Identity Crisis of a Third World Culture: A Study of the Role of Television in Bangladesh

Diwan Rashidul Hassan*

* Former Director, Public Relations and Publications,
Bangladesh Agricultural University,
Mymensing and SAARC Research Scholar,
Assam University, Silchar

Abstract

Bangladesh is a developing country in all aspects- political, economic, and socio-cultural. Even though it has a rich cultural past, its assertion is found only after its independence from Pakistan. Labelled as a third world country, Bangladesh as of now is going through an identity crisis. Being an Islamic Republic, the country is torn between orthodoxy and modernization. The onslaught of foreign television programmers has accentuated the identity crisis by exposing the huge illiterate masses to alien cultural mores. The present research is an attempt to dissect the issue of identity crisis, find out the role of Bangladesh Television, a government owned media institution, in preserving and maintaining the national culture of Bangladesh and make proper recommendations.

Introduction

The year 2014 was important in the media calendar of Bangladesh. It marked the jubilee celebrations of the electronic media – Diamond Jubilee of Radio Bangladesh and Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh Television (BTV). Meanwhile, the present government is spearheading the ‘Digital Bangladesh’ campaign, aiming to eradicate poverty, ensure development and establish people’s right. Digital Bangladesh aims at establishing rights of information, education, and livelihood for all segments of society. The vision of the present government is to achieve “Digital Bangladesh” goal by 2021 and Bangladesh Television is working for it. The government is very enthusiastic in preserving the Bangladeshi culture.

Identity is a constructed notion about an individual or a group in relations to other individuals or groups where the individuals or group is distinctly identified. It is not a static notion. It changes with respect to time, space, and nature of interaction with other individuals or groups.  What one is today or in a particular period may change after a lapse of time accompanied by social, political, economic, and cultural changes. Even a change in the location of an individual has the possibility of attaining new identity. A deliberation on culture and identity is bound to face plethora of opinions that might further complicate ongoing discourses on these concepts and related theories. Some might opine that culture connotes certain ways of life that are ideal for a particular society (Samson Kamei 2015).

Bangladesh Television is the state-owned television network in Bangladesh. It started broadcasting as Pakistan Television in the then East Pakistan on 25 December 1964.   The channel was renamed ‘Bangladesh Television’ after the country’s independence in 1971. It launched its broadcasts in full colour in 1980. It telecasts various programmes comprising drama, documentaries, musicals, education, and information, including 14 news bulletins in English and Bangla every day.

The average daily transmission time is around 17 hours terrestrial and 24 hours through satellite. BTV is going to open another channel ‘Sangsad Bangladesh’ very soon through satellite. BTV authorities rely on mixed programming system with an audience maximizing goal. The program contents are 92% local, and the rest are imported comprising of news (14.79%), education (5.03%), live programmes (11.95%), religious programmes (5.19%), health, nutrition, and family planning (4.49%) and development and social programmes (13%), history and cultural programmes (1.14%), package (7.95%), entertainment programmes (18%), special programmes (2.76%) and advertisements (4.21%) and others (11.11%).

Objectives

The main objectives of the present study are:

  1. To understand the dimensions of identity crisis in a Third World country like Bangladesh and find out the role of TV in changing the value system.
  2. To know the impact of audience preference on TV.
  3. To dissect the influence of alien programmes on the culture in a developing country.

Research Method

The study is descriptive in nature. In addition, it employs the technique of survey research for the purpose of finding out the reactions of the respondents, both common and professionals as to the effect of TV programmes on cultural values.

The researcher intends to consider education, profession, and income as independent variables to categorize the respondents for the purpose of the study. The data collected are percentage analysed.

The researcher has used the cluster sampling method and the number of respondents selected for the study is 430 from Dhaka City. The cluster sampling has three stages, and the researcher at the first stage must identify the areas for sampling. For this purpose, keeping in view the study and the profile of the Dhaka City, the localities which had the concentration of educated people were identified. The localities thus selected were: Motijheel, Lalbagh, Ramna, Dhanmandi, Mohammadpur, Tejgaon, Gulshan, Uttara and Mirpur. The geographical area inclusive of these localities was divided into equal dimensional blocks. A random selection from these blocks led to the sample of several localities. From each selected locality a certain number of households were randomly selected considering the total number of households in that locality.

Apart from this to include a component of student representation in the sample, a sub-sample of students was taken using the official lists of students. Care was taken to select the students randomly and from the six prominent educational institutions located in the city. Random numbers table was used for purposes of random selection of blocks and households.

Hypotheses

The researcher has formulated these research hypotheses for the purpose of the study:

  1. The BTV’s cultural programmes have a positive impact on the audience in that they promote the Bengali culture.
  2. The western programmes of BTV have been successful in making the Islamic society of Bangladesh accept the western values.
  3. Irrespective of the hold of religion, and their impact on religious beliefs foreign programmes of BTV make the Bangladeshis more and more materialistic.
  4. BTV’s western programmes help modernize the common people.
  5. The identity crisis of Bangladeshis has compelled them to seek increased telecasting of Bengali cultural programmes to preserve their culture.
  6. The audience seeks more and more religious programmes to support their identity.

