Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Telematic Media

The Internet refers to what is sometimes called telematic media telematic because they combine telecommunications and informatics. The telematic media have been heralded as the key component in the latest communication revolution that will replace broadcast television, as we know it. The Internet is a multifaceted mass medium, that is, it contains many different configurations of communication. Its varied forms show the connection between the interpersonal and mass communication (Morris, Organ, 1996). Since the 1970s this new media have been widely taken up as a mass media (MacQuail, D., 1997). Several kinds of technology are involved: of transmission (by cable or satellite); of miniaturization; of storage and retrieval; of display (using flexible combinations of text and graphics); and of control (by computer). The main features by contrast with the ´old media´ as described, are: decentralization –supply and choice are no longer predominantly in the hands of the supplier of communication; high capacity – cable or satellite delivery overcomes the former restrictions of cost, distance and capacity; interactivity –the receiver can select, answer back, exchange and be linked to other receivers directly; and flexibility of form, content and use.

Not only does this new media facilitate the distribution of existing radio and television it also offer computer video games, virtual reality and video recordings of all kinds. CD-ROMS (standing for compact disc, read only memory) offer flexible and easy access to very large store of information, by way of computer-readable discs (MacQuail, D., 1997). In general, the new media have bridged differences both between media and also between public and private definitions of communication activities. The Internet communication takes many forms, from World Wide Web pages operated by major news organizations to Usenet group discussing folk music to E-mail message among colleagues and friends. The Internet’s communication forms can be understood as a continuum. Each point in the traditional model of the communication process can, in fact, vary from one to a few to many on the Internet. Production, for example, need no longer be concentrated in large centrally located organizations (typical of film and television), nor so centrally controlled. The sources of the message can range from one person in E-mail communication, to a social group in a Listserv or Usenet group, to a group of professional journalists in a World Wide Web page. The message themselves can be traditional journalistic news stories created by a reporter and editor, stories created over a long period of time by many people, or simply conversations, such as in an Internet Relay Chat group. The receivers, or the audiences, of the message can also number from one to a potential millions, and may or may not move fluidly from their role as audience members to producers of message (Morris, Organ, 1996).

What distinguish the telematic media is:

• Computer-based technologies
• Hybrid, flexible character
• Interactive potential
• Private and public functions
• Low degree of regulation
• Interconnectedness (MacQuail, D., 1997p.22).

Communication research in Nepal

– Nirmala Mani Adhikary

In case of Nepal, Adhikary's "Hindu Awadharanama Sanchar Prakriya" is the first significant research regarding studying communication from Hindu perspective. Written in Nepali, it presented a unique communication model based on the Sadharanikaran theory. It was first ever attempt from Bharatavarsha to propose a model of communication in diagrammatic form. And, so far, the Sadharanikaran model is the only model of communication in diagrammatic form proposed from the Hindu perspective.
"Prakriya" sought to study both of the verbal and non-verbal forms of communication from Hindu point of view. The research draws on Bharata Muni's Natyashastra for studying non-verbal communication and Bhartrihari's Vakyapadiya for studying verbal communication. Moreover, Natyashastra has been drawn for the concepts of Rasaswadana and Sadharanikaran.

The Mimamsa philosophy (one of the six mainstream or orthodox schools of Vedic philosophy) has been accepted as the guiding philosophy. Based on the Mimamsa viewpoint, it has been argued that communication in Hindu concept is not merely for the purpose of sending and receiving message. In worldly matters, the process is ideally for achieving mutual understanding and becoming Sahridaya. But it does not limit its goal up to that achievement. The goal of communication process covers worldly as well as spiritual matters and it serves as a means for attaining all of the four highest goals of human life (purushartha chatustaya) as envisioned in Hinduism: Artha, Kama, Dharma and Moksha.

Adhikary "Siddhanta" and Adhikary "Sancharko" both are abridged versions of "Prakriya" and "Sancharko" is more comprehensive than "Siddhanta." Adhikary "Gaira-Shabdik" also has been taken from the same source. It is entirely concerned with the non-verbal communication in Hindu concept. All of these works are in Nepali.
Written in English, Adhikary "Comparative" seeks to assess and analyze the fundamental differences between Aristotle's and the Sadharanikaran models of communication. The concept of communication process from Aristotelian and Sadharanikaran perspectives has been studied in terms of structure and scope of two models, human relationships in the process and the goal of communication. It has been established that these two models differ in all of the four aspects:
Aristotle's model has unrealistic linear approach due to which number of biases created and advancement of the communication discipline stained. But the Sadharanikaran model is non-linear and hence free from the limitations of Aristotle's model.

The scope of the Sadharanikaran model is too broad as compared to Aristotle's model. The latter is considered applicable to public speaking merely. But the former seems applicable for the study of all levels of communication from intrapersonal to interpersonal to mass. Its scope ranges even from the human communication to the attainment of Moksha. Thus it is in consonance with the Hindu worldview.
In Aristotle's model, the receiver is vulnerable to dominance and manipulation by the sender as he/she is passive. In the Sadharanikaran model, though the relationship is hierarchical the sender and the receiver are Sahridayas and thus are capable of experiencing satisfaction and joy. This model offers explanation of how successful communication is possible in Hindu society where complex hierarchies of castes, languages, cultures and religious practices are prevalent.
Finally, these two models differ vastly while setting the goal of communication. Aristotle's model has a highly specific and narrower goal of influencing or persuading the receiver as intended by the sender. The Sadharanikaran model, on the other hand, aims mutual understanding and becoming Sahridaya. Its goal covers worldly as well as spiritual achievements by encompassing all of Artha, Kama, Dharma and Moksha.

Finally, it has been argued that Aristotle's model cannot represent and describe the communication theory and practice of countries like Nepal and India. Rather, a comparative study of different concepts of communication is a must for the improved understanding of the process and the advancement of the discipline.


Adhikary, Nirmala Mani. "Aristotle's and the Sadharanikaran Models of Communication: A Comparative Study." An Independent Study Presented to the Graduate School of Pokhara University in the Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Philosophy. September 2007.
---. "Communication in Nepali Perspective." Space Time Today 13 January 2003.
---. "Hindu Awadharanama Sanchar Prakriya." Diss. Purvanchal U, 2003 (2060 B.S.).
---. "Hindu Awadharanma Gaira-Shabdik Sanchar." Sanchar Shodha Ra Media Paryavekshan. Kathmandu: Prashanti, 2007 (2063 B.S.). 139-180.
---. "Hindu-Sanchar Siddhanta: Ek Adhyayan." Baha Journal 2004 (Phagun 2061 B.S.). 25-43.
---. "Sancharko Hindu Awadharanatmak Adhyayan." Sanchar Shodha Ra Media Paryavekshan. Kathmandu: Prashanti, 2007 (2063 B.S.). 93-138.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Mimamsa-Philosophy and Mass Media Ethics

By: Nirmala Mani Adhikary

This article is continuation of my previous article "Exploring New Paradigm in Mass Media Ethics" (MBM Anthology of Media Studies 2007), where I argue that "being rich in philosophy and culture, Nepal has her strength to explore new paradigm" on mass media ethics (59). There I have attempted to draw attention of media academia, educators, students and professionals that we should not take media ethics merely as prescribed by and in accordance with the Western perspectives but rather should, at least theoretically in the beginning, explore native, specifically Hindu, perspectives on media ethics. After brief discussions on mass media ethics firstly and later Hindu point of view on it, I have proposed some aspects of philosophies in relation to media ethics for discussion. Moving further, here I attempt to sketch an outline of mass media ethics from Mimamsa-philosophical perspective.

