Journalism in India: No Rules Apply
By Neeraj Mahajan
In India, the general perception is that Journalists are powerful people who enjoy many privileges and rules are for the common – not for media persons. No wonder Sanjay Suri- a property dealer who has everything a man can dream of – a decent house, bank balance and a car—still wants to have a Press Card. Every time he comes across a journalist he unashamedly requests him for a Press Card and a PRESS sticker for his car. He seriously believes that the press card will give him immunity from being challaned for rash driving or other such traffic violations.
Why should people not think that way when many of those in the profession of journalism are allowing themselves to be used as fixers to protect the interests of their owner, advertisers, official and non official sources of news as well as personal or political agenda? All this eventually reflects on what makes news, how and the display it gets.
In such a situation, you can’t blame the business men, politicians and underworld dons who want to invest in media business. They are obviously not doing so for any public good but for a variety of reasons like getting a backdoor entry in the parliament through Rajya Sabha as a media owner, fixing business rivals or cultivating ministers and bureaucrats for promoting their regular businesses. India is the only country where anyone with a bag full of money can start a newspaper or news channel and use the media for social recognition, political patronage or protection from the police and regulators.
The game plan of the new investors is to consolidate and control all power—political, muscle power, money power, media and manpower. In an age of arm-chair politics where key to survival lies in strategic calculations and manipulations inside air-conditioned rooms, the politicians need money at every stage to contest elections and survive rival attacks. The money comes from businessmen, real estate or underworld. The businessmen need political patronage and clout to get bigger deals. The underworld needs respectability. They require serving and retired people in the bureaucracy and judiciary to act as facilitators. They all need a ‘captive’ media, to influence public opinion as well as to keep silent on uncomfortable issues. This is the new rule of the game.
This is the age of crony journalism with almost every one of the 800 private satellite channels and media houses being aligned to one or the other political party or directed owned by a politician or corporate entity. In their anxiety to get more readers, more advertisers and corporate clients, the print media is turning to be a commercial enterprise and the newspaper as a commodity.
Another big trend is corporatization of the media landscape and the ways of doing things. The pressures of 24/7 broadcasting and the concept of breaking news has changed the outlook towards what makes news in a news channel. Sensationalism and stretching things a bit too far -- seems to be the order of the day. News is being sold, not told. The whole concept of content is undergoing a chance. B2B publications and reality shows are a new reality. Different mediums and delivery platforms- like mobile, internet, radio, TV, newspapers and magazines are competing with each other to deliver different shades of same news and views. While the newspapers and magazine will still continue to be in demand they may have to reinvent themselves in order to stay relevant in the digital and online generation. Many of the newspapers and magazines are beginning to see this as a challenge and reorient their distribution and packaging strategies. The days of black and white and pale newsprint are out – instead publications have to be glossy magazines with pretty pictures. Also instead of general interest magazines – niche publications are the order of the day. With companies like Google, Yahoo, facebook and linkedin dominating the Internet they cannot afford to be lax.
Major media mergers and consolidation world is shrinking. All these have changed the way news is gathered, processed and delivered. Most media organizations are have started experimenting with different platforms to deliver news and earn advertising revenue lest they get left behind. Spurring this trend is the fact that media organizations all across the world have been witnessing steep fall in advertising revenues and circulation while the cost of production and distribution have been increasing. The decision of 80 year old Newsweek magazine to stop the print edition and reinvent itself as a subscription-based digital publication is an indication of this trend. The digital revolution is here to stay and is going to transform news as business.
Another trend in the latter half of the 20th century is that media ownership is increasingly becoming concentrated. Intense pressure on international publishers witnessing declining readership in their home markets has led to a sting of mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures and licensing of titles. India with its young population, rising literacy rates, increasing disposable income and high earning offers an ideal market for the global players in the news and entertainment segment.
Technology is forcing media companies across the world to diversify to converge digitally. TV, newspapers and radio are all converging onto internet and mobile phone. Media companies are starting all forms of text, audio and video in order to remain viable in the digital and mobile environment. Instead of just newspaper, magazine or television many of organizations are evolving as full functional multimedia organizations with their own television networks, cable channels, movie studios, newspapers, magazines, publishing houses, music labels and websites.
Incidentally Eenadu was the first print publication to enter into the GEC (general entertainment channel) space in 1995. Almost 7-8 years later that Business Standard, India Today and Hindustan Times also got into television. India Today launched Newstrack, while Hindustan Times also tried to start its own video magazine with Vinod Dua as its head but the project failed to take off.
After that, many others like Malyalam Manorama, Times of India, Rashtriya Sahara, Dainik Jagran, Lokmat and Sakal got into the television business which seemed to be a natural extension.