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Indian Journalism - Doordarshan To Shaping Decisions

Indian Journalism - Doordarshan To Shaping Decisions

October 30, 2011

Indian journalism has come a long way from the days of 'reporting' news on Doordarshan.

For a generation that grew up watching Doordarshan (on a tiny black and white TV), ‘journalism’ meant (well, once upon a time!!) stony-faced news-reporters reading out scripts on a DD channel.

In stark contrast today, the media has an overpowering and undeniable presence in our life. Private players like NDTV have revolutionised the concept of journalism and India has started looking at journalists in awe.

With India emerging as a powerhouse, and the media playing a crucial role in shaping thoughts (both social and political), ‘Journalism in India’ is indeed an interesting area of study. And that exactly was the subject of discussion at a conference hosted by The India Media Centre at the University of Westminster

The conference got off to a great start with an introduction by Professor Daya Thussu, who gave us a jolt with ‘..there are more TV channels in India, than there are in the whole of Europe’. India’s incredible market expansion naturally brought with it, both opportunities and challenges - professionalism, for example. What with the tremendous potential of 2G and 3G in online journalism, we are looking at very interesting trends over the next few years.

Remember when ‘Prime Time’ meant the 9 o clock News? Well, not true any more. Prime Time today is quite customer-centric (not citizen-centric), showcasing many non-news programmes catering to mass appeal. Apart from the fact that this proves how market-driven our media is, it also depicts an uneven boom in the market (information by Vibodh Parthasarathy).

The conference took me down memory lane, when a couple of decades ago, our cable operator was the guy who lived (and worked) in a tiny shack down the street. Again, not true at all in today’s scenario. Like Andrew Whitehead (BBC editor and veteran journalist) mentioned, his local cable operator in Delhi (then a duopoly market) used to be the ‘Happy Cakes and Pastries’ owner!

Well, haven’t we come a really long way - in media, journalism, broadcasting and distribution.

However, this boom has come at a price - increasing ‘Paid-for editorial content’, sensationalism, and a slow but steady exodus from print to broadcast media. We see it all around us. The media tends to focus on issues that are pertinent to the ‘vote bank’ rather than issues that truly merit attention! (Andrew Whitehead)

Not just that, but most channels these days follow a familiar pattern of programming (patterns with proven success), leading to sameness across channels, and a lot of clutter. If you asked me, today I find myself wanting to go back in time, and tune into good old All India Radio. Apparently, the BBC has about 10 million listeners. In contrast, Indian radio has boomed in terms of non-news programmes, like music and talk shows.

Coming to a very pertinent issue, as an average middle-class Indian, I perceive media to be my instrument of change. Movements like the Anna Hazare campaign, the controversial Slut Walk, or even the Pink Chaddi Campaign, fully utilised the potential of the media in gathering tremendous support and actually making ‘change’ happen.

Andrew offered a very interesting viewpoint, that the Indian middle class should stop using the media, and rather, should work on finding its own political muscle. Personally, I do think it is more practical and simpler to resort to the media. However, Andrew’s explanation got me thinking. Many people only want to use the media, without actually getting their hands dirty. For example, Indian citizens who have never ever cast a vote. There is perhaps a sense of hypocrisy, in people not performing their basic duties as a citizen and taking the easy way out of making use of media.

The conference was an eye-opener in many ways. Bits and pieces of the conference that I found intriguing were:

1. The representation of Dalits in the Indian newsrooms – the informal glass ceiling, preferred invisibility, and the very interesting question of whether the Dalit Elite (i.e., dalits with access to better opportunities) tend to turn into activists instead of journalists.

2. The lack of synergy between academia (media education) and the actual industry

3. A presentation on the politically-controlled media in Tamil Nadu, by Professor Savyasaachi Jain, where popular news channels were openly used as political vehicles by the owning party.

Hailing from the land of M.G.Ramachandran and Ms.Jayalalitha myself, I agree there is strong basis for this case study. However, I also believe that the average educated middle-class citizen tends to look beyond politically-controlled newspapers/channels, and has the capacity to judge for themselves.

4. A lively discussion by Professor Uma Shankar, who hit the nail on the head, with his line ‘India is no longer a nation of introverts’. While a news bulletin would be reported quite soberly by say, the BBC, it would be highly sensationalised by popular Indian channels. Indian journalists and media as a whole, is far more confident today.

5. We don’t quite seem to attract foreign correspondents in India, for various reasons like logistics, language barrier, cultural differences, and a general perception that India lacks the appeal of ‘elite’ countries. Well, I do hope that the future brings not only foreign correspondents, but also wide coverage of global news bulletins in local Indian newspapers.

6. A very candid presentation by Arvind Kumar from ITV (New Delhi) deserves mention here, for his emphasis on the ‘market-orientation of newspapers’. With Brand Managers taking on a huge role in deciding editorial content, it is no surprise that we tend to showcase the 4Cs – Cricket, Crime, Cinema and Celebrities. In contrast to decades ago (when Gandhiji insisted that advertising revenues affected the missionary goal of newspapers), ad revenues seem to become increasingly important.

7. As Abhik Sen (The Economist) rightly mentioned in the closing presentation, 70% of India lives in villages. However, the rampant issue of farmer suicides, malnutrition, exodus to cities, etc are hardly ever highlighted by media.

8. I loved Zareer Masani’s mention of The Indian press, with all its imperfections, still remains a check on the abusive Raj’.

To end this post, here is a very relevant point made by Dr.William Crawley on the ‘accountability of Indian media’.

We have been bombarded with ‘scams’ not only involving politicians but also the media (take the Nira Radia tapes, for example). How accountable is the media to the country? We are in a fledgling stage of accountability today.

I do hope however, that as the media becomes increasingly powerful, it also shows a corresponding sense of responsibility and accountability. The conference itself was a tremendous effort by the Conference team: Professor Daya Thussu, Dr Daisy Hasan, Svayasaachi Jain and Helen Cohen. While the subject itself was enough to evoke strong interest, the content of many papers was striking and thought-provoking. We, at The NRI magazine, congratulate the India Media Centre on organizing the conference, and bringing the changing face of Indian journalism under the spotlight. 


  • sunil Varma
    sunil Varma
    07.11.11 01:51 PM
    @joseph James
    Loved your comment....as worth as the post itself..
  • Writerzblock
    03.11.11 08:44 PM
    @Joseph James:

    Sir, your comment was an enriching read in itself! The story-faced reporters I was referring to were the DD news 'readers' or 'presenters' from a couple of decades ago. I completely agree with you when you say '....It helps them to take the fight to the common people....' Journalism in India has undergone a revolution, but I believe the best is yet to come!

    Thank you so much for your very interesting comment. Glad you enjoyed the post.
  • Joseph James
    Joseph James
    02.11.11 11:51 PM
    Your opening comment put me in a nostalgic mood. The early days of DD had a special charm - maybe it was the excitement of an exposure to something entirely new. I don't know if it's right to describe Komal GB Singh, Rini Khanna, Neeti Ravindran, Tejinder Singh et al as stony-faced reporters! They were stars in their own right, weren't they? Of course the state-controlled content of the news left a lot to be desired. But I still do miss those early 'growing up' years of DD.
    Andrew may have his reasons to advise the middle class to eschew the media. I'd rather agree with your point of view. Before the advent of private TV channels, the print media did serve us well. Who can forget the relentless crusades of Arun Shourie and Goenka against the ruling dispensation of the day? Or the magnificent exposés of Chitra and N Ram, which brought down a government? And to think that they did all this without the benefit of sting operations! It was committed journalism at its best! What a fall indeed for Indian journalism from the dizzy heights it once occupied!
    It isn't that we do not have fine journalistic talent today. But the best of them seem to have struck a Faustian bargain with the powers that be. It has been very sad to see many of the journalists we admired ditching their valued profession for the trappings of power. It wasn't so in the past. During the emergency days, Raj Mohan Gandhi, Neerja Choudhary, Vins and their team displayed heroic courage in taking on the mighty government by publishing that cute little mag, aptly named, HIMMAT. We were in college those days. Some of us passed the hat around to pool whatever little money we had and sent it to the Himmat team to buy a press of their own. Those were golden days of Indian journalism - fighting for the common man without fear or favour.
    Much of what is said in the conference about the Indian electronic media is true. But there is a gradual improvement. A couple of years ago, the media, especially the Hindi Media, served sensationalism as its staple diet. It was pathetic to see their cameras relentlessly focussing on a hapless little child trapped at the bottom of a bore well, hoping to raise their TRPs. And that certainly wasn't the worst we had to put up with. But things are looking up now! To give them their due, didn't they succeed in securing justice for Jessica Lal, Priyanka Mattoo, Nitish Kataria and others? Would Anna have made such an impact without the Media backing him? He might have suffered the same plight as JP.
    True, the media personnel aren't blemishless. They have their own compulsions. And revelations such as the Nira Radia tapes have cast an indelible scar on their reputation. Personally, it was a great shock for me to see Vir Sanghvi (an all time favourite of mine) going into a self imposed exile in the aftermath of the Radia tapes.
    Finally, a word about the politically controlled media. Until a few years ago, I too believed that they served little purpose other than self aggrandisement. I generally avoid reading papers published by political parties or columns written by their leaders. But having watched the Kairali Channel (partially owned by CPI-M) for a few months now, I have changed my mind. Its newscasts are highly biased. But it is an effective tool in the hands of the party in playing the role of a good opposition party. It helps them to take the fight to the common people. With the power and the reach the party has, its journalists can fearlessly expose the 'scams and scandals' of the ruling party. Moreoever, since profit isn't their main objective, the content other than the news is a notch above the standard fare dished out by other channels. For example, a poetry reality show on Kairali has gone a long way in popularising Malayalam poetry which was the exclusive domain of a privileged few earlier.
    Thank you for a very informative and stimulating post.
  • Writerzblock
    31.10.11 07:58 PM
    Thank you Prasad, that is very kind of you to say so.
  • Prasad Ramasubramanian
    Prasad Ramasubramanian
    31.10.11 05:08 PM
    Highly informative. Good read.


  • Writerzblock
    31.10.11 03:29 PM
    Thank you Vasudha, for your kind feedback!
  • vasudha rao
    vasudha rao
    30.10.11 08:15 AM
    Very informative read .....thank you for this analytic read.

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