The Year That Was: In full view of the media
Shukti Sarma 30 December 2010

It’s been a good year for the news media, with furious attention focused on a flood of scams. The media was itself in the spotlight over the involvement of some journalists in lobbying for business

The year 2010 was a strange year for the print and visual news media sector. While it was definitely an improvement on annus horibilus (Latin for a 'horrible year') 2009 in terms of advertisement revenues and overall growth, it also saw the decline of some of the top players and one of the ugliest controversies in recent times. While the sector performed well overall, it was confronted with some astounding facts as well.

Let's start with the shockers. India, the self-congratulated haven of democracy and free speech, occupied a dishonourable 122nd position in the press freedom index of 'Reporters Without Borders'. That was a setback from last year, but if it is of any comfort (and I know it will be for many), India is still ahead of China and Pakistan. Reporters Sans Frontieres has expressed concern over the safety of journalists reporting on the violence in the 'red corridor', Kashmir and the North-East, citing several instances where the media was blacked out from covering and broadcasting important events by a government order.

But where there's freedom, there's scandal. The Niira Radia controversy led to a shameful exposure of the phenomenon of manufactured news. Journalist biggies like Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi (but mind you, they are only the better-recognised names, certainly not the only ones in the list) had a tough time defending themselves against charges of corruption and doctoring news content for their channels and newspapers. While the government embarrassed itself further with a zero-activity winter session in parliament, corporates resorted to damage control and invoking the privacy law.

If the tainted journalists are banking on the short span of public memory, they may stand a chance. According to a survey released last year, English news channels enjoy only 0.4% of television leadership, so probably most people would not know them. That, is a shallow figure, even considering that news channels manage to attract only 7.5% televiewers in a country that has the fourth largest number of television broadcasting stations.

There was a sense of boredom from the ho-hum homogeneity of news content across channels. Many channels declared they made good profits (like movie channel WB), but there was hardly any evidence to support the claim. In fact, most channels have been sludging under an increasing debt burden and spiralling input costs, as the launch of new channels has intensified the fragmentation in the sector.

The print media, on the other hand, showed healthy growth, quarter-on-quarter. According to the recently released Indian Readership Survey quarter 3 report for the year, almost all dailies have registered growth. Not surprisingly, there was just one English newspaper in the top 10; it was 'The Times of India'. The 'Dainik Jagran' Hindi news daily led the table overall with a readership figure of more than 54 lakh, followed by 'Dainik Bhaskar' and 'Hindustan'. This success is attributed to increased literacy rates, a steady readership base in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and lowering of prices.

'The Times of India' was followed by 'Hindustan Times', which beat 'DNA'. 'The Hindu' and 'The Telegraph' retained their positions, but saw a decline in readership. Most of the regional publications-Gujarati, Bengali, Kannada and Malayalam-saw an improvement.

But magazines suffered a decline overall. This was more pronounced in Hindi, where, apart from 'Pratiyogita Darpan', none of the top rankers registered positive growth. 'Saras Salil' held the top spot, 'India Today' (Hindi) stood at number three after 'Pratiyogita Darpan'. 'India Today' was the leader in the English magazines category, followed by the ever-popular 'Readers' Digest' and 'General Knowledge Today'. 'Outlook' magazine got a boost after its sensational Radia tape leaks, and it cemented its position in sixth spot.

Surprisingly, the business segment, which was written off by many media speculators, performed very well in 2010. 'The Economic Times' entered the top seven English dailies list, beating even 'DNA' and 'Mumbai Mirror'. It was followed by 'Mint' and 'Business Standard', and unlike television, all magazines showed an increased in readership.

The coming year will see a further boost in the media sector. Pitch- Madison Media Advertising Outlook 2010 has forecast that the advertisement pie will grow by a whooping 13% to about Rs21,000 crore in 2011. This could also indicate the expectations resting on the shoulders of media professionals.

There is a lot happening these days, not just in India, but around the world too, which should make 2011 another exciting year for the media. But with the internet emerging as a strong alternative for news and more, conventional media will have to gear up for a competitive fight. Business aside, the subject of integrity and credibility will continue to be a sore issue.

nagesh kini
1 decade ago
Our print and visual media have proved that they have feet of clay, despite professing high morality. Niira Radia successfully used two of the high profile media personalities to penetrate the establishment, CII chief, both the ruling coalition party ministers, spouse and daughter of the party and to top it up had close ties with the principal opposition party and religious gurus. That she was "Retained" by Tatas and RIL and may be more others for what RNT white washes by calling lobbyists/go-between/fixers by whatever names called by designating them as Corporate PR Consultants" for massive retainerships part going into bribing all the way. She admits being cohoots with the media too. The petition in the name of 'invasion of privacy" is a cover to prempt further exposes of more damaging info on wrongdoings when Niira is on record that Tata Telecom had benefited a lot.
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