Chandra Bhan Prasad
If art imitates life, then why were there no minorities in leading roles in any of the 26 new shows that debuted in the 1999-2000 prime time television season," asked Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)? The NAACP accused TV networks of "whitewashing" American networks and threatened a boycott. The diversity campaign intensified, forcing major TV companies to accept the truth. Programmes came out with blacks and ethnic minorities in the lead roles. The four major TV companies ultimately signed a "diversity agreement" with the NAACP. Following the agreement, the four networks issued guidelines:
NBC: Increase production deals with minority-owned production companies. Buy more products and services from minority vendors. Formulate a policy to hire qualified people of colour as directors and writers for subsequent seasons. Work towards diversity on all shows. Beginning with the 2000-2001 season, NBC will finance a writing position on each returning new show for a minority writer. Expand the number of minority job applicants by creating six graduate-level scholarships and recruit more minority interns.
ABC: Create grants to hire minorities as writers and directors. Fund grants at the university level and in acting schools to increase the pool of talent. Increase commercial time for minority-owned companies. Get casting directors to meet, audition and hire more minority actors. Establish a relationship with at least one minority professional organisation and recruit at university events.
CBS: Expand minority recruitment. Urge the studios with which it does business to integrate their writing staff for the 2000-01 season. Create outreach programmes to recruit and develop new talent. Train and hire more minority executives. Establish new relationships with minority-owned advertising companies and enhance the network's use of minority-owned media to promote programming. Seek out minority-owned firms for professional services of all kinds. Tie executive compensation directly to efforts at diversifying the workforce.
Fox: Tie executive compensation back to departmental directors. Expand minority recruitment and retention programmes. Create new minority internship programmes. Place greater internal emphasis on minority recruitment when evaluating executive job performances, bonuses and discretionary pay increases. Set a minimum goal of 10 per cent minority procurement on goods and services, where qualified minority suppliers are available. Increase the use of minority-owned media to promote programming. Increase the number of production and development deals with minorities.
These four TV companies, in terms of size and reach, can, in the Indian context, be compared with Star News (NDTV), Star Plus, Z News, India Today's Aaj Tak, Sun TV, Eenadu TV amongst others. All these channels produce serials, chat-shows and news programmes etc. Since art mirrors society - its crises, perceptions, or "wisdom", we find the entire art world (on the electronic medium) as the truest mirror of the Chaturvarna order - as decadent, dead, tasteless and static as the inner life of the Varna order itself. To them, one-fourth of India's populace never existed, in the same manner as they don't exist for temple priests!
Members of Varna origin write scripts, direct, act themselves and produce for their own people. Dalits don't exist as viewers, unless some of them are massacred or their women raped. The comedy they produce, at times, appears to be tragic for in the Chaturvarna order, the dividing line between "tragedy" and "comedy" is very thin, if not totally non-existent. And more often than not, most channels appear to be owned by one single Bania and most programmes, be they news or soap-operas, directed by one single Brahman. Look at their sense of solidarity or loyalty to their people - they decide, together, that Arundhati Roy is the greatest novelist, Medha Patkar the greatest activist and Atal Bihari Vajpayee the greatest politician. Despite all this, Varna society does not produce one single Mfume, or an NAACP, which can rise to say all TV networks are "Varna-born", catering to the interests of Varna society, practise Varna-apartheid and are all a part of the exclusion of Dalit art and artists. Will network owners in India rub their skin a bit and accept at least one of the guidelines issued by the four major American Networks?
Yet, we find in each gali, apartment, restaurant, college canteen, TV studio and newspaper office, people of Varna origin, threatening to describe themselves as "progressive, secular, liberal, samrastavadi or samajik-nyay-vadi." But they never talk about democratising art! What a society and what shamelessness? America is good for capital and technology, but bad in social perceptions - what double standards?