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Thursday, September 27, 2007

How contemporary Media reflects ethical issues?

Media Conference,
22nd Sept 2007,
Shanti Van, Mt Abu, Rajasthan

Indian press today is over 200 years old. Indian Radio is about 100 years old and Doordarshan is about 50 years old. In Jan 1780, James Augustine Hicky started the first newspaper, a weekly, variously called as the Bengal Gazette or the Calcutta General Adviser or Hicky Gazette. He is still regarded as the father of Indian Journalism.

Before Independence, Media was a mission. Its mission was to free India from the clutches of foreign rulers, the British. There were many restrictions on Media in the form of regulations. The infamous gagging act was brought to suppress the vernacular press, for example, is one such regulation. After Independence to there have been many commissions but those were to streamline the working conditions of journalists; categorization of news papers into small, medium and large; commercial orientation for revenue earning by radio; constitution of press council; establishment of national level news agencies and the like.

Radio in India, as an organization is only 2 years behind British Broadcasting Corporation. Now it is terrestrial radio or sky radio reaching 100% geographical area of Indian subcontinent.

Television developed for a mere local cast of Adult education program in 1959 to Krishi Darshan for agricultural extension education in 1967. From the landmark SITE (satellite instructional television experiment) in 1975 to transmission extended to all parts of the country during Asiad games that too in color. Now it is DTH and IP TV covering all parts of the country. Private channels are innumerable with more than the required freedom.

If we look at the major functions of the Media, they are Information, Interpretation, Education, Entertainment and Evaluation. Media informs the people on what is happening around. It interprets the issues for the benefit of the people. It educates the people on various schemes, plans and programmes of the Govt. It entertains the people through various arts and cultural forms. It also evaluates the functioning of the systems in the society.

If we remember Gandhiji, he said “A free press should be neither an ally nor an adversary… but a constructive critic”. Media is the bridge between the ruler and the ruled for transport of information inputs. The Media, particularly the Press, the Radio, the Television and the Cinema together or independently have the potency to either reform or deform the Society.

But what is happening today? Media that was a mission before independence, grew as a profession after independence and of late it is being criticized for becoming a business without ethics and without any social responsibility. It is because the owners of print and private electronic channels are the owners of either a business establishment or an Industrial house or a financial institution. News, naturally in the hands of these businessmen became a commodity. News, which shall be a bare fact is now angled or slanted to make it marketable news. Media wanted stories in place of plain news based on facts. Editorial has become either dictatorial or proprietorial.

It is therefore, often being quoted as “bad news is good news and good news is no news” We read newspapers, listen to radio and watch TV to find a murder, a molestation of a minor girl, an atrocity, a celebrity’s divorce, an unholy alliance, a bomb blast, a vehicle plunging into depths, an insurgent attack, an encounter, a political coup, a plan crash where people died or hurt or made to suffer rather than the news on development. Very recently an electronic channel captured an event where a chain snatcher was beaten up by the mob, a policeman tied him to his motorcycle and dragged. It happened in Bihar State. Those visuals were telecast repeatedly creating a kind of vexation in the minds of onlookers. In another incident where a celebrity shook hands with the policemen led to their suspension, because it was shown repeatedly. It happened in Maharashtra State.

Looking at Media from this point of view, we have to ask ourselves whether Media is in its right direction or going in a wrong way leading the society along with it. The answer would be “Society is the cause”. Any Institution or Organization or mission or profession is the reflection of the very society and its individuals. Individual is a measure of the Society.

If the society wants bad, media shall be ready to supply it. If the society demands for good, the media shall make such arrangements. It all depends on the society and its individuals and their taste being the consumers of news. Some experts visualize that very soon a particular medium or its programs will be accepted if they are good and will be rejected if it is bad. But before it could happen sufficient damage will be caused to the Society.

Now the question is who shall change? Should media change or reform it-self to discharge its social responsibility? Change it for the welfare and happiness of the public at large? Or the Society shall change for the better. For this, a set of values and a code of ethics are necessary for both Society and the Media.

Press council of India that is supposed to enforce values and ethics is said to be teeth less. It has to be rejuvenated. The owners of the Media will have to be oriented towards adoption of values and ethics. The Society being a composition of many individual ethnic groups belonging to various cultures, religions, various levels of economic status, in order to put this on right path all the concerned viz political leaders, social leaders, opinion leaders, religious teachers shall strive for restoring values and ethics in Society.