Of course, such endeavor is expected in the context of Vedanta, Samkhya, Nyaya, Vaisheshika and Yoga philosophies too. Nepal represents old civilization with a known history of thousand of years and having a distinct cultural identity of its own. In this light, paying little attention to explore Hindu point of view on mass media ethics is not good. Rather, "the ethical considerations must be judged in the touchstone of concerning society and its social cultural inheritance" (Adhikary "Mass Media Ethics"). And, this will certainly bring fruitful consequences: "Understanding one's own ethical texts and one's own ethical underpinnings will establish a foundation through which communication problems can be explored and solutions can be delivered" (Babbili 173).

In recent years, Nepal has witnessed advancement in the field of mass media and journalism. Significant achievements can be located with respect to media as a profession or as an industry. Likewise, Mass Communication and Journalism or Media Studies has been incorporated as an applauded discipline of knowledge in the academy. Media ethics or journalistic ethics also has been included in the curricula. However, just as "modern communication technology has been introduced without evolving a communication philosophy, approach and policy relevant to Nepali context, conditions and needs" (Adhikary “Exploring New Paradigm” 58), the trend of studying media ethics does not seem quite enthusiastic. Just to copy and paste the Western concept of ethics as if it is a universal concept and doing nothing to understand native ethical idea is not the situation of pride. This is really annoying situation because "A society that ignores its own ethical ideal does it at its own peril" (Babbili 163).

Since mass media professionals and their community are inextricably bound together, the ethical questions of particular professional communicator must be judged against the social cultural background of the society for which the medium is aiming to work. What I am emphasizing is that ethical concern in the field of mass media including journalism is relative to the Dharma or religious faith[1] and philosophical stand-point taken by the media professionals.

Certainly, there are views denying ethics as relative or subjective and holding that ethics is "entirely independent of religion" (Singer, Peter. Practical Ethics 3) and "ethical judgments must be made from a universal point of view" (Singer, Peter. Practical Ethics 12). But we cannot ignore the very fact that the concept of ethics is inherently different in the Hindu perspective and in the West. "In the Hindu perspective, problems of ethics are treated in a distinct way" (Babbili, Anantha 147), which is different that of the West.

Hindu dharma gives outstanding importance to ethics. "Ethical perfection is the first step towards divine knowledge" (Radhakrishnan. India Philosophy. Vol I. 52). It should be very clear, in the very beginning, that Hinduism, being "doctrinally more open" (Harrison-Barbet 276), should not be considered entailing one and only standard set of ethical principles. Vedic Hinduism "comprises many diverse schools of thought. It incorporates various views, from extreme spiritual to extreme materialistic" (Adhikary Exploring New Paradigm 64). Since the Vedic Hindu philosophical tradition is extensive, rich, and complex, "it would be irrational to declare only one set of ethical guidelines as 'Vedic Hindu ethics'. Rather, we should consider that each philosophy suggests unique set of ethical guidelines. Thus it becomes individual matter to which philosophy you associate yourself"(Adhikary10).

Clearly, there is scope for different, even diverse, sets of ethical principles. As Hindery observes, "Hindu ethics is itself both diachronically and synchronically (past and present) pluralistic" (Comparative Ethics in Hindu and Buddhist Traditions 10).

However, Hindu philosophers, Rishis, Munis have always emphasized a synthesis of various schools of thought. There is "the Vedic tradition of direct experience of an all-comprehensive oneness in the midst of plurality" (Bhattacharya, Sibajiban. "The Indian Philosophical Systems: Their Basic Unity and Relevance Today" 3). And, "except a few systems upholding gross materialism and hedonism, all the systems prescribe a code of moral discipline to uplift man from animality or brutality to humanity" Shastri, Dinesh Chandra Bhattacharya. "The Indian Philosophical Systems: Their Basic Unity and Relevance Today" 92).

Since "Ethical questions are not concerned with what one would do (an essentially psychological concern) but what one ought to do" (Velasquez, Manuel and Vincent Barry 315) there should be external authority. Most Hindu ethical teachings are found in various texts from Veda to Upanishads, Puranas to Ramayana and Mahabharata, and even in poetics. "To reach the people, ethical philosophy or dharma(s) would have to be communicated in the forms of poetry, rhythm, song, dance and, most of all, in ... the figure of the 'ideal model person'" (Hindery 98).

Thus ethics for Hindus "stem from the basic Hindu religious texts that are often considered cultural and philosophical texts" (Babbili 156). Hindu ethics "appear most often as subtle manifestations of human conduct in the narrative of prominent cultural and religious texts, traditions and customs" (Babbili 158). A person of Hindu society is obligatory to follow the guidelines given by those Shastras, traditions and customs.

The Vedic scriptures contain sentences enjoining what is or is not to be done (Mohanty 22). Vedas are "creation of an age anterior to our intellectual philosophies" (Sri Aurobindo 10). They are considered "to be the truths heard (Shruti) or, in an inside-out sense, revealed. Not 'revealed' in the sense of divine, outside intervention, they were ... inwardly inspired" (Hindery, Roderick. Comparative Ethics in Hindu and Buddhist Traditions 39). Believers hold that "There is no substitute of Vedas, insofar as the code of human behavior and conduct is concerned" (Mahatma Gopal Swami Saraswati. Human Rights and The Vedas 55).

The mainstream philosophies that directly follow the Vedas tradition include:
1. Mimamsa (with sub-schools including Kumaril Bhatta's)
2. Vedanta (with sub-schools including Shakaracharya's)
3. Vaisheshika
4. Nyaya
5. Samkhya
6. Yoga

Mimamsa is "claimed to have a more authentic grip on the Vedas" (Mohanty, J.N. Explorations in Philosophy 64). "The beginnings of the Mimamsa may be traced to the Veda itself, where it is used to denote doubt and discussion regarding the rules of ritual and doctrine" (Radhakrishnan, S. Indian Philosophy. Vol II. 374). The aim of the Mimamsa
is to ascertain the nature of dharma. Dharma is not a physical existent, and so it cannot be apprehended through the senses. The other pramanas are of no use, since they all presuppose the work of perception. Perception, inference and such other sources of knowledge have nothing to say on the point that the performer of the Agnistoma sacrifice will go to heaven. This knowledge is derived only from the Vedas. Though the pramana of the Veda is the only source of our knowledge of dharma, the others are considered, since it is necessary to show that they cannot give rise to a knowledge of dharma. They are also found useful in repudiating wrong views (Radhakrishnan, S. Indian Philosophy. Vol II. 387-388).

The Mimamsa and Vedanta philosophies are so closely related that the former is called Purva Mimamsa and the latter Uttara Mimamsa. They take "the Vedas to be exclusive and eternal guides of human destiny (Shastra)" (Pandeya, R.C. "Pramana-Centricity" 47). Both present
only an account of what the Vedas say, hence their purpose is solely to enquire into Dharma or Brahman part of the Veda (athato-Dharma-jijnasa or athato-Brahma-jijnasa). In all matters of dispute or difference of opinion the court of final appeal is the Veda itself. They, therefore, hold Shruti as the final authority; reasoning, perception, etc. have therefore assumed auxiliary status as aids to strengthen or clarify the Vedic position. These two Mimamsas endeavor at any cost to show that there is nothing other than the Vedas which could be evidence or Pramana in all matters of human life (Pandeya, R.C. "Pramana-Centricity" 47).

