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The Indian Newspaper War

The Indian Newspaper War

February 02, 2012

Because it is a war - in fact, it's positively medieval in scope.

Two Indian newspapers have recently exchanged critical television advertisements about each other in an effort to draw customers away from the competition. This has led some reporters and commentators to use the words 'foray', 'blitzkrieg', 'battle' and especially 'war' [1 2 3 4].

I will now draw some awkward comparisons between India's newspaper war and the Hundred Years' War between England and France.

1) Like the Hundred Years' War, India's newspaper war has been going on for a really, really long time. Its principal adversaries, The Hindu and The Times of India, are both more than a hundred years old and between them sell in excess of five million papers per day across the nation. It is a conflict of immense volume and just as either side's momentum can be irresistible, so too can its inertia be crippling. Meanwhile, their subjects – the readers – have more or less forgotten a time when there wasn't a war on. Newspapers spitting and tearing at each other's pages has become the norm.

2) Both are conflicts between north and south. Valois, smelling of cheese and snails, rudely scouted settlements on the English Channel, while Plantagenet brought grandiose manners, protocol and entitlement along on their numerous forays into French territory. A few hundred years later, any market share for Chennai-based The Hindu in north India is a matter of frustration for Delhi-based The Times of India, as are TOI's attempts to secure south Indian markets. The Hindu, of course, speak English that is a mixture of pre-Independence verbosity and a comical Tamil accent, while TOI truly believe that the rest of the country should think, act and speak in line with their Amit ways. (Actually yaar they probably already do, right?)

3) Both 'The Hundred Years' War' and 'India's newspaper war' are terms invented by observers to lump a series of individual events together. This is an attempt to simplify and make sense of a nebulous, far-reaching whole, and also an effort to assign these events extra significance. Chennai has been the chief battleground since 2008, when TOI entered the market, and Feb 1st 2012 marks the official start of the Battle of Kerala. The fight marches ceaselessly onto new fronts, with new alliances (such as TOI's with Malayalam newspaper Mathrubhumi in Kerala), decimating more and more areas of the news media landscape.

4) Dirty tactics are part of the game. In Middle Ages France, the rules of 'total war' meant there were no rules against slaughtering innocent peasants en masse as a means of provoking the enemy. In 21st Century India, the mass judgements are a little more subtle but only a little less damning: in this TV advertisement from late 2011, TOI suggests The Hindu readers are sleeping through the nation's current events; then, in this series of ripostes, The Hindu suggests TOI readers are ignorant of important news but well-versed in the irrelevant. The Hindu's campaign, being cruder and more offensive, has naturally generated the most attention on social media.

5) The Hundred Years' War bears little influence on France-England relations, or the average Lucas Martin or Oliver Smith, today. (World War II, in which they fought on the same side, bears only slightly more.) The outcome of India's newspaper war may yet mirror that of the 1400s, with The Hindu reclaiming and securing the South and TOI scurrying back to the North before they get slaughtered. Meanwhile, however, more and more Indians are turning to social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to keep up to date [1 2 3 4]. At present, they represent a barely observable minority compared to the hundreds of millions of Indians who do read newspapers (and watch television), and a tiny proportion of Indians overall. But their numbers are growing. The Indian newspaper war, for all its bluster, will almost certainly end up as just another footnote in the history of Indian news media. 


  • Maya
    12.10.12 06:19 PM
    The Hindu > The The Trojan horse Of India
  • Hariharan Valady
    Hariharan Valady
    05.02.12 10:40 PM
    The unfortunate part of the fight is- Hindu, which is a market leader in Tamilnadu is forced to be a follower to TOI. Also Hindu represents a divided board and new editorial team getting support from part of the Board. It needs to set its house in order before taking on TOI>
  • manju
    04.02.12 11:49 PM
    I hope you saw the DNA commercial which came much before the Hindu commercial.
    Interesting observations :)
  • saritha k venu
    saritha k venu
    02.02.12 05:17 PM
    What you said is true Mr.Barnaby,we the keralites are witnessing a war. and both the newspapers are fighting it out, as if this is the last war of their life.
    i am not a regular reader of both the news papers. still iam aware of what is cooking in the entertainers kitchen and what are the serious developments in the various other news segments.I am not an ardent reader of TOI, neither i like Mathrubhumi, but the way in which Hindu is targeting TOIs very rude. As a copy editor I loved the way O&M wrote and conceived the ads for The Hindu. But the fact is, there are very few who likes to read The Hindu.
    at some point of time,while skipping through my FB page,seeing those updates of friends,I felt like suddenly we are all the business executives of The Hindu!!!The copies are too good and worth sharing, i must say.
  • Dee..
    02.02.12 12:45 PM
    Funny post, has no great substance in it !
    You have gone beyond by comparing these with medieval and European times.

    What do you mean by your COMICAL TAMIL ACCENT ? there is nothing like that..
    Hindu will be classic and TOI is sort of PRO-ADVERTISEMENT Group...

    Just enjoy the FUN by seeing two big heads fighting to the streets, DON'T Do A RESEARCH with this !
  • Susanna
    02.02.12 09:46 AM
    I've been waiting for an article like this! So true. Love it!

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