Changing Face of Indian Media: And here we have the fourth estate sans toilets !!

The many challenges for the Indian media. India needs a journalism curriculum and professional norms suited to India’s unique power context. 

Attending the seminar last week on the “Changing Face of Indian Media: What needs to be done?” at the Centre for Economic and Social Studies in Hyderabad gave me many insights. In many ways the issues and problems in this area are reflective of the issues and problems across areas in India.

Bella Mody of the University of Colorado argued that India needs a journalism curriculum and professional norms suited to India’s unique power context and the need for research to arrive at what needs to be done locally and that domestic authors need to step up to the plate and write textbooks for ourselves.

Apparently 1960s US textbooks are being used to teach journalism in India. The publishers of these outdated books are happy to have developing countries print these on the cheap and sell them. Cut-copy-paste culture sadly exists in this area too.

Journalism is a different ball game post internet. As it is, having a journalism degree pre-internet is like having a degree in under water basket weaving. While the ethics are constant, it’s just a different world now and it seems criminal to use these outdated textbooks. Indian journalism students deserve better.

It was mentioned that journalists were trained on the job in India in the old days by sitting on the bench at a newspaper while getting hands on training. Now, this training has been converted into a business. Most media houses have now set up their own media schools. This kind of profit driven training is along the lines of the grab money and push them out model that is the trend with most training programs today. With no uniform curriculum this method too fails the Indian journalism student.

Ethical issues came up in many ways. Most starkly in the English versus local language media. It appears that more masala in news is encouraged in the local language media. Infotainmentitus plagues the local language media more than the English media. Very few working journalists in local language media appear to have formal university-type training. There are many stringers whose sole qualification is location. Many also serve as advertising agents for the publication. Salary disparities exist between the English and local language media staff. Advertising revenue, too, is higher for English papers as opposed to local language papers despite greater readership.

All this highlights the greater issue of English elitism and the associated prestige at the cost of our local languages and the many who speak them.

Gender issues surfaced too in a number of ways. A hilarious point was made by Volga, the pseudonym of P. Lalitha Kumari, a highly regarded Telugu writer who introduced a feminist perspective into literary and political discourse in Andhra Pradesh and who is executive chairperson of Asmita Resource Centre for Women, an NGO in Hyderabad. In response to the fact that some TV serials have female characters playing “strong” roles like those of mafia dons. She said that this is no big triumph for feminism and that it is merely because TV can’t afford heroes and the graphics to fight villains. Men are expensive, women are not being the take home point here.

And finally, it was said that many daily newspapers do not have separate toilets for women. Toilets have been making the news lately in all the wrong ways. And here we have the fourth estate sans toilets.

As I said, the problems discussed at the seminar reflect the problems of today’s India.

Genuine News Coverage Media: Print (60%), Electronic (33%) !!!

News TV, it’s time to watch your back ..

There’s a lot that editors of news channels in India need to chew on.

“Who does more genuine news coverage: newspapers or television?”, was the question The Hoot asked readers in a poll. Sixty percent of the respondents to the poll believed that it was the newspapers and 33 percent chose television (the rest were undecided).

From a poll to some scathing remarks by chief justice Vikramajit Sen, heading a high court division bench hearing petitions relating to the violence at the Bengaluru City Civil Court on 2 March. “The bench took the government to task for not initiating any action against TV channels which had spread wrong news about some policemen being killed in the 2 March violence.

“In three weeks, nothing has been done. It only shows lack of administration,” the bench observed. As regards the media, especially electronic media, thebench was of the view that they were only interested in pulling down the rival channel and about viewership.

Sevanti Ninan, editor of The Hoot, confirmed to Firstpostthat 526 readers had participated in the poll – and that’s a significant number, considering the profile of readers of the website. The Hoot is not a ‘consumer’ destination; it’s more a platform for serious and informed discussion and debate on news media in all forms. “The subcontinent has plenty of media, it does not have enough scrutiny of the media. This portal is the outcome of the concern felt by a group of practicing journalists at some recent trends in journalism in this part of the world,” The Hoot says about itself – and that’s why news TV editors should be concerned about the poll.

Justice Vikramjit Sen should not have needed to make the comments he did. News channels created a body to look into issues such as the one that Justice Sen is concerned about – theBroadcast Editors Association. The BEA, which has fiercely protested against Press Council of India chairman Justice Katju’s move to bring TV under the ambit of the council, has done little to look into issues that Justice Sen is worried about. The last announcement by the BEAwas when they issued guidelines for the coverage of the Aishwarya-Abhishek baby.