Analysis

The researcher has attempted to secure a representative character to the groups of respondents by identifying different types of them. For instance, among 130 professionals are included college and university teachers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, journalists, industrialists, businessmen, bankers, security personnel and mass communicators and the like.

The other groups of 180 include government employees, politicians, religious teachers, academic administrators, voluntary workers, artistes, and housewives.

120 students were drawn up from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, Dhaka Medical College and Hospital, Dhaka Polytechnic Institute, Institute of Leather Technology and Central Law College.

Categorization of BTV programme as cultural by the respondents

Table 1

Impact of cultural programme on audience

  Respondents
Promote the Bengali culture 50.22
Bring values of western culture 35.88
Help to modernise the traditional society 35.09
Raise the aspirations of the people 16.28

N = 430

**  The percentage exceeds 100 since the questions have multiple responses.

The statistics confirm the hypothesis No. 1 that the BTV’s cultural programmes have a positive impact in the audience in that it promotes the Bengali culture.

Most debated controversy is the domination of western programmes over the media of Third World countries, especially the TV. The exposure of natives to western values was agreed upon by the majority (74.65%), while a minority (25.35%) differed (Table -2). The ambiguity of respondents could be gauged from their opinion as to the acceptance of western values by the people. Those who said they would not accept the values were in majority, but the other group was also in significant number. The low-income group ranked first among such acceptors followed by students and youngsters. Higher age, income and professional groups topped in giving an emphatic ‘No’ (Table-2)

Notwithstanding the variations, the analysis of the tables presented rejects the hypothesis (No. 2) that the western programmes BTV have been successful in making the Islamic society of Bangladesh accept the western values.

Table 2

Acceptance of western values as seen by different groups.

Variables Yes No
AGE
18-30 yrs.

31-40 yrs.

41 yrs. and above

49.50

36.05

29.24

50.49

63.93

70.75

SEX
Men

Women

41.00

40.13

58.99

59.86

INCOME
Tk. 25,000           

Tk. 25,001-50,000            

Tk. 50,001 and above    

57.69

46.60

37.20

42.30

53.39

62.79

OCCUPTATION
Professionals

Others

Students

34.58

34.46

56.66

65.41

65.53

43.33

Western culture is identified with materialism in contrast to the eastern or the Muslim culture. At the highest philosophical level, easterners consider materialism as sinful. The respondents were sharply divided on the issue of western values introducing materialistic values into their society. As much as 46.28% of them concurred with such a view, but 38.60% of the respondents held the other view (Table-3). Prominent among them were again the younger age group and students. Most probably, they did not identify western values with materialism, likewise, the middle-income group. A significant portion of women (22.36%) remained undecided.

The table shown above confirms the hypothesis (No. 3) that irrespective of the hold of religion and their impact on religious beliefs, foreign programmes of BTV make the Bangladeshis more and more materialistic.

More than half of the respondents (53.02%) contended that foreign programmes would modernise the common people (Table 4). Daniel Lerner (1958) in his monumental work, Passing of the Traditional Society, has stated that access to media increases the aspirations of the people to modernise. Likewise, access to foreign programmes might kindle among viewers western values.

Table 3

Opinion of different groups whether western programmes bring materialistic values.

Variables Yes No Can’t say
AGE
18-30 yrs.

31-40 yrs.

41 yrs. and above

41.58

47.54

53.77

45.54

32.78

32.07

12.87

19.67

14.15

SEX
Men

Women

47.48

44.07

41.36

33.55

11.15

22.36

INCOME
Tk. 25,000           

Tk. 25,001-50,000            

Tk. 50,001 and above    

19.23

47.57

48.17

46.15

38.83

37.87

34.61

13.59

13.95

OCCUPTATION
Professionals

Others

Students

48.87

50.28

48.17

39.09

29.94

50.83

12.03

19.77

11.66

N = 430

Table 4

Opinion by different groups on foreign programmes as modernizing agents

Variables Yes No Can’t say
AGE
18-30 yrs.

31-40 yrs.

41 yrs. and above

57.92

50.00

47.16

28.21

31.14

30.18

13.86

18.85

22.64

SEX
Men

Women

55.75

48.02

27.69

32.89

16.54

19.07

INCOME
Tk. 25,000           

Tk. 25,001-50,000            

Tk. 50,001 and above    

53.84

57.28

51.49

30.76

29.12

29.56

15.38

13.59

18.93

OCCUPTATION
Professionals

Others

Students

45.11

43.50

75.83

30.82

36.15

18.33

24.06

20.33

05.83

N = 430

Common people prefer to become modern while retaining social obligations. The transitory phase from tradition to modernisation will no doubt generate an identity crisis. Of the respondents who considered foreign programmes as modernizing agents, the number was dominated by students. Once again those belonging to upper age and professional group tended to vacillate. Similarly, the women responded favourably.

