessitate the social distribution of ignorance. With the rapid resurgence of citizen journalism claiming its toll in the information age, it was hoped that information will be made available faster and without accessibility constraints with regards to laws and regulations, but it’s still much of an abstract than an actuality. It must also be noted that the advent of the information technologies has implications for green communication in India. The inadequacy of basic telecommunications infrastructure and electricity reliability is hindering the rapid expansion of new information technologies, especially computer technology in the developing countries. The individual access to interactive technologies is unevenly distributed, where there are discrepancies between the North and the South, the rural and the urban, the elite and the working class, and the rich and the poor. There is an argument that in fact, communication technologies have widened the information gap between those who were or are already socially privileged and economically sound and those who were or are not. This imbalance is scalar in the sense that it is at global, regional, national and at local levels.

The Politics of Green Communication

Green communication stands vulnerable to political definitions. It is unfortunate that the concept of green communication is being introduced in the midst of a complete ideological dilemma. The climate change discourse has seemingly been a preoccupation of the global media. Very little has been done by the national media and nation-states at their own scalar levels to address the climate change problem. The images transmitted by these media are typically married to the stereotyped portrayals that the developing countries have always been subjected to. Opinion leaders in India have developed a negative perception with regards to the way they interpret and internalize international news. The green texts from the international news media have tended to signal ideological standpoints of the originator and disqualified other oppositional beliefs. This paper notes that green communication has immensely emerged as an alternative global sphere where the supra-impositions of ideological superiority have acquired a sharp presence. There is now a green global clash between the architects of the current global order and the anti-system protagonists. The relationship between transnational media and their multinational industrial corporations in India is also a cause for concern. The media have tended to keep a blind eye on the environmental damage caused by these giant corporations as this would compromise their operations in India. Instead, the media have portrayed the activities of these corporations as eco-friendly. This has effectively worked in regularizing their stay in business.

Economic Advancement and Environmental Conservation

It is important to note that the rhetoric of enlightenment and industrialization have also made climate change communication a difficult task. The developing countries are more concerned with development of their communities and much of this development is more centered on those activities that are anti-environment. The proliferation of industries in India complicates the whole situation. More green-house gas emissions are being emitted by these industries that are hugely manufacturing, agriculture and mining in nature. This has been further compounded by the use of outdated manufacturing and farming methods that worsen environmental destruction. The proliferation of industries also meant the clearing of more forests to accommodate these developments which in the long run destroyed the ecosystems and is slowly but surely leading to desertification. So the drive to development should also be seen from the same lens as a factor impeding the green communication initiatives as people are preoccupied with economic progress at the expense of environmental concerns. Some industrial corporations’ images are compromised because of the effects they have on the environment when exploiting natural resources, energy sources and manufacturing. Most of these companies have become pillars of the environment. This make-up is normally well-backed up by the so-called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

Economic, Political Structure of the Media in India

The operations of the media are always over determined by their relationship with the existing mode of production and their ownership and control structures. This relationship between the system, owners and the media practitioners influence the texts to be produced and hence direct society towards the preferred angles of the owners. This is also applicable when analyzing the impact of ownership and the green revolution. There are basically two kinds of media in India, that is, public and private.

Government-owned Media

Government media institutions are those that are public owned and funded and are there to serve the interests of the public. However this notion of public media in India remains idealistic from an Indian point of view. The so-called “public-media” is in actual sense “state media” that basically serve the interests of the   government of the day. These media are generally funded by the state and are usually put under the control of the ministry or department of communications and information. The state and not the public has more power over the editorial policy of these media houses. The boards of directors are normally appointed by the minister responsible for communications. Indian governments discovered the enormous use of the media in centralizing their hegemony. They have, through the rhetoric of public media remit, sought to neutralize and pacify counter-hegemonic forces in society by bottlenecking the available media space. These strategies have worked in making citizens subjective and view their rule as legitimate and hence extend their stay in power. Through draconian media laws and regulatory mechanisms those in power have controlled what people can read, listen to or view thereby controlling public consciousness. This kind of monopoly has serious green communication implications.