The Veda is the final and supreme authority for both the Purva and the Uttara Mimamsas. "Their conviction is that in respect of super-sense truths and realities, which are not knowable by perception and even by inference, the only source of knowledge is the Shruti or the Vedas whose validity as a pramana is axiomatic (svatahsiddha)" (Shastri, Dinesh Chandra Bhattacharya. "The Indian Philosophical Systems: Their Basic Unity and Relevance Today" 87). However,
their difference lies in the aspects of the Veda chosen for consideration. In the former case the subject of preferred treatment is human conduct for the guidance of which the Veda provides evidence. In the latter case the nature of existence is a matter of investigation and the Veda is taken to be final authority (Pandeya, R.C. "Pramana-Centricity" 47).

In fact, "The dichotomy between the empirical and the transcendental, the transitory and the eternal, the worldly and the divine is the recurring theme in Hindu religio-philosophical scriptures" (Sinari, Ramakant. "The Worldly and the Transcendental in Indian Philosophy" 62). Particularly in case of worldly matters, Mimamsa is preferred over Vedanta. The influence of Mimamsa is such that there is the saying, 'vyavahare bhattanayah', that is the Bhatta Mimamsa School is the authentic one, even for the Vedanta, including Advaita Vedanta, in case of vyavaharika (secular) matters (R. Balasuramanian 24).

The importance of Mimamsa "for the Hindu religion is great. The scriptures which govern the daily life of the Hindu require to be interpreted in accordance with the Mimamsa rules. Modern Hindu law is considerably influenced by the Mimamsa system" (Radhakrishnan, S. Indian Philosophy. Vol II. 375-376).

For ensuring "the proper understanding of Vedic texts" Mimamsa philosophy "has developed an elaborate and rigorous method of interpretation. This method of interpretation is applicable to not merely the Vedic texts but also Dharmashastra and legal texts" (Bhattacharya, Sibajiban. "The Indian Philosophical Systems: Their Basic Unity and Relevance Today" 11).

"The Mimamsa has a well-developed and interesting account of how ethics and the human character are interrelated" and "it analyzes ethical language in terms of our possibilities to act in particular ways" (Leaman, Oliver. Key Concepts in Eastern Philosophy 112). Though Manusmriti "is the most often quoted 'source book' of Hindu ethics" (Hammer, Raymond. "Karma and Dharma: Hindu Ethics" 190) Mimamsa is crucial in this regard because Hindu ethics is related with the Dharma and "the avowed aim of the Purva Mimamsa is to examine the nature of dharma" (Radhakrishnan, S. Indian Philosophy. Vol II. 375).
Dharma is the scheme of right living. Jaimini defines dharma as an ordinance or command. Chodana, or injunction, is the lakshana or sign of dharma. It is the jurist's definition of law. According to Sabara, chodana denotes utterances which impel men to action. The 'ought' has an external source, since duties are revealed to us by a power not ourselves. The word 'chodana' has another meaning, namely, inspiration or impulsion from within. What appeals to heart within agress with what is commanded from without. The individual's will and the verdict of the race agreee. ...
The ethics of the Purva Mimamsa is founded on revelation. The Vedic injunctions lay down the details of dharma. Good action, according to the Mimamsaka, is what is prescribed by the Veda. (Radhakrishnan, S. Indian Philosophy. Vol II. 417-418).

If any scripture is in conflict with the Veda, then such scripture is to be disregarded and the Vedic point of view is to be considered (Adhikary Mimamsa-Darshan Nirdeshan 11-12). To be ethical, one must abide by the 'chodana' of Veda. So Mimamsakas accept Smriti texts only to the extent they are in accordance with the Shruti. "Next to the Smritis is the practice of good men or custom" (Radhakrishnan, S. Indian Philosophy. Vol II. 418). By all means, Mimamsa insists that the life of a human being has to be governed by the rules of the Vedas. In accordance, Manusmriti says: "The whole Veda is the first source of the sacred law, next the tradition and the virtuous conduct of those who know the (Veda further), also the customs of holy men, and (finally) self-satisfaction" (Manusmriti II.6. Trans. taken from Hindery 76).

"Ethics during the Vedic period espoused obedience to divine law: Rita" (Babbili 158). Etymologically, Rita is "related both to rite and right" and "refers variously to order at three levels: 1. nature (cosmic order), 2. sacrificial or ritual order, and 3. the order of human conduct" (Hindery, Roderick. Comparative Ethics in Hindu and Buddhist Traditions 50).

Turning to the ethics of the Rig-Veda,
we find that the conception of Rita is of great significance. It is the anticipation of the law of karma ... It is the law which pervades the whole world, which all gods and men must obey. ...
Rita furnishes us with a standard of morality. It is the universal essence of things. It is the satya or the truth of things. Disorder or An-Rita is falsehood, the opposite of truth. The good are those who follow the path of Rita, the true and the ordered. Ordered conduct is called a true vrata. Vratani are the ways of life of good men who follow the path of Rita. Consistency is the central feature of a good life. The good man of the Vedas does not alter his ways. ... When ritual grew in importance, Rita became a synonym for yajna or sacrificial ceremony (Radhakrishnan, S. Indian Philosophy. Vol I. 109-110).

The term Rita was succeeded by dharma "in the later Vedic Age connoting the same meaning" (Zaehner, R.C. Hinduism 30). In contemporary Hindu society, "ethics cannot be understood without locating them in a broad definition of religion" (Babbili 154). Here, "religion, esthetics and ethics have remained better integrated" (Hindery, Roderick. Comparative Ethics in Hindu and Buddhist Traditions 9). It is relevant to take the note that the major element of Hindu ethics developed in the Gita, too, is the concept of dharma (Babbili 161).

The dharma in the Vedic Hindu context should be understood at its proper sense. "Among its more general meanings, dharma also refers to a whole way of life rather than to mere doctrines or moral teachings alone" (Hindery, Roderick. Comparative Ethics in Hindu and Buddhist Traditions 50). The underlying central idea of dharma is
that a human being though a creature of the evolutionary process, is distinguished from other animal species by their endowment of reflective capacity which enables them to discriminate between the Good and the Evil. ... Humans can exercise their free-will in choosing the right against wrong. In other words, dharma postulates that humans possess general moral sense.
As the idea of moral choices inherent in the concept of dharma, the term dharma may be understood as representing the moral principle which lends human life its worth and makes for the meaningfulness of the system that has been evolved to support human life (Rai, Lal Deosa. Human Rights in the Hindu-Buddhist Tradition 51).

Religion here "is not dogmatic. It is a rational synthesis which goes on gathering into itself new conceptions as philosophy progresses. It is experimental and provisional in its nature, attempting to keep pace with the progress of thought" (Radhakrishnan, S. Indian Philosophy. Vol I. 25). "The supremacy of religion and of social tradition in life does not hamper the free pursuit of philosophy" (Radhakrishnan, S. Indian Philosophy. Vol I. 27).

Vedas do not advocate any religion, in the sense, the English word of Latin-origin, religion, is understood in modern parlance. But
they do point out 'dharma' meaning duties and essential characteristics, without which a thing cannot retain its very existence. Religion may be a personal affair owing its allegiance to personal beliefs and convictions of a person, but 'dharma' is a universal affair. ... Righteous people, adhering to Vedas, therefore, consider the whole world as one family. Vedas expect every human being to be humane in true sense and thus advocate 'humanism' as the dharma of entire humanity. 'Be humane and humanize others'; this is clarion call of the Vedas since eternity (Mahatma Gopal Swami Saraswati. Human Rights and The Vedas 55-56).

