Tuesday, January 22, 2013

India's TV channels in crisis

India's TV channels are in the midst of a financial crisis which has serious implications for how report news, argues Sandeep Bhushan in a hard-hitting article in the Hindu. Bhushan points out that major industrial groups, such as Reliance, have acquired significant stakes in TV companies. (Even otherwise, one would think that intense competition for advertising revenues would tend to influence news coverage on TV networks). Bhushan spells out the impact:

The most far-reaching is the redefinition of the role of the editor. Increasingly his/her profile not merely entails leading the pack in the TRP race, but crucially acting as the “front” for the promoter in order to provide an appearance of both credibility and acceptability within the industry. The promoter’s line — his whims and fancies, idiosyncrasies and perhaps, most damagingly his political “preferences” — is increasingly the editorial line. It is not my case that this state of affairs uniformly prevails in all TV broadcast networks. But any “insider” will confirm that this is pretty much the picture by and large. 

This has resulted in growing centralisation of newsgathering operations. Editorial monitoring is closest with regard to “political” reportage because it is here that the government of the day can be really hit hard. In my experience of reporting “political” stories it was virtually impossible to generate a story in the field and hope that it got aired unless it coincided with the editorial “line.” “Political” stories invariably emerged from the “top.” Often a reporter may not even have a say in the particular “angle” of a story to which only he or she has privileged access. This has virtually taken the (political) reporter out of the scheme of things in broadcast journalism. 

It is not just the slant to political and corporate news coverage that is worrying. It is the lack of news coverage in the first place. If you want to know what happened in the country on a given day, you would be hard put to find it on any of the private TV channels. Instead, you get slanging matches performed in the studio, often with the same set of familiar faces. Going out and covering and reporting news is costly; it's much easier to get a bunch of talking heads into the studios.

Bhushan urges better protection of journalists, more professionalisation of management and anti-trust laws to counter the present trends. All this is easier said than done. Perhaps, a simpler way is to strengthen public broadcasting so that it emerges as a serious threat to popular channels. As I noted in my blog sometime ago, Doordarshan has improved in a big way and Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha TV have some very interesting programmes to offer. This trend must be strengthened so that private TV channels and their owners find that better content is needed to retain and attract viewers and hence advertisers. 



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Anonymous said...

This really is a big concern. From yellow journalism to now a threat of unfair, biased news coverage (which already is present), the corruption of the fourth estate, to my mind, is more worrisome than the everytime-attacked bureaucracy.

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Venkatarkrishnan said...

The current media is prone to sensationlization and very short sighted reporting. There is hardly any follow up reporting to take the story to its logical conclusion. Currently it is more of drama, in presentation, and less of content. The other issue is that the business model is so skewed towards advertising I would imagine some editor/report would require an lot of spine to report against key customers. In effect what we are probably seeing is the small incidents get reported

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Aaah finally someone who believes that Doordarshan actually has meaningful stuff.
I cannot agree more.

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