Media reflects Society. Contemporary media is reflecting the society in its entirety. I wish the parallel workshops, plenary sessions of this Media conference in one voice and recommend to the Government, the Media Owners etc for restoration of values and ethics in the Society.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Consumer Relations - Rights & Responsibilities of Consumers

Consumer Relations

Consumer relations is often confused with marketing, and in fact it is important that the public relations professional work with the marketing professional when developing goals for a consumer relations program. However, consumer relations differ from marketing in that the goals of the program are to develop positive relationships with consumers rather than to sell a certain number of a product. It is necessary to note, however that the assumption is that more positive relationships with customers will result in higher sales.

Consumer Relations is an integral part of public relations and cannot be over looked. After all, who is the most important public in an organization, the customer is right? If an organization did not have customers, could not attracted them nor maintain them, how would the organization exist. What purpose would the organization serve? Consumers literally make or break an organizations future.

With that in mind, how does an organization create, attract and maintain consumers for their product? This is the fine line where Marketing and Public Relations often blurs. Marketing and Public Relations share some basic concepts such as research methods, selection of target audiences, development of communication and action plans as well as final evaluations. Even with these similarities, the two are not exactly the same. Marketing tends to be more product and field specific, where as, Public Relations is much broader.

Public Relations takes into account such things as internal relations, external non-customers and the surrounding environment, and overall consumer behavior. Therefore, with an understanding of the roles each plays in an organization it would seem a combination of the two would create the best-case scenario for attracting and maintaining new customers. (“Relationship Marketing” department, as it were, would be ideal.)

So, how would this “Relationship Marketing” department deal with the consumer? First, it would have to understand that consumers make buying decisions based on five buying habits that include, product quality, the organizations method of handling consumer complaints, how they handle a crisis, product safety, and trading practices. They must also understand that consumers want to be served and not just sold.

Consumers want, and need, products and services that are not only of good quality but useful as well. Finally, the “Relationship Department” has to be aware of how to “delight” customers so they will become “regular, repeat, and loyal” consumers. Achieving customer delight is done by first making a promise of consumer benefits (what the consumer has to gain) and second they must meet the consumer’s expectations. The third step is to involve the employees so they can help deliver the product and service and fourth they must take into account the aftermath and maintenance of the customer base and service they provide.

Although Consumer Relations is only one aspect of an organization, it can easily be ranked among the highest in importance! Therefore building and maintaining a regular, repeat and loyal customer basis (customer relationship) is the proven lifeline to an organization.

In today's business environment, company success depends on understanding your customers and exceeding their demands for service. As products become less differentiated and demand growth slows, the profitability of a firm increasingly depends on its ability to find, expand and retain valuable customers.

Customer relationship management is critical to the profitability and long-term success of companies across all industries. This traditional and personalized consumer liaison management technique allows a company to identify and resolve problems, as well as create an extensive database. Exceptional customer service is the only thing that will differentiate your business from your competition. In order for a business to grow, it is therefore essential to develop a strong customer-focused culture.

It is far more cost-effective to build loyalty with existing customers than to keep replacing them. Value the customers and believe that consumer care is a vital part of our organization. Personal approach enables one to tackle all consumer issues effectively, creating positive company perceptions.

Consumer Rights

In the 20th century, the presence and influence of the market grew dramatically in consumer life. We began to purchase things from the market for a price. Soon, mass production and industrial production came into being, giving the consumer world an entirely new dimension. Urban consumers depend on the market for fulfillment of even their basic needs. This over-dependence on the market and the inherent profit motive in mass production and sales has given manufacturers, and dealers a good reason to exploit consumers. As a consumer, you would know how market products are constantly under-weight, of inferior quality and do not prescribe to quality standards specified by quality-control agencies. Consumers not only do not get value for their money but also often have to suffer losses and inconvenience due to market manipulations.

The 8 Consumer Rights

In order to safeguard consumer interest, consumer rights activists of the West initially envisioned 6 consumer rights, namely:

Right to Safety

Right to Information

Right to Choice

Right to be heard

Right to Redress

Right to consumer education

These rights were conceptualized in the developed world's consumer context where consumers are wealthy and completely dependent on the market to fulfill their needs. These rights had to be redefined keeping in mind the realities of a developing country like India. Consequently, two very important rights were added viz.:

Right to Basic Needs and

Right to a healthy and sustained environment.