It is in this light a typical dharmik Hindu thinks,
Religion has been pervading human life from times immemorial. Every tiny act that a man does is looked upon from a religious point of view. All human institutions are more or less based on religious sentiments. It is one of the most undeniable facts of psychology that an average man can as little exist without a religious element of some kind as a fish without water (Swami Vidyananda Saraswati. Vedic Concept of God 32).

The dharma of Mimamsa is always associated with the karma. "Karma(n) is a Sanskrit word meaning simply 'act', 'deed', or 'work'. The 'theory' of karma, if we may call it such, is that every action must produce its inevitable 'fruit'; good actions produce good fruit, evil actions evil fruit" (Zaehner, R.C. "Introduction." Hindu Scriptures. xv-xvi). The importance given to karma by Mimamsa can be assessed from Mimamsa's belief that the law of karma can function on its own even in the absence of God (R. Balasuramanian 19). The karmayoga is the essence of Mimamsa philosophy which holds that "when duty is performed in a spirit of dedication to God it becomes the cause of emancipation" (Radhakrishnan, S. Indian Philosophy. Vol II. 420). "Morality, fair play, ethics and justice are the basis of karma yoga" (Krishnamurthy, V. Essentials of Hinduism 82).
Ethics in Hindu society is not detached from the dharma. ... Hindu ethics consists a highly refined moral sensibility visualized with standards of character and conduct. Hindu classical philosophers often think about ethics in connection with the notion of karma, and reincarnation. Since, on the presumption of karma, the nature of one's deeds determines one's future state, the universe includes laws of moral payback (Adhikary "Exploring New Paradigm" 66).
Obviously, an ideal Hindu is supposed to follow "without question the universal law of dharma and the particular law of karma" (Babbili 162).

"The freedom of the human individual is assumed, though the limitations of karma are mentioned" (Radhakrishnan, S. Ed. The Principal Upanisads 105). "Right and wrong are determined in four ways: through the authoritative scriptures, through the other inspired writings, through good conduct and through conscience" (Raymond Hammer 190). "The context is significant in deciding how to act, according to the Gita" (Leaman, Oliver. Eastern Philosophy: Key Readings 135). "The ethical individual is required to become like a child. The perfect man is a divine child, accepting the divine play, without fear or reserve, care or grief, in utter purity" (Radhakrishnan, S. Ed. The Principal Upanisads 111). Perhaps it is in such stage when a person becomes able to experience the dharma of the good which is within the heart of every person.

It is argued that "The duties of Hindu ethical life consisted primarily of the prescribed caste-duties and the specific duties of the different stages of life" (Leaman, Oliver. Eastern Philosophy: Key Readings 133-134). However, "Hindu ethics is not absolutist and unbending, but is reflective and contextual in its approach to ethical problems" (Babbili 163). Moreover, "The scope of Hindu ethics not only covers human beings, but also extends far more. For instance, the Srimadbhagavat says that since animals are capable of experiencing pain, humans have an obligation not to harm them" (Adhikary Studying Mass Media Ethics 10).

Studying mass media ethics from Mimamsa-philosophical perspective should not be viewed mere theoretical endeavor. In Hindu society, "Philosophy was never conceived as a merely theoretical exercise for the sake of conceptual clarity," rather with "a practical aim to achieve" (Bhattacharya, Sibajiban. "The Indian Philosophical Systems: Their Basic Unity and Relevance Today" 4). Vedic Hindu philosophies "subscribe to the view of the unity of theory and practice" (Balasubramanian, R. "Advaita Vedanta: Its Unity with Other Systems and Its Contemporary Relevance" 16).

In Bharatavarsha, "the Philosopher did not merely think Philosophy and talk Philosophy but also lived Philosophy. The truths of Philosophy were sought to be translated into living experiences by strenuous moral and spiritual exertions" (Sen, Biswanath. "Nyaya View of Perception of Composite Objectives" 75). "All the systems agree that knowledge and action are intimately connected" (Sen, Biswanath. "Nyaya View of Perception of Composite Objectives" 77). That is why the Vedic Hindu mind "constantly engaged in theorizing about practice" (Mohanty 25).

In Bharatavarsha "darshana (philosophy) has a tradition of totality and integralism. The instruction of preceptors and systems of vision combine rational investigation, logic and epistemology in a fuller acceptance of life" (Das, Maya. "Indian Philosophical Systems: Their Basic Unity and Relevance Today" 93). Hindu philosophies
basically represent 'a way of life', an approach to spiritual realization rather than a mere 'view of life'. The approach makes the philosophical systems both humanistic and scientific, practical and theoretical. Correlating vision and sadhana the systems lead to a correct 'way of thinking' as well as 'a right way of living' (Das, Maya. "Indian Philosophical Systems: Their Basic Unity and Relevance Today" 93).

As to Kautilya, philosophy has its practical use: "it does good to mankind, makes one's intelligence, buddhi, settled in the midst of pleasure and pain and makes one expert, visarada, in wisdom (prajna), in speech (vakya) and in action (kriya)" (Mohanty 21). There must be insistence "on justifying philosophy in terms of Prayojana or practical utility" (Das, Maya 94). Thus, developing a code of ethics for journalists and other media professionals based particularly on Mimamsa philosophy seems not only rational, it also seems in coherence with the practical nature of Mimamsa.

Works Cited

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[1] Some readers may associate the Dharma here with the religious faith. However, my preference generally is to distinguish between Dharma and religion. I am convinced that the word Dharma can not be translated into English.

FIRST PUBLISHED IN Bodhi (Vol. I, No. 1, 2007), a journal published by the Department of Languages and Mass Communication, Kathmandu University.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


The present research examines whether the process of communication (Sanchar) can be accepted as yoga provided that the process of communication in general and the process of verbal communication in particular, as envisioned in Hindu perspective, qualifies as a means for the attainment of Moksha.

The general objective here is to study the verbal communication process as a means for attaining Moksha and examining it as Sancharyoga in the same sense as in Karmayoga, Jnanayoga and Bhaktiyoga. The specific objectives include describing the verbal communication process from Hindu point of view, and understanding how verbal communication leads human being to Moksha, and also examining whether Sanchar could be considered as a kind of yoga.

Hinduism has not only set Moksha as the highest of purushartha chatustaya (four goals of human life), it is believed to assure all humans of equal rights for the attainment. Since humans are of different natures Hinduism has incorporated different paths for Mumukshus (Moksha-seekers). Based on those different paths, a number of yogas have been introduced. For instance, Karmayoga, Jnanayoga and Bhaktiyoga are renowned modes for the pursuit of Moksha.

Sanchar, originally a Sanskrit word with number of meanings including the one equivalent to what is understood as the communication in modern sense, has been envisioned uniquely in Hindu perspective. The verbal communication process from Hindu perspective, as understood with the help of the Sadharanikaran model, qualifies not only as a process of perfect human communication in worldly setting but also as a means for attaining Moksha-in-life. Moksha is highest attainment of human; Moksha is not just a theoretical concept; and Moksha can be attained even during the life. The process of verbal communication qualifies as a means for attaining Moksha no matter how it is the Shabda Brahman or the Shabda pramana. In either case the Vak or Shabda verily is the Supreme Brahman. Thus Sancharshastra ultimately becomes a Mokshashastra and the discipline of communication a kind of vidya (true knowledge).The process of communication (Sanchar) can be accepted as a kind yoga provided the process results in the attainment of Moksha. As Hinduism has set Moksha as the highest of purushartha chatustaya (four goals of human life) and has introduced different paths, that is, different kinds of yoga, for the attainment of Moksha, the Sancharyoga is an added path in this tradition. Thus Sancharyoga is a kind of yoga wherein the suffix represents the same as in Karmayoga, Jnanayoga and Bhaktiyoga.