The Hoot poll and Justice Sen’s remarks should be seen by the BEA as a wake-up call. Ignore the signs at your peril; more incidents similar to the Bengaluru one will see courts demanding action. Not on a case by case basis, but from a long-term perspective.

And Justice Katju might win – only because the BEA doesn’t do what it was created to do

(courtesy: Anant Rangaswami  & Firstpost)

News..At Any Cost !?!

A 26-year-old Tibetan man(Living in Incredible India since 2006) on Monday set himself on fire at Jantar Mantar, two days ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to India for the BRICS summit. Media ran around him just to click photos and shoot videos so that their headlines would get perfect photos and videos.

Exile Media Can Apply to Return Home

Burma‘s government says exile media groups can start applying to base operations in the country.

Burma’s exile media groups can begin applying to establish their operations within the country as the government prepares a new media law lifting most restrictions, the country’s censorship chief said Wednesday.

Many exile journalists had returned to Burma in recent months to gauge the new environment amid initial reforms introduced by the nominally-civilian government of President Thein Sein. They had been granted visas to visit for the first time in decades.

But there have been no moves by the government to give these groups permission to open offices in the country.

Tint Swe, director of the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department (PSRD),  said that approval for the exile media groups to operate in Burma will be based on the proposals they make.

He said the groups should explain to the government “how to implement their operations in the country first [and] our side would have to approve based on the proposals.”

“I think exile media will start applying for that privilege and we will give permission as well in the near future,” he said.

When asked whether the government will make an announcement on when exile media can apply for permission to operate within the country, Tint Shwe said, “No, we won’t have any announcement for that.”

“For your part, you should tell us what you want to do and apply for it, that’s all you need to do. I don’t think it is necessary to tell you when you should apply. You should start doing it now.”

Among Burmese exile media groups are The Irrawaddy, an online publication based in Thailand, India-based Mizzima News Agency and the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma, broadcasting for two decades into one of the world’s most oppressed nations.

New law

Officials have said that censorship would be abolished when a new media law is introduced this year as part of government reforms.

“Exciting indeed, but this remark does not really change skeptics into enlightened believers,” Aung Zaw, editor of The Irrawaddy, wrote this month after returning to his home country after 25 years of exile following his flight to escape arrest.

“Deep-seated doubts linger as many in the sector share a feeling that the government will find a way to continue controlling the media. Burma still has several draconian security laws and a notorious Electronic Act that can arrest and detain anyone, including journalists, without due process,” he said.

Burma is still ranked 169 out of 179 countries in terms of press freedom, according to an index by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders published in January.

Tint Shwe said the new media law being framed will be comprehensive and completed this year with provisions for allowing independent newspapers and a self-governing press council.

“New press laws will include registration [for] media and press council. So, I think the new laws will be comprehensive. We have consulted many laws from other post-transitional countries, therefore I think that new laws would be comprehensive,” he said.

“For media, there will be clear descriptions of their responsibilities and the laws that they should follow.”

The attorney general’s office has already reviewed the first draft of the media law and a second draft is now being completed with input from UNESCO experts, a recently held media conference, and domestic groups, Yi Htut, the director general of the Information and Public Relations Division of the Ministry of Information, said earlier this month.

He said that the Burmese government’s approach to drafting its new media law is based on a “two-track strategy” – first preparing a new print media law and second a gradual relaxation of restrictions to prepare for a new media environment. The law is currently in the second stage of drafting, the Mizzima News Agency reported.

‘No restrictions’

Tint Shwe rejected suggestions that the new media law will be used to control freedom of speech.

“We must have freedom of expression, according to our approved constitution. Based on that, we want to make clear to everyone that unlike the 1962 [framed] laws, there will be no more restrictions in the future.”

The repressive Printers and Publishers Registration Act was enacted in Burma after a 1962 military coup.

Asked to elaborate on the press council proposed by President Thein Sein recently, Tint Shwe said it was in line with the practice of other countries which had bodies to maintain media standards.

“The Press Council or Complaint Committee is a standard body that many countries have. Some countries don’t even have one, but somehow there is a control mechanism. In my own opinion, the Press Council should be directed freely without government involvement,” he said.

Thein Sein had said that the press council can ensure liberty and accountability with a check and balance system in line with democratic practices, reports have said. (courtesy: Radio Free Asia)

India News to launch in MP, Chhattisgarh

India News, the 24×7 Hindi news channel run by Information TV Pvt Ltd (ITV), is planning to expand rapidly. Launched in 2009 in Haryana, the news and current affairs satellite channel is all set to launch in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in April 2012.

