Homosexuality is legal in about 125 countries, not 25 as Indian Media had us believe.

Earlier today, India decriminalized homosexuality. In a fitting judgement, the Supreme Court rightly stated that “history owes the LGBT community an apology”. Euphoria on twitter and in Indian media followed, since the verdict was as anticipated.

As part of the celebrations, one news item got this “history” horribly wrong. The headline (and the text) read that “As SC decriminalises gay sex, India joins 25 nations where homosexuality is legal”. This is incorrect and misleading.

As the article itself mentions, homosexuality is illegal in only about 72 countries. There are about 197 countries in the world (if you consider Palestine and Taiwan as countries which I do). That means homosexuality isn’t a crime in 125 countries.

The 25 countries they mention is where same sex marriages are legally recognized. The article mentions

some of these [25] countries where gay sex has been legalised are: “Argentina (2010), Greenland (2015), South Africa (2006), Australia (2017), Iceland(2010), Spain (2005), Belgium (2003), Ireland(2015), United States (2015),Brazil (2013), Luxemborg (2014), Sweden (2009) and Canada (2005).”

The dates in parentheses are actually the year in which these countries began to recognize (and perform) same sex marriages. Most of these countries had decriminalized homosexuality decades ago.

I consider this a serious error for two reasons.

First it reflects on how due process is ignored in contemporary news cycles. This story was a PTI (Press Trust of India) release and many news outlets (including Times of India, world’s largest English language daily by circulation) have reproduced it without checking for serious and consequential (yes) factual errors.

Second, while we celebrate the decriminalization of homosexuality in world’s largest democracy, this incorrect fact undermines the importance of this judgement. India is a very late in recognizing LGBTQ rights. Until 2018 it belonged to a dark club of 72 countries, largely comprising of former British colonies and a few islamic states that haven’t fixed this draconian Victorian era law (section 377 in the Indian Penal Code). With today’s verdict, India has stepped outside the dark, but is nowhere close to these 25 countries (which the news media equates India with) when it comes to rights of people in same sex partnerships. Further, it is also behind at least a dozen other countries, which recognize same sex unions as civil partnerships including the United Kingdom. Yet such coverage would have us believe otherwise.

Legal challenges aside, the LGBTQ movement in India has to overcome a lot of social prejudice. One such social prejudice sees homosexuality as a Western or First World phenomenon (which it isn’t), and an undesirable external influence on Indian culture. Perhaps coverage like this also misleads in that regard.

I hope this incorrect story is retracted or updated to correct this serious error. And steer the LGBTQ movement in India to its next steps.

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Do event outcomes affect how we rate their coverage? CNN IBN and US Elections 2012

Media feeds on elections. Counting and results declaration is when news becomes a “mass audience” genre, and the US Election results night more globally so is such a mass audience event. As I write, Obama has just been declared victorious. Apart from watching the coverage on BBC, I have been following the conversation in India on the topic on Twitter.

Rajdeep Sardesai, (Editor of CNN IBN , an important national cable news network in India) just tweeted that he was thankful to people for liking their coverage , on the basis of unsolicited instant feedback he received on twitter. Sounds very good!

BUT I couldn’t help ‘speculating’ if this enthusiastic support of the coverage had something to do with the outcome ( Obama’s Victory). Let me explain. Although a small fraction of Indians are really interested in US Elections,  many of them talk about it on twitter and also watch English language news. On average, they support Obama (they are young, globally mobile, have US connections mostly in North East and West Coast). So perhaps a Romney victory would not make them jump with joy. Then they (Obama supporters) may have liked the coverage a little less. Or at least not expressed unsolicited admiration.

I am not taking any credit away from Rajdeep or IBN. I am merely fishing for people’s thoughts on a hypothesis:An outcome of an event favorable to us makes us think more favorably of news media’s coverage of that event. So by corollary – On average, Americans who watched the 2012 elections night unfold on CNN (more liberal)  may rate CNN’s coverage more favorably than FOX News’ viewers (more conservative) would rate its coverage . Thoughts, comments?

Why mobile Internet in India won’t boom anytime soon?

Haven’t we all been hearing that the Internet boom in India is waiting to happen. We will soon get past the tipping point. We just need to overcome a few barriers. So what are these barriers?  About 10 years ago, it was the lack of a broadband policy, expensive computing. Five years ago lack of availability of inexpensive broadband access.  Finally, the advent of smartphones, it is believed would help India cross both hurdles of access and affordability. I remain skeptical.

I believe all these arguments have focused on the availability of technology itself, not how or why it is expected to be used by the people. It is overtly simplistic to assume that just because more and more mobile users have Internet enabled phones, they would take to the mobile Internet. This may remain a fond hope.

First, lets talk about the cellphones. No one in India or worldwide had expected cellphones to become ubiquitous. Far from it, they were thought to fail. Yet they found their most enthusiastic customers (surprisingly for some) in emerging markets of Asia and Africa, and not the US or UK. To me this was quite unsurprising.

Let’s examine the case of India. There were less than 20 million phones  in the country at the time cellphones first arrived ( a teledensity of about 1  in 1995-96). This is 100 years after the first telephone exchange was setup in the country.  The low teledensity was not because people did not want or could not afford telephones. Most people wanted one, and that too badly.  With one state owned provider, you had to wait years ( often decades) to get a connection ( we got ours in 1994 after applying in 1985 because we were high priority customers, my parents being doctors).

Why did everyone want a phone?  Because everyone had seen it being used. A worker at a grocery store and a restaurant had seen it being used by his owner. A clerk had seen it being used in his office. Even housewives had more than once flocked to STD /PCO booths to convey important messages. The phenomenal success of STD/PCOs in the late 80s and early 90s made every Indian aware of what the telephone can do.