Nirmala Mani Adhikary


In "Aristotle's and the Sadharanikaran Models of Communication: A Comparative Study" (N.M. Adhikary's Independet Study for M.Phil.), Aristotles model and the Sadharanikaran model have been compared in terms of structure and scope of two models, human relationships in the process and the goal of communication. Then it is shown that these two models differ in all of the four aspects.

Aristotle's model has unrealistic linear approach due to which number of biases created and advancement of the communication discipline stained. But the Sadharanikaran model is non-linear and hence free from the limitations of Aristotle's model.

The scope of the Sadharanikaran model is too broad as compared to Aristotle's model. The latter is considered applicable to public speaking merely. But the former seems applicable for the study of all levels of communication from intrapersonal to interpersonal to mass. Its scope ranges even from the human communication to the attainment of Moksha. Thus it is in consonance with the Hindu worldview.

In Aristotle's model, the receiver is vulnerable to dominance and manipulation by the sender as he/she is passive. In the Sadharanikaran model, though the relationship is hierarchical the sender and the receiver are Sahridayas and thus are capable of experiencing satisfaction and joy. This model offers explanation of how successful communication is possible in Hindu society where complex hierarchies of castes, languages, cultures and religious practices are prevalent.

Finally, these two models differ vastly while setting the goal of communication. Aristotle's model has a highly specific and narrower goal of influencing or persuading the receiver as intended by the sender. The Sadharanikaran model, on the other hand, aims mutual understanding and becoming Sahridaya. Its goal covers worldly as well as spiritual achievements by encompassing all of Artha, Kama, Dharma and Moksha.

By this comparative understanding, we come to the conclusion that Aristotle's model cannot represent and describe the communication theory and practice of countries like Nepal and India.

The scope of the Sadharanikaran model should be properly understood. With vast diversities of cultures and philosophies within the Hindu society, it is just one of many models that could be developed. Many theories and models of communication would come out if communication discipline has enthusiasm of encountering with different Hindu philosophical traditions.

Nirmala Mani Adhikary

The Electronic Media

– Christopher Sterling

The first experimental broadcast stations operated in the United States in the years prior to World War I. They had sporadic schedules of but a few hours a week. The first broadcast in the world was probably done by Reginald Fessenden in 1906 from a transmitter south of Boston, Massachusetts.

AM (or medium wave) radio broadcasting began on a regular basis in late 1920, when several stations first went on the air, primarily to sell radio receivers (the first stations were owned by major electrical manufacturers). In 1922, the number of stations shot up from about 30 to more than 500 -- with 30 to more than 500, with no overall supervision or regulation about access to spectrum. The public craze for radio dates to this time. Only after much pressure from radio operators did the U.S. Congress finally agree to set up a regulatory scheme to license stations in 1927.

Until 1941, broadcasting consisted only of AM stations and networks. In 1926 to 1928, both the CBS and NBC networks began operation, rapidly establishing the pattern of advertising-supported entertainment programs that still characterizes the American system of electronic media.

Just before the United States entered World War II (December 1941), FM (or VHF) radio and television broadcasting was approved for regular operation. Only a few stations of either service got on the air before a wartime freeze on most civilian construction, which lasted until 1946.

From 1945 to 1952, the industry and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) grappled with allocation problems for FM and television, and getting both services up and running. FM was moved from its old allocation to the present 88-108 MHz in 1945.

Television networks owned by ABC, CBS, and NBC began regular operation in 1948. Then, just as the public's appetite for television was at its height, the FCC had to suspend accepting applications for new television stations from 1948 until 1952, while crucial decisions were made to add UHF frequencies (to the 12 VHF channels already in use) to allow more television stations in more communities and to reserve some frequencies for noncommercial TV stations. In a parallel proceeding, color television standards were issued late in 1953 (though color was not commercially important until the late 1960s).

The number of stations on the air grew slowly after 1952 as both television and AM expanded. For much of that decade, FM radio stagnated due to lack of original programming, limited numbers of receivers, and almost total disinterest in the secondary radio service by advertisers because of tiny audiences. Only after 1958 did the number of FM radio stations begin to climb as interest in high-fidelity sound aided its expansion, which was pushed further by agreement on FM stereo standards early in 1961 and requirements after the mid-1960s that most FM stations program differently from co-owned AM operations. That gave the medium an identity of its own for the first time, and by 1979, more people listened to FM than AM. A decade later, three quarters of all radio listening was to FM stations.

Competition for broadcasting was slow in developing. The first community antenna television (CATV, now usually called cable) systems began operation in the Rocky Mountains and in the Appalachians, where small towns could not get signals from distant markets and were too small to support stations on their own. Only a tiny proportion of Americans were "on cable" until well into the 1970s.

In 1975 came two separate developments that would show the way to a more competitive future in electronic media. Sony placed the first Betamax VCRs on sale, and Home Box Office, a pay-cable service, announced plans to begin use of a domestic communications satellite (domsat) transponder to deliver its signal across the nation.

Fifteen years later, two-thirds of all American households had VCRs and could "time-shift" their viewing, about 60 percent had "basic" cable television service (that supported by advertising), about 30 percent subscribed to one or more pay cable networks, and virtually all national electronic media program services were distributed to stations and cable systems by means of domsats.

Cable program networks expanded rapidly after the late 1970s, with Cable News Network (CNN) and others beginning operation by 1980. At the same time, the number of noncommercial and independent (of network affiliation) stations grew, giving viewers more choice of programming.

Where the networks dominated prime time viewing (usually between 7 and 11 p.m.), controlling about 90 percent of those watching television in 1980, a decade later their share of the TV audience had dwindled to between 55 and 60 percent. The audience was making increasing use of competitive cable services, rental movies for their VCRs, and independent or noncommercial broadcast stations.

Broadcasting in America is based on a system of privately owned local radio and television stations and cable television systems. While these outlets are widely diversified in their ownership, nearly all subscribe (contract for) one or more national program services or networks.

In round numbers, there are nearly 12,000 broadcast stations in the country -- more than 5,000 AM and 5,000 FM stations -- and nearly 1,500 television stations. Major markets often have 30 or more radio stations and five to seven television stations.

Federal regulation allows any company or individual to control up to 12 AM, 12 FM, and 12 television stations, no more than one of each kind in a given market. There are no ownership limits on the number of cable systems or subscribers one company can control. Telephone companies are not allowed to own cable systems where they also provide telephone service, a limitation presently under attack by the telephone industry. One owner cannot control a television station and cable service in the same marketplace.

Most television stations sign a contract with a national network in order to carry its programs. Fewer radio stations are network affiliates.

There are four major television broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox), which each owns a few stations in large markets (called O&Os, for owned-and-operated) and is affiliated by contract with about 200 other stations across the country.

There is no ownership connection between the networks -- they are held independently of one another. Network programs are beamed to O&O and affiliate stations by means of satellites. The broadcast networks (except Fox) each operate news divisions that present daily newscasts and specials. Entertainment programming is leased from independent companies.

There are nearly 60 cable networks, all of which are distributed nationally by means of domestic satellite transponders that beam signals to the "headends" of cable systems for distribution to homes. Of these networks, a few are pay networks (Home Box Office, owned by Time Warner, is the oldest and largest), where viewers subscribe by paying a monthly fee averaging nearly $10 to $50 a month. The rest are advertiser-supported services such as Turner Broadcasting System, the Discovery Network, and the USA Network.