When foreign programmes are considered agents of modernisation, how far the Bengali culture can withstand its onslaught and retain its original character? The respondents seem to have drawn a distinction between culture and modernity. They probably believe that modernisation would not affect their culture.

The inference drawn from the evaluation of responses approves the hypothesis (No. 4) that western programmes help modernise the common people.

The overwhelming response was the preference for more and more Bengali cultural programmes on BTV and the list was topped by upper age, higher income and professional groups. Gender-wise, equal number of men and women preferred the programmes on Bengali culture (Table-5). Caught between the attraction of foreign programmes and the apprehension of their domination, respondents in order to preserve their cultural identity and avoid further crisis have sought more and more Bengali cultural programme on BTV. From the above examination, the hypothesis (No. 5) that the identity crisis of Bangladeshis has compelled them to seek increased telecasting of Bengali cultural programmes stands confirmed.

Those who preferred more religious programmes constituted 49.07 per cent of respondents and those who opposed it was 44.19 per cent (Table-6). Here again the younger group and students were clearly opposed to the idea of more religious programmes indicating age as a deciding factor. They were followed by middle age respondents. Of the different groups, only upper age, higher income, and professionals supported the view.

Table 5

Group-wise preference of programmes on Bengali culture

Variables Yes No Can’t say
AGE
18-30 yrs.

31-40 yrs.

41 yrs. and above

75.24

88.52

90.56

16.83

09.01

06.60

07.92

02.54

02.83

SEX
Men

Women

82.52

82.89

12.23

11.84

05.03

05.26

INCOME
Tk. 25,000           

Tk. 25,001-50,000            

Tk. 50,001 and above    

73.07

81.55

84.05

19.23

12.62

11.29

09.69

05.83

04.65

OCCUPTATION
Professionals

Others

Students

89.55

86.93

69.16

09.70

09.09

19.16

00.74

03.97

11.66

N = 430

Table 6

Preference for religious programmes by different groups

Variables Yes No Can’t say
AGE
18-30 yrs.

31-40 yrs.

41 yrs. and above

32.67

45.08

65.09

57.92

50.00

31.13

09.40

04.91

03.77

SEX
Men

Women

39.92

51.97

52.15

43.42

07.69

04.85

INCOME
Tk. 25,000           

Tk. 25,001-50,000            

Tk. 50,001 and above    

34.61

38.83

46.84

57.69

56.31

45.84

07.69

04.85

07.30

OCCUPTATION
Professionals

Others

Students

49.62

54.23

23.33

43.60

42.93

64.16

06.76

02.82

12.50

N = 430

Professional groups along with others and women sought more religious programmes. The responses indicate a clear trend of age and income as decisive factors in opinion formation. Since Bangladesh is an Islamic republic, the difference between the two groups of respondents, the one seeking more religious programmes and the other is negligible. However, we must note that religion is not totally rejected, but an excessive dose is not preferred by the people.

Their preference for more and more programmes of Bengali culture on TV is defended by their expression of happiness, though technically, these might not be competing with foreign programmes. Once again, it helps them to retain their cultural identity, which is affected.

Summary

The present chapter has vividly described the views of the respondents and an interpretative analysis is attempted. The entire chapter is divided into various sections based on media habits, respondent perceptions, views, and trends besides the analysis of responses given by BTV officials. Lastly, an effort is made to link the views of common respondents with those of BTV officials.

The study has found that films have been considered as cultural by most of the respondents. The younger age group and the students were more receptive to foreign programmes than others. While everyone feared the influence of foreign programmes in changing the values of children, most respondents vehemently asserted that foreign programmes on BTV would hardly alter their religious beliefs. The division of the society as commoners and elites was also accepted. The positive aspects of viewing foreign programmes lead to understanding of different cultures and modernisation of common people. TV was considered a powerful and effective medium to preserve the Bengali culture, which programmes are preferred more.

The religious programmes, most respondents said, would create unity. Most BTV officials favoured the maintenance of status quo in the case of programme format. While the upper echelons in BTV were confident of their independence, others were equally sceptical.

An interesting aspect of the study is the fact that most people appreciated the quality of foreign programmes but had their own reservations in respect of their influence. They believed in the non-disturbance of religion yet did not favour the telecasting of more religious programmes, a common element among both general respondents and BTV officials. Religion, a cultural institution, thus remained simultaneously favored and disfavored creating confusion in a mono-religious country.

Consequently, in the absence of a well-defined programme policy BTV has contributed its own mite for precipitating the identity crisis among Bangladeshis in the global context, who to establish their identity, hanker for increased telecasting of programmes reflecting the Bengali culture.

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