Confirming the news, Rakesh Sharma, CEO, India News, said, “We will shortly be launching India News – Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.”

Owned by Piccadilly Group, which has multiple interests in media (print and electronic), ITV currently offers a vast bouquet of  channels including India News, India News (Haryana), India News (Bihar & Jharkhand), India News (Rajasthan), India News (Punjab), India News (Uttar Pradesh & Uttarakhand).

Sharma informed, “We are pleased to share with you that India News (Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand) have attained the No. 1 position in TAM Week 12. This outstanding achievement says a lot about our dedication and commitment towards our viewers. The most important point which reflects this achievement is the age of our channel – it is only two-months young! The market was already flooded with numerous national and regional news makers and to leave our footprint in such a fierce marketplace was only possible because of our belief in impartial journalism.”

(courtesy: Ananya Saha &

media laundry @Dhobitalao: Coalgate Tweets, Channels Pulling Down Game, Recycled Scoop, Costly Photo, Big Paper-Big News,

Mukkam Post- Dhobitalao









Guidelines for media on court reporting soon….

The Supreme Court recently indicated that it would lay down guidelines for the media on court reporting with a view to striking a balance between protecting press freedom and protecting the right to life.

A five-judge Constitution Bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justices D.K. Jain, S.S. Nijjar, Ranjana Desai and J.S. Khehar said: “We have to balance Article 21(right to life and liberty) with Article 19 (1) (a) (the right to freedom of speech and expression, including the freedom of the press).”

The CJI made it clear, “We are not interested in controlling media content. We are interested in prevention rather than initiating contempt of court proceedings against the erring media. How to prevent before the damage is done.”


The Bench expressed concern over trial by media in several pending criminal cases. “The media reports sub judice cases in a manner which makes the accused seem guilty even before the court has convicted him and the media attempts to drum up support for the sentence he should eventually be handed out.”

Justice Khehar said: “The media creates a mindset about what is right or wrong. When the judgment is not on those lines, the judge’s image is tarnished and all sorts of motives are attributed to him and his judgment becomes suspect.” The court was specifically concerned about cases in which an accused was arrested and “the media goes to town projecting him as guilty.”

Court pulls up govt. for not policing media

A high court division bench in Bangalore headed by chief justice Vikramajit Sen has adjourned hearing to Thursday on a batch of petitions pertaining to the March 2 violence at the City Civil Court complex following a request by advocate general S Vijay Shankar.

“We are not saying anything against police. But, minus the CBI, how investigation can go forward to the satisfaction of all is the issue. Do not talk of morals, we are concerned with the truth, when will it emerge? Anyway, you seek instructions ,” the bench observed. This when the advocate general sought time while appealing to the court not to entrust the investigation to CBI which in his opinion would demoralize the state police.

The bench took the government to task for not initiating any action against TV channels which had spread wrong news about some policemen being killed in the March 2 violence.

“In three weeks, nothing has been done. It only shows lack of administration,” the bench observed. As regards the media, especially electronic media, the bench was of the view that they were only interested in pulling down the rival channel and about viewership.


On March 22 DNA ran a story on an agriculture ministry report on BT Cotton. On the 26th morning the Hindustan Times ran it as a front page exclusive!

Costly photo

Congress MLA Founder Strong Cajee flew into a vengeful  rage when he assaulted senior photojournalist Warton Lytan in the State Assembly corridor. The reason: Lytan had taken a picture of him sleeping inside the Assembly which was published in the vernacular dailies. The Shillong Press Club (SPC) has condemned the attack and also filed an FIR.

In the counter FIR, Cajee has claimed that Lytan told him,”You stupid MLA representing Mawlai Savage Constituency.”


The Hindu interview with the army chief which dominated the airwaves on Monday night was done a week before it appeared, not used  for a mundane reason–Vidya Subramaniam did not have time to write it earlier. And the ETV interview which all the channels had on the 26th night was in fact aired on ETV before the Hindu interview was published, but nobody noticed it when it initially surfaced! Something has to be on a  big  English daily to become big news.
One more paper implements Majithia Wage Board recommendations

A South Indian newspaper has become the second paper in India to implement recommendations by the Majithia Wage Board. Madhyamam is the second paper (after Assam Tribune) to implement the recommendations, and is the first newspaper in Kerala to do so. The paper’s journalist and non-journalist staff will now receive pay revisions with retrospective effect from July 2010. The move will benefit nearly  a thousand employees.