Many cable networks are very specialized -- in comedy, weather forecasts, business news. More services are announced all the time.

Dozens of radio networks -- most of them music services -- deliver programming by satellite or mailed recordings. A few provide regular news services.

Broadcasting and most cable services in America are supported by the sale of advertising time. Of all advertising dollars spent each year, television takes about 22 percent and radio another 7 percent. Cable advertising is negligible thus far -- perhaps 1 percent of the total. For comparison, newspapers account for about 29 percent of all advertising dollars. The largest portion of broadcast advertising revenue comes from sales to local advertisers.

Most commercial television stations devote between 10 and 12 minutes per hour to advertising, usually less in prime-time hours. Radio stations carry more advertising -- often 18 to 20 minutes per hour. Cable advertising is relatively undeveloped thus far.

The electronic media industries are not large. About 100,000 people work directly in radio or television broadcasting, mostly for local television stations. The typical radio station may have just two or three employees in small markets and up to several dozen in bigger cities. Increasing use of automation has cut the size of station staffs.

Television outlets have anywhere from 25 to several hundred employees. Cable systems have many employees in customer relations and repair, but only a few are needed in technical operation and program categories.

Most of this article deals with commercial broadcasting, since that is the most widely available and most listened to service. But there is an alternative service in both radio and television -- noncommercial service.

The first noncommercial radio stations went on the air in the 1920s (and, experimentally, even earlier). Many school systems and universities operated stations -- but most had given up their licenses by the early 1930s under financial pressure, lack of sure need for the facilities, and demands for their frequencies from commercial operators. By the end of World War II, there were only about 25 AM educational stations on the air.

When the FCC approved FM radio on its present spectrum in 1945, it set aside the lowest 20 channels for noncommercial operation.

Beginning in the late 1940s, and growing steadily ever since, the noncommercial radio industry had expanded to some 1,400 outlets by 1990.

Key to that expansion was a rising federal government funding role. Prior to 1963, there was no federal funding for noncommercial radio. The chief national supporter, through grants, was the Ford Foundation. Formation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) in 1967 and its creation of National Public Radio (NPR) a year later gave the noncommercial stations their first nationwide identity.

Noncommercial television stations lacked reserved channels until 1952 and got them then only after several years of government debate over the idea. The first stations, mainly on the UHF band, went on the air in 1953 and 1954. Early years saw the slow growth of stations, usually for lack of financing. Well into the 1970s, many major U.S. cities and some whole states lacked even one noncommercial station.

As with radio, Ford Foundation funding was central to the survival of the pioneering noncommercial stations, most of which were run by universities or community organizations.

The creation of CPB and its formation of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) helped give the scattered noncommercial television stations a national identity. Increased federal funding and those national programs pushed the number of noncommercial stations to well over 300 by 1990. Several states operate networks of public TV stations, enabling statewide coverage of important events.

Until recently, about half of all money helping to support the noncommercial stations and networks came from taxes -- federal funds through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting or state taxes in support of stations in that state. Tax support by 1990 amounted to under 40 percent of total revenues. The remainder comes from businesses providing program grants (called underwriting), individual donations, foundations, and other sources.

Public broadcasters agree that their chief problem is and always has been to raise sufficient money to operate. They note that public radio and television in the United States operate with a fraction of the revenue of commercial broadcasting. Some critics have suggested that the lack of a clear agreement on the role of a noncommercial service in the largely commercial American system is at the heart of the continuing quest for funds.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the two network operations, National Public Radio for radio and the Public Broadcasting Service for television, largely represent noncommercial broadcasting in the Washington policy arena. NPR connects some 250 noncommercial radio stations -- the larger and better-financed outlets. It provides popular news programs in the early evening and weekday mornings. NPR produces much of what it provides to stations.

On the other hand, PBS only operates the interconnection of the television network. All PBS programs are produced by a few major public TV stations (such as those in Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Washington), overseas broadcast systems (especially those in Britain), and independent producers. Through a complicated "Station Program Cooperative" voting process each year, PBS member stations vote their support dollars for programs they want.

Proponents of public service broadcasting have argued for years that only noncommercial stations can offer the culture, education, and other programs to balance the largely entertainment fare offered by the networks and cable.

Critics say that as the number of channels received in most houses increases, and as VCR ownership surges past two-thirds of all American homes, noncommercial broadcasting is too expensive to continue to support. Those who desire such programs can receive them less expensively by means of videotapes or other methods, while the channels now held by noncommercial stations could be put to far more efficient use by others.

The development of children's, science, and other specialized cable networks has only added pressure on noncommercial broadcasters to justify why they should continue to enjoy reserved channels and other exemptions from rules that apply to other broadcasters.

The chief and continuing problem for the electronic media generally is the appetite of stations and channels for program material. The entertainment programming that occupies most network time (and makes up the majority of syndicated programming) is produced by independent companies, most based in southern California.

Prime time is the most important competitive showcase for television network programming and is largely devoted to comedy and drama programs. Schedules are set early each year to begin the new TV season in September. Unsuccessful programs (those with low ratings) are replaced throughout the year as needed.

Local network affiliates simply carry network programming in prime time and many daytime hours. Remaining time is nearly all filled with other entertainment programming (chiefly game shows and reruns of network material) offered to stations on a syndicated basis (the station buys the rights to air a program two or three times over a given period, usually exclusive rights for that city).

Virtually no television entertainment programming is produced locally -- it is far too expensive.

The vast majority of radio programming consists of various types of recorded popular music. In major cities, some stations emphasize news and talk formats, but most exist to play records and provide short newscasts -- and lots of advertisements! Radio networks were important until the 1950s, when television competition killed them off. In recent years, use of satellites to distribute radio program formats has revived some degree of national programming.

Some surveys suggest that most Americans get most of their news (especially national and international coverage) from television. With the rise of CNN and other cable information services, this may be even more true. Many Americans get their view of the world from five-minute radio newscasts or short items on network or local station programs.

News is popular with audiences and advertisers. The evening network half-hour newscasts get most of the news viewership. In recent years, CNN's two news networks have become something of a viewing habit with many Americans, given their 24-hour availability in homes that have cable television.

Other serious information programming -- interviews, public affairs programs, documentaries -- are in decline because audiences are small.

The content of all these programs is largely determined by the networks (or local stations for their own local evening newscasts -- major attractions for advertisers and audiences). National news agencies provide considerable input, but most American networks have their own reporters and use stringers in more remote areas.

Certainly the best-known American television program for children is "Sesame Street," a product of the Children's Television Workshop in New York, which first aired on public television in 1969. "Big Bird," "Kermit the Frog," and other characters are known around the world in various national versions of this highly successful combination of live action, animation, and lessons.

The television networks all reach children Saturday mornings with action-adventure cartoons.

Professional and college football is the most popular continuing sports coverage on television. Radio and television also present hours of baseball and basketball coverage, with less time given to other sports. The general public also gets very interested in Olympic coverage. There is some evidence (falling audience ratings) that audiences may have reached the saturation point with certain sports coverage.

Since about 1930, ever-better means of researching and reporting audience listening and viewing habits have had a major impact on program trends. A.C. Nielsen (a division of Dun & Bradstreet) and Arbitron (part of Control Data Corporation) are the major national ratings firms. Nielsen reports network and local market TV ratings, while Arbitron reports local market television and radio ratings. There is no ownership connection between these companies and any broadcasting entity.

