Our me­dia, their me­dia

The Pak Banker - - OPINION - A.S. Pan­neer­sel­van.

WHEN­EVER I tried to dwell upon what was hap­pen­ing to the me­dia in the United States and West­ern Europe, some read­ers won­dered how rel­e­vant it was to the In­dian me­dia ex­pe­ri­ence. The his­tory of In­dian me­dia is a part of the global me­dia his­tory. Ear­lier, the me­dia's growth was in­cre­men­tal in terms of num­bers, reach and cross-coun­try in­flu­ences. In the late nine­teenth cen­tury and early twen­ti­eth cen­tury, In­dian me­dia was a cu­ri­ous mix of the Bri­tish and the Amer­i­can models. While most of its writ­ing style and over­all package came from the Oxbridge model, the fledg­ling In­dian me­dia's strong anti-colo­nial from the U.S. model.

In the last two cen­turies, In­dian me­dia meta­mor­phosed into an in­sti­tu­tion in it­self. How­ever, the last two decades marked a ma­jor de­par­ture from the past. Tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ment has re­duced the time lag be­tween in­no­va­tion and its im­pact on me­dia in devel­oped economies and de­vel­op­ing economies. Satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tion, 24x7 news chan­nels, dig­i­tal plat­forms and the in­ter­net com­mu­ni­ca­tion have brought in a new, ac­cel­er­ated change, where the changes felt by the devel­oped coun­tries reach the de­vel­op­ing coun­tries much quicker. Whether we like to ac­knowl­edge it or not, In­dian me­dia is bound to catch up with the cri­sis that is grip­ping the me­dia of the devel­oped world and

strands drew hence it is im­per­a­tive to take note of the chal­lenges faced by me­dia else­where to pre­pare our­selves to ad­dress them ef­fec­tively as and when they sur­face here.

In this con­text, what lessons does the lat­est Pew Re­search Cen­ter's Project for Ex­cel­lence in Jour­nal­ism's study "The State of the News Me­dia 2013" hold for us in In­dia? The sav­age cuts in news gath­er­ing spend­ing has im­pacted the qual­ity of re­port­ing. The study says: "a news in­dus­try that is more un­der­manned and un­pre­pared to un­cover sto­ries, dig deep into emerg­ing ones or to ques­tion in­for­ma­tion put into its hands. And find­ings from our new pub­lic opin­ion sur­vey re­leased in this report re­veal that the pub­lic is tak­ing no­tice. Nearly one-third of the re­spon­dents (31%) have de­serted a news out­let be­cause it no longer pro­vides the news and in­for­ma­tion they had grown ac­cus­tomed to."

Af­ter metic­u­lously analysing the big­gest story for the U.S. in 2012, its pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, the Pew study re­veals that "that cam­paign re­porters were act­ing pri­mar­ily as mega­phones, rather than as in­ves­ti­ga­tors, of the as­ser­tions put for­ward by the can­di­dates and other po­lit­i­cal par­ti­sans. That meant more di­rect re­lay­ing of as­ser­tions made by the cam­paigns and less re­port­ing by jour­nal­ists to in­ter­pret and con­tex­tu­al­ize them." The study fur­ther es­tab­lishes a shock­ing fact that "only about a quar­ter of state­ments in the me­dia about the char­ac­ter and records of the pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates orig­i­nated with jour­nal­ists in the 2012 race, while twice that many came from po­lit­i­cal par- ti­sans." I am very dis­turbed by many find­ings in this report be­cause it will take no time for this malaise to con­tam­i­nate In­dian me­dia, which has al­ready per­mit­ted some ab­ject com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion to take prece­dence over eth­i­cal jour­nal­ism. Let me just share one of the numer­ous un­set­tling find­ings in this im­por­tant report. It states: "In cir­cum­vent­ing the me­dia al­to­gether, one com­pany, Con­tently, con­nects thou­sands of jour­nal­ists, many of them ex-print re­porters, with com­mer­cials brands to help them pro­duce their own con­tent, in­clud­ing brand-ori­ented mag­a­zines. In early March, For­tune took that step, launch­ing a pro­gram for ad­ver­tis­ers called For­tune TOC - Trusted Orig­i­nal Con­tent - in which For­tune writ­ers, for a fee, cre­ate orig­i­nal For­tune-branded ed­i­to­rial con­tent for mar­keters to dis­trib­ute ex­clu­sively on their own plat­forms. Ef­forts by po­lit­i­cal and cor­po­rate en­ti­ties to get their mes­sages into news cov­er­age are noth­ing new. What is dif­fer­ent now - adding up the data and in­dus­try de­vel­op­ments - is that news or­ga­ni­za­tions are less equipped to ques­tion what is coming to them or to un­cover the sto­ries them­selves, and in­ter­est groups are bet­ter equipped and have more tech­no­log­i­cal tools than ever…. For news or­ga­ni­za­tions, dis­tin­guish­ing be­tween high-qual­ity in­for­ma­tion of pub­lic value and agenda-driven news has be­come an in­creas­ingly com­pli­cated task, made no eas­ier in an era of eco­nomic churn."

The bleak­ness is not purely for the print. The study re­vealed that the con­tent in tele­vi­sion fared no bet­ter. There was a ma­jor de­cline in pack­aged full-fledged sto­ries and a huge spurt in the cov­er­age of sports, weather and traf­fic re­ports. An anal­y­sis of ca­ble re­vealed that "com­men­tary and opin­ion are far more preva­lent on the air (63% of the air­time) than straight news re­port­ing (37%). CNN is the only chan­nel to of­fer more re­port­ing (54%) than opin­ion (46%), though by a small mar­gin."

In In­dia too the fi­nan­cial squeeze for the me­dia is real and the need for pru­dent de­ploy­ment of re­sources is the con­cern of ev­ery me­dia man­ager. The Pew study is a grim re­minder of what will hap­pen if we im­ple­ment aus­ter­ity mea­sures in wrong ar­eas.

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