Private owned Media

Private owned media are privately owned and are commercial in nature. These media are also believed to be the ones who should act more as the public watchdog, guide-dog and guard-dog. Due to their independence from the sate they are perceived to have more liberty to independently report on issues of public interest. As with the private media the situation is more or less the same with their state run counterparts. The so-called independent media in India which in this paper shall be referred to as “private media” are funded by western donor communities that disqualify them from being independent. Most private media institutions are owned and funded by Western donors and some global media institutions. These ownership structures created and established news factories which brought under their control the power to decide what the public of each nation would be allowed to know of other nations and in what shade of meaning. The private media have danced to the tune of the multinational companies and seem to preach the environmental evangelism preached by the global media that in the media are yet to appreciate that the main cause of climate change is Capitalism. They are yet to portray the capitalist historical and development contradictions of development and environmental protection. The construction and selection of news strategies deployed by the private media is intrinsic with their monetary marriage with the fathers of capitalism. This has greatly impacted the development of green communication, a fundamental unit in mainstreaming the green revolution and effective communication for sustainable development as per the modification by Serves (2006). In this scenario it is appropriate to invoke the critical political economy of the media as a useful paradigm in demystifying media green representations.

Commercialization of Media and Green Communication

Media have shunned their traditional roles of interpretation, representation and fourth estate role in society in favor of more trivialized news flavors that tend to be more sensational and entertaining. This has been made rampant by competition for audiences. This also is a product of a suspicious relationship between the media and business. Most media organizations have acquired a commercial character that ‘subjectivised’ them to the economic tenets of business especially the need for profit maximization. This made possible also the commoditization of news. News contemporary is now a commodity on which a commercial value is attached. This development re-directed the media to cover the most selling stories that will help keep them in the news market place. This also gave birth to filthy journalism or “dissident journalism” such as tabloid journalism that only focuses on the sexual, the sensational and scandal and in some instances sports. Even the traditional media have been forced into this route in order to remain economically relevant and viable. The tabloidization of the media is another contributing factor towards the cooling-off of the eco-cultural façade.

Concluding Remarks

To conclude, entertainment and lifestyles are important matters in the Indian media, while more serious information is filtered through expressions and formats that make the media lose value and impact in articulating issues that are in the public interest. More serious issues such as the changing climate are reduced to entertainment through edutainment which has become pervasive in the Indian and the general media landscape. Their critical judgments are less developed and they show less signs of reflection over what they see in their public space. The stimulating awareness is greatly diminished by sensationalistic news media contents and poorly outlined media practices. Mainstream media now employs a pattern of reality presentation similar to one that in the earlier era would have been labeled sensationalism. The media do not address the climate change problems through relevant sources of information. The commoditization of the media causes scientific consensus on the impacts of climate change to reach the public arena once it has been modified by interests groups and advertising networks. The more powerful industrial giants keep an intimate intercourse relationship with the media through their publicity investments that also keep the media in business. The media also sensationalize eco-news through invoking their traditional news value of conflict “when it bleeds it leads”. Conflict sells more than consensus. In the final analysis the excessive commercial usage of the media invalidates responsible agenda points and the right of information. Sensationalism and media cooling-off maintains a vague relationship with green communication. The opinions it feeds are indifferent, uninformed or not committed to sustainability. This lack accentuates the relevance of new communication policies and the role they must play in adjusting media towards sustainability.

Reference

  • Barker, M.J. (2007), “Global Greens and the Mass Media: Building for a Participatory Future?”, Griffith Journal of the Environment, Issue 2 Article 2, 24.09.2007.
  • Baron, Jonathan (2006), “Thinking about global warming”, Climatic Change, vol. 77, 1-2: 137-150.
  • Carpentier, n. & J. Servaes (2006), Towards a Sustainable Information Society, Bristol, Intellect Books.
  • Melkote, S.r. (2008), Communication for Development and Social Change, Nueva Deli, Sage, 2. ed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close