OPINION

Indian Media-Leader Oriented, Reader Neglected

March 06, 2008
Abhinandan Mishra

'Freedom of media' is a relative term. It is just not limited to the freedom enjoyed by the media to report everything without being stopped forcefully but also obliging the members of media fraternity so as to stop them from giving out a true picture. The term "obligation'' assumes enormous proportions in the backdrop of media ethics. The modern media is like the now banned 'Mumbai's Bar Clubs' with Market guiding them in all respect. Editors have become Bar Girls? .
All major Indian newspapers with few exceptions have now turned into what is popularly known as "Response run" rather than "editorially run" papers. There was a time when management people were given independent responsibilities to generate revenue and the editorial wing was consider sacrosanct. Now the most of the editors of these papers have to cut a sorry figure in face of a Harvard, IIM or any management institute educated manager, and wisely they have now learned to buckle under the demands and whims of the Response. These days an MBA has more say than an editor in deciding the contents or colour of a newspaper.
As a result of this approach content and quality wise these newspapers are heading southwards and there is nothing astonishing in it as when Ad and revenue generation becomes important the priority than the quality of newspaper goes down. This is a cardinal principle which is always true. The newspapers and magazines have now become any consumer product with perishable value.They have lost their retention capacity by the readers.
The Correspondents are now given the additional responsibility of procuring state sponsored advertisements for their respective newspapers. There are examples of the state and district level or even block level stringers being asked to collect advertisements for special supplements to be brought on Republic Day, Independence Day, State Foundation Day and even foundation Day of the newspaper itself. This is happening even in the villages of Bihar, UP and Jharkhand, where Hindi readership is very large.
This is true for almost all the publications, and in this context it would be foolish to expect that a newspaper will encourage the correspondent to report against the same government which is providing the publication with advertisements that runs into crores.
The 'old lot of journalists' who started their career in the 60s or 70 now find it increasingly difficult to function in this comparatively new Response oriented market environment which demands from them a lot more than just good writing skills.
Everyone knows that Vinod Dua, Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt recently accepted the state sponsored Padma Shri but not many are aware of the fact that Pranoy Roy declined the same when it was awarded to him just after the UPA came into power.
There was a time when even the fear of state sponsored prosecution was not able to stop media from speaking out against Indira Gandhi and emergency. Sadly the times have changed.
Readers who have been committed readers of the the self proclaimed Leader of newspapers ,particularly those preparing for the Civil Services now do not subscribe the paper as they are getting better contents in other newspapers. They are getting thought and views from non-leader newspapers as the Leader has lost its serious reader value contents. The Leader is growing in the Market, but not among the Minds as its has lost its "Retention Value". The Leader is more concerned about its TRP now giving good bye to quality reading materials and news. The Response oriented editorials are not liked by the serious and committed readers.
Readers loyalty has shifted from the Leader as the paper has now turned into a 'skin-friendly' paper of the establishment of the Day. The Leader's editorial page which perhaps was its best part too has deteriorated and as for the Sunday pull-out page the less said the better. It is neither interesting nor entertaining leaving alone educative.
This nexus between media-politicians, media-industrialists has always been there but earlier it was healthy interface and the media always knew that being the fourth estate it is under the obligation to keep a check on the other institutions of democracy. And I don't deny that the checks and the controls are still there but now it is more of a "manipulated checks''.
The Freedom of Press is meant only for the Leader and its subsequent followers, not for Readers is confirmed now.

A law graduate from NLIU, Bhopal.Worked for 2 years as a journalist in media organizations like Qatar Tribune, PTI and UNI. Now more of just 'a writer' rather than a 'paid' writer.
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#1
avinash
March 6, 2008
01:12 PM

Abhi i guess u r referring to TOI. I agree with u in totality and the demise of TOI is sad and unfortunate.

I have closely followed TOI and its downfall began when the younger Jains, their proprietor ( vineet jain the name of the other brother I can't remember) took over after the death of their father.

I personally know senior correspondents who are dejected. But then thats the situation with every other newspaper, the only thing that saddens more is that TOI was an icon.