The entry and falling prices of mobile phones was then a sweetly timed co-incidence with the need for a telephone. What more, no waiting lists, no favors to be offered to linesmen, yet you could within days ( or hours) get a working telephone. Soon, everybody knew somebody who had a telephone or a cellphone. Hence 100 years after its first introduction in the country, people were able to get a device they longed for. A device that enabled even the illiterate to communicate! They indeed embraced it, that too in no insignificant measure.

That this burgeoning cellphone population would start accessing Internet on mobile phones is a fairly rational thought. Accessible, affordable and reliable services further the case. Yet, there is one catch.

Unlike  phones, most haven’t longed for the Web. Do they even know what the Internet is or what can it do for them? The computer for them is a device that banks maintain ledgers on or people in big offices use for some official work, or some students use in colleges. Everyone they talk to or want to talk to has a cellphone. By contrast 9 out of 10 people do not use the Internet, fewer use it more frequently than once a month.

Then what about the claim that companies such as Facebook claim that a large chunk of their users (even in India) use the service from mobile devices.  These claims may be perfectly valid. However, how many of these users began using the Internet on their phones? My understanding suggests that most mobile web users are people who are already introduced to the Internet on a regular device, and use the mobile Web in addition to surfing the Web on the computer.

Agreed, for many the phone may have become a primary device for Internet access. However this does not mean that those who remain unexposed to computers and consequently the Internet, will also start using web services on their phone. They have to have the need for that service in the first place. How we develop that need is a matter of another post.Till then, good luck to all those waiting for the Internet in India to boom!

प्रादेशिक भाषाएँ हैं भारत में इन्टरनेट उपयोंग में वृद्धि की कुंजी।

नमस्कार मित्र ,

आजकल अपने phd थेसिस में काफी व्यस्त हूँ । आप में से कुछ लोगों को मालूम होगा कि मेरे अनुसन्धान का विषय  मीडिया, समुदाय और तकनीकी से जुड़ा हुआ है। ख़ास तौर से, अपने थेसिस में मैं इन्टरनेट के उपयोंग में भाषा की भूमिका की जाँच कर रहा हूँ ।

अभी तक मैंने नतीजों के तौर प़र  यह पाया है, कि इन्टरनेट के उपयोंग को बढाने में स्थानीय भाषाओं मे websites का उपलद्ध होना अनिवार्य है। यही नहीं, बल्कि तमाम देशों में कंप्यूटर keyboards और सोफ़्त्वैर भी स्थइनीय भाषाओँ मे उप्लब्ध हैं। यह रुझान केवल फ्रांस,  जेर्मनी इटली जैसे सम्रध देशों में ही नहीं, बल्कि विएतनाम, इंडोनेसिया, तुर्की जैसे विकासशील देशों में भी मैंने देखे हैं।

भारत  में स्थिथि काफी निराशाजनक है। अक्सर कंप्यूटर और अंग्रेजी की कुशलता में सीधा सम्बन्ध देखा जा सकता है । कुछ लोगों केअनुँसर यह समस्या का विषय नहीं है, क्योंकि  हर साक्षर भारतीय को अंग्रेजी आती है। परन्तु यह दावा सच्चाई से बहुत दूर है। पिछले 30 वर्षों में भारत में प्रादेशिक भाषाओँ में समाचार पत्रों,पत्रिकाओं, फिल्मों और टीवी कार्यक्रमों के श्रोताओं में बहुत बढ़त हुई है, जबकि अंग्रेजी मीडिया के दर्शकों में कोई खास वृद्धि नहीं हुई है।

तो इन्टरनेट के उपयोंग में  हम बाकी देशों  के मुकाबले इतना क्यों  पिछड़े हुए हैं ?  मेरे विचार में अगर हम कंप्यूटर शिक्षा और यन्त्र प्रदिशेक भाषा में प्राप्त कराएँ, तो हम इन्तेरेंट के उपयोंग में  काफी वृद्धि देखेंगे । परन्तु हमारे देश के करता धर्ता कभी चाहते ही नहीं हैं कि जो अंग्रेजी नहीं बोल सकता , वो आगे बढे और उनको टक्कर दे। ऐसा उन्होने अंग्रेजों से सीखा है, और हर अंग्रेजी में कुशल इंसान अपने आप को उच्च नागरिक मानता है।

हमें शीघ्र ही स्थिथि को सुधारने के लिए  कुछ करना होगा ।

हर्ष

Lets Abuse TAM Data: Indian TV Industry

I read an ad in Mint about UTV-Bloomberg claiming that they have grown to no. 2 in the English Business News Space.

Lets Abuse TAM Data

Surprised I decided to look closely:
Well in the Male CS 25-44 (all SECs) Segment All India market they had slightly greater channel share (relative) than NDTV Profit and ET NOW according to TAM. For the uninitiated channel share is the product of no of people who watched at least one minute ( reach) and the average time spent by them.

I have three issues with this kind of abuse of TAM numbers :
1. The target for English Business News Channels is much smaller than the one used in the ad. Perhaps CS 25-44 M SEC A and B in 10 lakh plus towns would be more plausible.

2. The use of relative shares is again a misleading measure. In reality the absolute of share of viewing of these channels is minuscule to total television viewing so how many combined minutes of television viewing does this really mean?

3. The third is with the use of TAM for such data.English business news is a very niche segment.
a.) This genre is consumed by respondents who are hard to recruit for high involvement research like TAM.
b). Besides consumption is outside the home ( at public places, offices etc).
c.) The sample sizes for these channels is so low that these fluctuations may be due to sampling errors.

But the saddest part is that our media planners will continue to spend advertising money based on these irrelevant numbers and think they are making scientifically correct decisions.

I hope students of media/ advertising /marketing can learn this before going to the industry.