Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Has the media broadened its reach only to narrow its focus?

Imagine a conversation between Sir Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Friedman over a cup of coffee.
Friedman: Hello Sir Rudyard
Kipling: Oh, hi Tom
Friedman: Sir, I have utmost regard to your view that East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet but this view does not hold ground in the current scenario where the world is increasingly getting ‘flat’.
Kipling: Tom, the more you try to change something the more it will remain the same.
This debate might just turn polemical with Kipling taking up the issue of Islamic fundamentalism and Friedman waxing eloquent about the global exploits of all “multi national companies”.

If you are a journalist (in India) then chances are pretty high that you will find solace in the words of Kipling. Indian media is proliferating what with new newspapers, magazines and TV channels appearing almost every week. But only a very small part of what is produced could be called journalism. Earlier the definition of news used to be “Somewhere someone has to hide something, unearth it” and nowadays the definition has had a 360-degree “spin” attached to it, “Somewhere someone has to say something, get those bytes”.

Indian electronic media has achieved an evolutionary leap since the Asian Games in 1982 where Doordarshan found its launch pad. The numbers speak for themselves. The NRS (National Readership Study) 2006 survey found that 230 million view Satellite Television every single day. This, in a country whose 78% of the population- UNDP statistics say so- subsists on a measly Rs.20 per day.

News is another form of entertainment in India. This writer’s journalism school teaches that clandestine operations involving hidden cameras are “unethical”. But, every journalism school graduate looks to pull off an Operation Duryodhana or a Tehelka expose to gain instant fame. And, ends up with a “sting” on the likes of Shakti Kapoor and Aman Verma without the least compunction. The journalists are not exactly to be blamed because today the content of news is dictated by TRPs (Television Rating Points), which are crucial for advertisers.

The Indian viewer has come a long way from the bland reporting of Doordarshan to a veritable smorgasbord and in this transformation news became a liability. The news channels suffer from the “Andy Roddick Syndrome”. Just as Andy Roddick’s cathexis with baseline refuses to end, the channels are fixated at the three Cs- Cricket, Crime and Cinema. Sadly, the bigger C of all Cs is missing in all of these channels—Countryside. P.Sainath, the Rural Affairs Editor of Hindu, won the Magsaysay award for his pioneering work on bringing out the problems of hinterland. This was followed by the Live India TV incident where a novice journalist falsely implicated a schoolteacher of a Delhi school in a prostitution racket. Ironically, DD News has become a niche channel because it disseminates news with no frills attached.

A story on farmer suicides in Vidarbha will not garner enough TRPs to make it financially viable, which means 60% of the Indian population is under reported. This if, the news is covered in the first place. Instead the viewer is served faff like a round-the-clock update on the Abhishek-Aishwarya wedding, platitudes on morality with Richard Gere kissing Shilpa Shetty as a reference point, unnecessary footage for Rakhi Sawant to let people know how her “modesty has been outraged.” Broadcast media is hardly anymore an observer of the news, passes judgements on judicial issues. The Jessica Lal case is an apt example. Even before the court started its proceedings NDTV 24x7 declared Manu Sharma as guilty and vilified his lawyer Ram Jethmalani for taking up the case. This was done with night vigils with candles in hand, which the movie “Rang De Basanti” glorified. This is an antithesis to what Tarun Tejpal once said, “We will blow the whistle but who’s going to police this?” Media finds itself adept at multi-tasking.

An editor once said, “A nation speaks through its newspaper”. Unlike its electronic counterpart, the print media still cares about the five Ws and one H. But, the print media, too, has undergone a paradigm shift much to the chagrin of news seekers. The NRS 2006 figures states that print (dailies and magazines combined) reaches 222million Indians. To lure more readers newspapers are resorting to gimmicks like page three journalism. One such newspaper has the widest circulation among all English-language broadsheets, with 7.4 million daily paid copies. As the saying goes, “Statistics are like bikinis, they hide more than what they reveal”. This newspaper garners such huge numbers not on the basis of cutting-edge journalism or scathing editorials. But, it understood the market dynamics well, which say that the age group of 16-30 is highest in India—58% to be specific. Lo and behold it has undergone a revamp and followed the tabloid dictum: “Damn the editorial, we will concentrate on the low brow content”. Thus, this newspaper is perceived to be a daily lifestyle paper by the gentry.

Since magazines have to compete with the dailies they bring AC Nielsen onto their editorial board who conduct their surveys on 300 persons and extrapolate the numbers as the “final verdict” of the entire nation. These surveys are skewed and the choice of topics is salacious to say the least and consensus is difficult to get by. English media has direct competition with the vernacular media who holds much sway in the interiors of the country. No wonder then that Dainik Jagran, Dainik Bhaskar and Eenadu are the top three dailies. Tabloidization of the broadcast media has endeared the rural and urban hoi polloi alike to television. Our journalism college exhorts us to deal with every news story with objectivity, balance and fairness. Sadly, these virtues are relegated to the background. All for the sake of numbers.

Moreover, the media has to now deal with the Internet even if it is at a nascent stage. There are 3.7 crore internet users and this number is expected to increase exponentially once computer penetration- every 16 Indians out of 1000 own a computer- improves, With a fall in broadband rates digital media is where the future lies. In such a scenario, the media has to concentrate on quality stories rather than a six sigma process on how to draw more advertisements. A recently televised debate asked, “Is good journalism bad business?”. The answer, Mr.Bob Dylan, is certianly not blowing in the wind.

P.S: This was my write-up for the upcoming CNN-IBN aspiring journalist award.


Satantango: This movie is so sexy that nocturnal emission almost occurred to me the night I finished watching this six-and-half hour magnum opus of Bela Tarr. It happened earlier for "The Barbarian Invasions". Try watching it at a go like those film students.

Stray Dog: For any opsimath of world cinema, this movie explains the era gone by which had Kurosawa at his directorial best.

Four shades of Brown: Todo Sobre Mi Madre was all about motherhood. This movie deals with fatherhood in such a delicate manner that you start empathising with the father who lures his 10-year-old daughter into sex.


At 10:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

V happy 2 c ur post!!!All the best!!!!

At 10:54 PM, Blogger garcia kafka said...

@anon: Thanks a lot..I wish you told me who you are..

At 5:38 AM, Blogger purvabhatia said...

good definition of today's journalism! Though just 3 months into the profession, I have lots more to add to this. Hoever, the unfortunate bit is that nothing really can be done to change the media scene. And its not just TOI (as th pics depicts :P) to be blamed, the case is true for entire media.

At 6:47 AM, Blogger sowmitra said...

super...chala baa rasevu...kudos man...longgg time a real gud post...hope u get the recognition...

At 8:09 PM, Blogger Arun said...

Great work man!!!You have spoken of how the media is now cattering to the youth who want the news on the run and dont bother to even glance at the editorials.But may be we are ignorant of the fact that youth's flair needs experience to be more realistic.May be that is the reason why you find more people in the mid 30's and older reading editorials.Youth i feel dont carry their worries-they are go-happy.Add to this too much of news they are fed on making it not their cup of coffee.
juss another dimension.
All the Best!!!!!

At 2:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

your work is real good and the stats that u ve provided here show that ur really get involved into your work.
well done jag.

At 10:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent article. In this digital age, Publishers are using the digitization feature to circulate their print publications and also this is an emerging trend. There is a website which I found recently called (Indian based) providing the services for digitization for all print publications. Most of the publishers are using these kind of services.


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