Just watched John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight episode on journalism. It talks about important stories, Spotlight-style investigative journalism being increasingly under threat.
He mentions a number of blows the industry is reeling under. Profitability becoming prime-focus leading to `popular’ replacing `important’ is one. Another is the reluctance of customers to pay for news. Yet another is the increasing media ownership by politicians/business houses leading to conflict of interest in content. (Memorable quote from the episode: We must pay for journalism or we will pay for it).
He talks about the situation in the US. But, hey, we seem headed the same way in India.
“I tell our journalists to get on Twitter and Facebook, because then they experience the gap between what they think is a good story and what people are reading”
“Sometimes, we will have to release something that is short and quick and exciting with one photograph attached. It may be superficial, but that is what works.
We are moving from pure news toward entertainment, short-form content, and fun videos. The definition of news has changed completely.”
So says Vineet Jain, Managing Director of BCCL (i.e.Times Group), India’s largest media conglomerate, in an interview to Strategy+Business titled `Vineet Jain on Leading India’s Media Into The Future’. BCCL, the article points out, owns the largest-selling English daily in the world – The Times Of India, the world’s second largest circulation business newspaper – The Economic Times, a clutch of FM radio stations, magazines and popular TV channels.
Gulp. I am worried about this new definition of news and the future he is leading media into.
That a number of Indian newspapers and TV channels are owned by politicians is not news any more. It is also well-known that Indian business houses have controlling stakes in a number of significant media properties. This is not to say that owners will always exert undue influence over the content. But it is naïve to believe there will be no conflict of interest at all.
Newspapers report that the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has decided to shut down several regional news units of All India Radio including ones in Pune, Allahabad, Bhuj, Dharwad, Coimbatore, Dharwad, Dibrugarh and Indore. Staff rationalisation, those in the know speculate.
The three-times-a-day news round up by Akashwani Pune is the source of much local and regional news in Maharashtra and I expect it has wide listenership. I expect it is the same with the other regional news stations on the closure list.
If the Government does not support a news channel that caters to regional markets who will step in? Should we leave it to market forces alone? Market forces that are moving away from pure news to news-tertainment? To media owned by political parties or business houses? What will happen to plurality of opinion, marginalised voices or dissenting ones?
Then again, if the experience of Dhiraj Singh, formerly Executive Director (Programming) of Lok Sabha TV, is any indication, then being a Government-run channel does not guarantee independence of operations. Read this article in The Outlook for what he has to say.
Where do we go from here? Take every news we consume with a pinch of salt, nay, the whole salt shaker? Live knowing full well that all we read, see and hear on media is the half-truth or perhaps not the truth at all? Know that the stories that need telling may never see the light of day?
Is there anything we can do?