#2
Morris
March 8, 2008
03:54 PM

This is very unfortunate. Freedom of media is one of the key ingredients for heathy democracy. Ultimately democracy is compromised. To a certain extrent, it is also happening in the US perhaps for different reasons. I hope those responsible are aware of this and are trying to overcome the problems.

#3
kerty
March 9, 2008
01:59 AM

News papers in USA are facing the same issues and serious decline in readership. More so after sea change brought up by internet, blogging, mobile phones and camcoders as they essentially give direct access to every day people to receive and disseminate information and news as they happen. Earlier, editors and journalists could control the content of information and news that would be made available to the masses. But as media has proliferated, it has lost its edge.

In 60s and 70s, media used to be fiercely combative, independent, objective, investigative and anti-establishment, which essentially provided a good system of checks against the establishment. I do not think Bush could have gotten away with his dubious policies back than.

News Papers in UK declined long before they did in USA. Their screaming headlines, tacky layout, sensationalization of stories and events made them look like tabloids, much like what TOI looks today. People credit Rupert Murdoch with tabloidization of News Papers in UK. So when he tried to enter USA media, lots of people in media had near fits. And their fears have not been proven to be unfounded. His Fox channel has taken the credibility of TV media to a all time low. News Papers have met similar fate. Their declining circulation, declining revenues, waves of layoffs, cutting back on correspondent staff abroad and at home have crippled their effectiveness and eroded their power. Now establishment keeps media in check, and dictate how much influence media can enjoy.

Media in India has never enjoyed the power, sophistication and maturity that its western counterpart enjoyed. Its influence on masses has remained minimal till date, and confined mostly to urbanized and elites. In order to grab the readership and viewers and to compete with 24/7 TV entertainment programming, they have to sensationalize and tabloidize their content. So their influence in the society remain marginal. Media itself lacks the checks and balances within. I think unenlightened polity and electorate is direct reflection of unenlightened and non-robust media. And I don't think that is going to change any time soon.

#4
Prateek
March 13, 2008
12:50 AM

Media is definitely going through a transition with online ad impressions and tv ratings having such a strong effect on the bottom line.

Hopefully this will correct itself with a proper segmentation across quantity/quality lines. Some advertisers will pay more to reach the smaller but richer & more influential segment who demand quality and substance. Others will stick to the segment which is currently more dominant: mass-market, sleazy headlines, "breaking news" every ten minutes etc.

Vote with your rupees!

#5
blokesablogin
March 13, 2008
09:41 PM

#3 I disagree kerty, Indian media has enjoyed power, but not necessarily the "sophistication" of the western media. Most of our freedom fighters edited papers and wrote editorials to drive home the point of freedom. Be it Subramania Bharathi in Tamizh or MK Gandhi in English.

Even to this day, the regional press in India has a unique stature that is not shared by its English counterpart. Rarely do we meet these "pseudosecular" crap in the regional language media. There is a "raw" earthiness that hits home. I think, even the language, be it Tamizh or Hindi (the two I have had an opportunity to read) has a way of "flowing" naturally that makes the 'truth" to just flow by.

If you took Tamizh press by itself, you see a wide range of ideologies from the Thinatandi to Murasoli (in dailies) from Tuklak to Ananda Vikatan to Kungumam to Kumudam.

I wonder how may Desicritics have actually "read" a paper published in India that was NOT in English.

#6
kerty
March 14, 2008
12:13 PM

BB

Media always have enjoyed its share of appeal to the elites. It has enjoyed disproportionate share of power in shaping political and cultural space. That is power no doubt. I was referring to its power over people, which by an large is confined to elites and urbanized.

#7
Rhapsodysinger
URL
March 16, 2008
01:54 PM

I agree with you fully...incidentally you might add another institution which is going the selfsame way : education. The MBAs are spoiling that too...

#8
Trivandrum
URL
March 22, 2008
10:20 AM

don't like highfalutin stuff myself..media in India forms the backbone of freedom and free speech in India since the University system is spineless, being started under a `benign' colonial british project to mould servants for the empire.

indian media ...most of the time has stuck by the time-honoured principle that the most valuablwe raw material is NEWS.. the readers/viewers are neglecting the media ..it seems, by being passive

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