Ratings are gathered because advertisers need to know who and how many are watching programs -- this information being crucial in deciding which media to "buy" for a given product. Broadcasters (and increasingly cable networks) "sell" audiences to advertisers, using ratings to measure their reach -- how many of the potential audience are in the actual audience.

Ratings are based on the principle of sampling. For example, Nielsen draws its national ratings from a sample of about 4,000 homes scientifically selected to represent various geographic regions of the country, along with different economic and social groups. These ratings are said to be a fair representation of national listening patterns, plus or minus about 3 percent.

Ratings are gathered by different methods. Most recent -- and controversial -- is the use of the people meter, a device requiring viewers to punch in on a remote control device when prompted by a computer in their receiver.

Older methods include telephone surveys of various kinds and keeping paper diaries of listening or watching activity over a week or so.

In the United States, the electronic media play a vital role in the election campaigns for both local and national office. Television time is expensive and makes up the largest portion of election campaign budgets.

It is now traditional (but certainly not required) for presidential candidates to debate one another on television a few times during the campaign. These "debates" are usually in the form of candidates answering questions rather than directly arguing with one another.

The media in the United States and elsewhere are also said to have an agenda-setting effect on listeners. If the media cover a given event or problem area, then surveys show that most viewers more readily think of that issue as a serious matter.

Two provisions of the American Constitution govern the regulation of communications. The Commerce Clause (Article I, Section 8) gives Congress the right to regulate commerce between and among the states and between the states and foreign countries. The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and the press. From these two precedents, both over 200 years old, comes all governmental activity in communication.

Congress first passed laws regulating wireless in 1910 and 1912. Only in 1927 was the first law passed specifically to regulate the licensing of broadcasting stations. That law created the all-important "public interest, convenience, and necessity" (PICON) standard by which licensing and other regulatory decisions are judged.

Congress felt broadcasting needed regulation, in part because the industry itself had requested it to reduce interference on the air, but also because there was (and is) insufficient spectrum to accommodate all who wish to broadcast. Further, the electromagnetic spectrum is held to be a natural public resource, and thus government oversees its use by licensing services needing spectrum.

In 1934, Congress passed the more comprehensive Communications Act, which brought telephone and broadcasting regulation under one agency and which still governs federal regulatory policy, though it has been amended several times since. That law continued the "PICON" standard and established the FCC.

The Federal Communications Commission consists of five commissioners who are appointed by the president and approved by the U.S. Senate, and some 1,800 civil servants who provide the legal, engineering, and economic expertise required to regulate modern telecommunications. The FCC's annual budget is about $110 million, relatively small by federal government standards. The FCC's Mass Media Bureau of some 300 people oversees broadcasting. Its chief function is to license stations.

Broadcast stations are licensed for seven years (radio) or five years (television), and these licenses may be and usually are renewed time and again. The licensing of services is the single most important function of the FCC. Cable systems, on the other hand, are franchised by local communities, and there is little federal regulation of cable.

The FCC has the authority (delegated by Congress) to set technical standards for telecommunication services. Until the early 1980s, companies and industry groups would test competing systems for a given standard and would recommend a standard to the FCC which would usually then approve (mandate) that standard. The standards for black-and-white and color television (the NTSC system) and stereo FM were derived in this fashion.

With its decision on AM stereo broadcasting in early 1982, the FCC moved away from that approach, leaving it to the undefined "marketplace" to decide on a specific standard. The very limited success of AM stereo suggests that the marketplace approach does not work well in this case.

There is little regulation of programming in America. The primary reason for this is the First Amendment to the Constitution. There are federal limits on the use of obscene program materials, and there are requirements on access by candidates for political office.

Otherwise, the amount and type of programming provided by stations and cable systems are a matter of managerial choice, not government fiat. Most particularly, there is no government control over the broadcasting of news and public affairs programs.


Christopher Sterling is a professor with the National Center for Communications Studies at The George Washington University in Washington.

Original Location of this Article

The Right to Know

Richard A. Bumstead

Constitutionally protected free speech. Freedom of the press. They represent, as former U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan once wrote, "a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials."

But something is missing. How can spirited and informed debate on public issues take place, particularly debate that embarrasses officials, if the public does not know what is going on -- if government cloaks its activities in secrecy and evasion? The historical record shows that, at one time or another, government at all levels -- federal, state, and local -- stands guilty of this charge.

It is the self-appointed role of the American press to inform the public about government activities, thereby sparking debate. Reporters continually look for stories that will play on the front page -- stories about corrupt government officials, or agencies that fail to do what is required by law, or government policies gone wrong. The press maintains that it gets little cooperation from government. Officials prefer to release information that reflects favorably on their activities -- and to duck embarrassing questions. The relationship between government and the press is, at bottom, adversarial, and most reporters prefer it that way.

Over the years, reporters have developed ways of getting at the truth. They rummage through records that are unquestionably public, such as the Congressional Record or the minutes of meetings held by public boards. Reporters develop sources in government, officials they trust and who trust them, and who will talk "off the record" about what is really going on. They exploit the "leak," information given to them surreptiously by sometimes disgruntled government employees who want to draw attention to illegal activity. They build stories by interviewing scores of people, none of whom knows the real purpose of the questions posed.

In 1966, the U.S. Congress passed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), giving reporters a new way of getting information on government activities. By law, they can demand to see government records -- not just the ones that have traditionally been open to the public, but, with a few exceptions, all that are records generated by government operations.

What kind of records? On the federal level, records such as a study done for the Atomic Energy Commission on cancer rates among 30,000 workers in an atomic weapons facility, federal audits issued two weeks before the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's 1986 Challenger disaster that revealed improper equipment monitoring at the Marshall Space Flight Center, and audits of defense contractors that disclosed federal tax dollars being used for travel and entertainment expenses.

Before the Freedom of Information Act became law, such records would never have been made public. The law favored the government's right to say who could examine and copy its records. In 1789, when the federal government was first established, department heads were given responsibility for keeping and safeguarding records and, by extension, prescribing their uses. In the beginning, officials relied on the common-law practice of opening public records only to those who had an interest in them, commonly called the need-to-know doctrine. State and local governments followed this common-law rule as well.

Over the years, the power of state and local government officials to deny access to records had been whittled down by legislation and court decisions, generating a patchwork of law and regulation that few reporters could master. All too frequently, a reporter found that he or she had no clear-cut right to certain information. On the federal level, Congress made an attempt to liberalize rules of access to federal records in 1946. The Administrative Procedure Act of that year said that matters of official record should be made available to the public, but added that an agency could restrict access to its documents "for good cause found" or "in the public interest." The need-to-know doctrine still lived.

How did this need-to-know principle work in practice? A government official would make a judgment -- yes or no -- on whether someone requesting a particular document or report needed to know what was in it by virtue of his or her position, or job, or what he or she intended to do with the information. And there was no appeal from some official's denial of access to the records.

As a practical matter, this put a reporter -- or a citizen -- at the mercy of some officious clerk. Here is an example from my own experience. In the early 1970s, I was working as a free-lance writer in the northeastern U.S. state of Massachusetts, trying to put together a story on the costs of running state-supported colleges, whose campuses are scattered throughout the state. I had a hunch that some colleges were receiving a disproportionate share of the budget at the expense of other schools -- a theory that, if true, would have made a good story. I wanted to compare each college's expenditures to determine if any campus was favored.

I appeared at the one place that had these figures in a central file -- the state board of higher education in Boston. "I'd like to see the college budgets for last year," I politely said to each of the several people I was shunted to. Invariably I was asked two questions: "Whom do you represent?" and "Why do you want this information?"