These two rights are very closely linked with the realities of developing countries where environment plays a very important role as a resource and support-structure for the people. In a country like India, a large section of the population looks for food security, assured safe water supply, shelter, education and health services. Most consumers relate very little to imported goods stacked in supermarkets or for choice among latest models of cars, as is the case in the developed world. For India's 1 billion population, food security and a safe environment are more pressing needs than any other consumer options and rights. The developing country natural resources also serve as a resource base for the developed world's industrial output.

Consumer Responsibility

While one likes to know about our rights and exercise them, hardly ever accord the same importance and urgency to our consumer responsibilities. Consumer rights and responsibilities are intertwined together and without sharing consumer responsibility, consumers will find it very difficult to enjoy their rights on a long-term basis.

Consumers need to tread cautiously in the market place. While buying a product, ask yourself these questions:

· Do you really need this product?

· For how long would you like to use it? Will it last as long as you would like it to?

· What are the health fallout of that product? If it is a food product, does it give you any health benefits? Check the labeling of the product to see the nutritional chart of the product.

Consumer can also empower himself by knowing the law. For e.g., ISI mark on bottled mineral water has been made mandatory by the government and now labelling of non-vegetarian ingredient in food products will also mandatory for the industry.

Consumer responsibility can play a very important role in not only checking the market but also in restricting unnecessary consumption. It is not the sole responsibility of the market or of the government to provide consumers with detailed information. A consumer, on his part, must make every effort to inform himself of the product or service. For example, if a consumer consumes a health product, he must make efforts to inform himself beforehand about its possible side effects, and must also exercise caution regarding his eating habits, diet and physical exercise, to take full advantage of the product.

Consumer responsibility is based on ethics and rationale. There is no definitive set of consumer responsibilities and a consumer must exercise restraint in consumption to consume responsibly. For example, conservation of the environment cannot be forced upon consumers but a consumer must make a conscious effort to reduce consumption, choose environment-friendly alternatives and conserve energy.

Consumer responsibility needs to be shouldered by different consumer segments. Every segment has its own special consumer profile and consumption patterns. These patterns define the kind of consumer responsibility that a segment must discharge.

Responsibility towards safe waste disposal

Most often we consume without sparing any thought for what's going to be left behind as waste. More and more percentage of waste generated in urban areas today consists of non-biodegradable waste. Urban consumers are making use of plastic, paper and cardboard packaging, disposables batteries, plastic throw-away pens, use and throw nappies, empty cans etc are becoming a common feature of an urban dustbin. India's urban population is around 300 million. By 2011, the total quantity of solid waste generated in urban areas is expected to cross 56 million tonnes, creating a waste management crisis for urban India. Consumers need to become accountable for their consumption patterns and their serious environmental and economic implications. The 4 Rs of consumption (Reduce, Recycle, Refuse and Reuse) are not just a consumer's prerogative but also his consumer responsibility.

Responsibility to endorse safer products – Eco-labelling

Eco-friendliness is an important criterion in judging a product's feasibility. It is a way of assessing how much damage a product has caused to the environment. ‘Eco-mark' is one way of knowing which products conform to environmental standards and are more environment-friendly than others. Ecolabelling is a methodology practiced by many countries in the world, including India. The Indian government has formulated a scheme whereby some categories of products are awarded the ‘Ecomark' if they conform to certain standards set by the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Unfortunately, in India, the scheme has not taken off due to consumer apathy and lack of response. The market has manipulated this situation to lobby with the government to make Ecolabelling a voluntary scheme, which will allow manufacturers to disclose and cover information at will.

Consumer Bonding

The consumer movement needs active participation of consumers to lobby with the government, pressure the market to deliver better quality, and to support consumer rights campaigns. Empowerment of consumers by NGOs and public campaigns is a two-way process and without continuing consumer support, no campaign can flourish.

The concepts like Caveat Emptor (beware the buyer) and Caveat Venditor (beware the seller) together are still relevant for India.

Consumer Protection Act 1986

Industrial development in the field of manufactured goods has led to the influx of various consumer goods into the Indian market to cater to the needs of the consumers and a variety of services such as banking, financing, insurance, transport, housing construction, entertainment have been made available to the consumers.

In order to protect the consumers from exploitation and to save them from adulterated and substandard goods and deficient services the Consumer Protection Act came into force on 15th April, 1986 and it applies to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir.