Saturday, August 22, 2009

Spreading The Message

Lakshmi Narayana in Vaikuntha “Just as a radio broadcasts mundane news, the bona fide guru broadcasts the news from Vaikuntha.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.3.21, Purport)

Recently on CNN, a television cable news network, a story was done providing people tips on how to purchase a health insurance plan. Shown during the afternoon, the idea appeared to have great potential, but the story didn’t live up to it.

CNN, known as the Cable News Network, was the pioneer in the cable television news genre. Prior to its founding in 1980, the only source for national news on television was what was shown on the big three television networks: ABC, NBC, and CBS. Walter Cronkite became a household name as the anchor of the CBS evening news in the 1960s and early 1970s. Usually shown between the hours of 6 and 7 pm, the nightly television newscasts always garnered huge ratings. CNN tapped into this market by dedicating an entire cable channel to strictly showing news. Thus, the 24 hour news cycle began. In the last 15 years or so, cable news has really taken off with new networks such as FOX and MSNBC joining the ranks. All these channels display news tickers at the bottom of the screen throughout the day, scrolling through the latest headlines. Much of the content on these channels has become formulaic. The typical news hour consists of an anchor reading the latest news headlines, followed by panels of experts and guests discussing the topics. Many times the guests are on opposing sides of an issue, so debates naturally ensue. Other segments, such as do-it-yourself guides and helpful hints for consumers, are also quite common on cable news networks. CNN had one such segment recently dedicated to the issue of health insurance and how people can go about buying it.

Having health insurance is very important for people living in America. With the increase in government mandates and regulation over employers, hospitals and doctors, it is almost a necessity to have some sort of health insurance versus paying for medical expenses out-of-pocket. A health insurance plan can be very complicated, with all sorts of benefits, limits on out-of-pocket expenses, and deductibles. For example, one insurance plan may cover hospital visits completely, while others require the patient to pay a certain amount per day of hospital confinement, up to a certain maximum amount. A typical health insurance plan divides its benefits summary into categories such as preventive care, outpatient care, allergy care, hospital care, emergency car, maternity care, home health care, etc. An insurance company is in business for one reason, to make money. The customer, on the other hand, wants to spend as little money as possible and still get good coverage. With these forces colliding, along with issues of competition, malpractice insurance, in-network versus out-of-network, it is quite understandable to think that some people could use some guidance on which plans are the best ones for them.

CNNThe story on CNN however, didn’t provide any useful information at all. A health insurance “expert“ appeared as a guest and suggested that people shop around for the best health insurance plan. People were also urged to look for plans with a low deductible. These tips were well-intentioned but most people already know all of this. People don’t need to be told how to shop around or how to look for low prices. When acting in their own self-interest, people will automatically buy things that are suited to their needs. Some value price over quality and others vice versa. In a free society, these things take care of themselves. No one is taught how to purchase a cell phone plan, a flat screen television, or even shop for groceries. People buy what they want and at the price they are willing to pay.

The CNN story is indicative of a larger problem with the news media. They tend to look down at their audience and give them useless information. They also devote much airtime to praising celebrities, detailing their every move. While this might be entertaining to some, the knowledge received is very little and has no lasting value.

“There are so many departments in a university: technological, medical, engineering, etc. But where is the department to know and understand what this life is, what God is, and what our relationship is?” (Shrila Prabhupada)

The twenty-four cable networks have a real opportunity to teach people about meaningful topics, such as the soul and its relationship with God. Spiritual education is seriously lacking in this age. We spend twelve years in school and then four plus years in college studying various material subjects. We learn about the ins and outs of various sciences and how to read and write, but the science of the soul is never taught.

Bhagavad-gita The news media reaches millions of people daily, so if they spent even five minutes out of every hour discussing a verse from the Bhagavad-gita or other Vedic scriptures, then society would be greatly benefitted. Instead of live debates with Republican and Democrat strategists, they could show clips of Shrila Prabhupada speeches and have discussions on them. The Vedic literature is so vast that it never gets tiring to listen to. In India during the 1980s, television serials devoted to the Mahabharata and the Ramayana were shown and the people tuned in by the millions. In America, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ movie set records at the box office. This proves that the desire for spiritual education is there. It is in the financial interest of these news organizations to fulfill that desire. If you show it, they will come.