I replied, truthfully, that I represented myself, and what I wanted the information for depended on what I found -- answers that no one found satisfactory. Finally, the assistant to the deputy chancellor for education in the state suggested that I write a request to the chancellor himself, and he would consider it in due time. The classic brush-off.

I had gotten this kind of response before and had learned to keep my temper in check. Whom I represented and what I was going to do with the information had no bearing whatsoever on my request. A new Massachusetts law had given me -- in fact, any person -- the right to examine and copy any document generated by the state government in going about its business (with certain understandable exceptions, such as law enforcement records).

I wrote a letter to the chancellor, citing the law, and asked to be shown these documents two weeks hence. On the appointed date, a clerk ushered me into the board room and gave me the documents I wanted to examine, no questions asked. It was, I believe, the first brush of a rather obscure state agency with the Massachusetts open-records law. No longer was a person in Massachusetts required to establish a need to know what was in records. He or she had the right to know.

Today, all states have right-to-know statutes. They include three essential elements: presumption of a public right of access to government records, placing the burden of proof on government officials who want to withhold information; enforceability of this public right in court; and statutory exemptions to disclosure of certain information, such as tax returns.

The preamble of the right-to-know law in the state of California catches the democratic spirit that underlies such legislation: "In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards and councils and other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.

"The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created."

The right-to-know laws enacted by state legislatures invariably were accompanied by another kind of law that made the job of monitoring government activities much easier -- the open-meetings law. Such a law requires that any government agency run by a board must give public notice on when and where it meets, must open the session to the public, and must conduct no public business (with certain exceptions) outside this session. The state board of higher education in Massachusetts, for example, a group appointed by the governor to coordinate state higher education, was compelled by the Massachusetts open-meetings law to do its business in public.

The open-records and open-meetings laws have made an amazing difference in how reporters and state government officials operate, says an editor on the Arkansas Gazette: "The attitude has changed -- not only of reporters but of public officials. School boards that have never been covered now provide not only notice of their meetings but a desk and chair for the press. Small towns as well as large ones are opening their meetings to the press, some of them before being asked. Many reporters have reproduced copies of the laws and carry them around with them in their billfolds. They are much more militant than before. When the Alcoholic Beverage Board left the state capitol and tried to hide in a member's private office downtown to conduct business, the press marched into the office and demanded to be admitted. Just last week the state real estate commission and the private real estate board tried to hold a closed joint meeting on the guise that the state board was merely a guest of the private group, but the reporters put the pressure on and were admitted."

The federal government was not immune to this nationwide movement to open up government records and meetings. Prodded by newspapers and by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Congress held several committee hearings on the subject over an 11-year span. Not one administrative official testified in favor of proposed right-to-know legislation, seeing it as a threat to executive prerogative.

Nonetheless, Congress passed the Freedom of Information Act in July 1966. It applied the right-to-know principle to federal records. President Lyndon Johnson was said to have signed the legislation reluctantly. Eight years later, the act was amended to make it more effective. That same year, another statute, the Privacy Act of 1974, was enacted, giving individuals the right to access information contained in their own federal records. And in 1976, the Congress passed, and President Gerald Ford signed into law, the Sunshine Act, the federal equivalent of state open-meetings laws.

The FOIA established that "any person" has a right, enforceable in court, to access records of executive branch agencies of the federal government. It does not apply to records maintained by the U.S. Congress, the federal court system, or the president's executive staff in the White House. Other, more restrictive rules govern the accessibility of such records.

To get information from the federal government under the FOIA, any person -- a reporter, citizen, even a foreign national -- files a request in writing describing the information he or she wants and addresses it to the FOIA officer in the agency that has the records. One can ask to inspect the records or to receive copies. The agency may charge reasonable search and copy fees. The agency has 10 days in which to provide the records sought or to state the exemption in the FOIA that allows it to refuse.

Information that falls within certain categories is generally withheld; these restricted categories are national security, trade secrets and confidential commercial information, internal agency memorandums, records that invade a person's right to privacy, law enforcement investigations, and information specifically exempted by prior law (for example, information contained in tax returns). If a request is denied, one may appeal the decision first to the agency for another review, and finally to a federal court. The government bears the burden of proof thatthe information requested is indeed exempt.

Over the history of the FOIA, however, many government officials have construed the act as narrowly as possible, forcing requesters to go to court for clarification. Numerous court cases have been filed over what constitutes a reasonable fee for search and copying expenses. In 1990, a reporter from the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, Colorado, was told by the U.S. Department of Energy that her newspaper must pay $1 million in search and copy costs to obtain the travel records of the former Secretary of Energy. Often an agency, citing the volume of FOIA requests, fails to meet the 10-day response deadline, and the courts have been reluctant to insist on compliance.

In addition to procedural roadblocks, innumerable cases have been adjudicated over substantive issues. What, in fact, constitutes a public record? How does the Privacy Act of 1974 impinge on the Freedom of Information Act? Which prevails -- the president's security classification system, by which certain documents are marked "secret" or "top secret," or the FOIA? Such questions have generated a cottage industry on FOIA case law. Each year, the U.S. Justice Department publishes a case list for what must now be an army of FOIA attorneys. The most recent list contains 371 pages of citations, plus a 260-page annotated guide to the FOIA's legal history.

The upshot is that many journalists avoid using FOIA procedures. Says an investigative reporter at the Fresno (California) Bee: "Generally, I avoid FOIA at all costs. I don't have a lifetime to wait on the information coming through FOIA."

Any reporter who believes his or her FOIA request is not being handled properly can seek help from the Freedom of Information Service Center in Washington. It is a project of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to monitor government's compliance with the FOIA and educate reporters in FOIA procedures. The press associations in each state also monitor how well state and local governments are complying with local open-records and open-meetings laws.

"People don't use FOIA as often as they should, because they believe it is too cumbersome and time-consuming," says Rebecca Daugherty, director of the center. "And it's a shame. There are terrific stories being produced from use of FOIA. And we know there are many other stories waiting to be written."

One such story was published in 1989 by the Constitution, the leading newspaper in Atlanta, Georgia. It suspected that local banks were not lending an equitable amount of money to blacks to buy homes in black neighborhoods -- a form of discrimination prohibited by federal law. But how to prove it? Asking bank officials would have produced a noncommittal but politic answer, something like "I am sure our bank's lending policies conform to the law." And, indeed, their records may not have been organized to provide a ready answer even if bank officials volunteered to research the question.

But there was one untapped source. Under federal law, banks are required to report each home loan to the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council. Here was a federal record of bank home loan lending practices in Atlanta, accessible under FOIA rules.

The Constitution filed a FOIA request for the data and received seven computer tapes listing 109,000 real estate loans made in Atlanta over the prior six years. The newspaper then arranged for a computer center to match the data with census tracts, which give the racial composition of inhabitants. The findings startled Atlanta, which prided itself on its race relations: Whites received more than five times as many home loans from Atlanta's banks as blacks of the same income.

"The numbers you have are damning," said the chairperson of a leading Atlanta bank. "Those numbers are mind-boggling. Atlanta bankers are discriminating against the central city, but it's not a willful thing."

After months of "uninhibited, robust, and wide-open" public debate, Atlanta banks revised their lending practices and committed millions of dollars to home mortgages in black areas. And the Constitution won a Pulitzer Prize, one of America's highest journalistic awards, for making imaginative use of the right-to-know law.


Richard A. Bumstead is a Washington-based writer with the U.S. Information Agency.


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