After 2G & CWG scams, another scam that is presently making the current UPA govt ‘popular’ on social media is the 10.7 lakh crore coal scam. “Coalgate” is the top trend on Twitter in India right now. The present top 10 trends on Twitter are “#coalgate”, “CAG” and “Rs. 10.7”.

Clever Mamata

Mamata Banerjee has learnt the art of pleasing the journos. To earn brownie points, the Bengal CM has announced that she will  support  the demand of media persons for the implementation of Majithia Wage Boards and will join the nationwide agitation on March 20 in this regard.

One more in Arunachal

Itanagar got its sixth daily earlier this week, calledIndependent Review. This is in addition to   The Arunachal Times, Echo of Arunachal, The Dawnlit Post, Eastern Sentinel and Arunachal Front.

(compiled from, TOI, The Hindu)

Pudhia Thalaimaru: A refreshing change

In just two months after its launch, an independent television news channel in Tamil gallops to number one position in viewership. It has more to its credit than merely warding off political affiliations, writes MAYA RANGANATHAN

In television-saturated Tamil Nadu, news that Pudhia Thalaimaru (New Generation) television channel has emerged as a leading news channel in the region in about two months went largely unnoticed. In a state where television news has come to mean propaganda with political parties launching their own channels, where “objectivity” amounts to simply not believing any source entirely, and where sectarian interests dictate news coverage, the success of an “apolitical” television channel is something to write home about.

The SRM Group launched Pudhiya Thalaimurai, with the tagline “unmai udanukudam” (truth instantaneously) in August 2011, buoyed by the success of the weekly Tamil magazine by the same name which was launched in 2009. In a press meet ahead of the launch, managing director of the group T R P Sathyanarayana had reportedly said that the channel would seek to fill the void in the regional televisionscape for a channel that had no political leanings, that provided more than film-based entertainment and that was as informative as it was entertaining targeting the youth.

At first glance, it can be said that the channel has succeeded in its aim. The success is particularly significant, as it came at a time when the only other apolitical news channel in the region, the NDTV-Hindu, launched in 2009, was floundering and had accumulated Rs. 20 crore in losses. It has since changed hands.

Perhaps, the initial success of Pudhiya Thalaimurai lies in that the SRM group chose a time when there are alternatives to the cable connection in the form of DTH (direct-to-home) television, which is of late becoming more popular owing to the “cable war” that the DMK and the AIADMK are embroiled in. Speaking in another context, Asian College of Journalism (ACJ) chairman Sashikumar pointed out that first tussle between the DMK and AIADMK in the nineties was over the issue of establishing the huge network required for cable television. Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s announcement of the setting up of Arasu Cable Corporation is a measure to combat the overarching reach of Sun TV and the monopoly Sumangali Cable Vision enjoyed in the State. It is said that more and more viewers, tired of their favourite channels being blacked out in the political war, are turning to DTH which only costs marginally more. Interestingly, the government also imposed a 30 per cent entertainment tax on DTH which has been stayed by the Madras High Court.

But Pudhiya Thalaimurai has more to its credit than warding off political affiliations. The periodic news bulletins are interspersed with talk-shows, discussions, news features, district round-ups that attempt to present information unlike the other Tamil television channels. For instance, “konjam soru, konjam varalaru” (A bit of food and a bit of history) traces the origin of items in the Tamil cuisine while “Yuppieskku mattum illai” (Not just for the yuppies) attempts youth-talk that is not contrived. Its programming thus differs drastically from that of other channels that have more or less followed the pattern set by the commercially-successful Sun TV. In terms of salary packages it offers, it is said to be competitive.

Its presenters are young, dressed neither in the formal DD style nor the “loud” style of Sun TV. They are like everyday youth that one gets to spot on Chennai roads dressed in decent casuals speaking a Tamil that is neither classical nor Anglicised. It is perhaps for the first time that Tamil viewers get to hear the news delivered in a conversational tone, devoid of the particular intonation pioneered by Sun TV, copied by other channels and parodied in Tamil cinema. The sets are reminiscent of The NDTV-Hindu where the television newsroom, complete with staff walking around, is seen in the background. Interestingly, the news team from the NDTV-Hindu seems to have relocated to Pudhiya Thalaimurai.

Its news segment also differs in terms of content and not just for the perspectives that it takes. The focus is more on social issues, which also helps it to steer clear of political leanings. Its young reporters are dressed in salwar kameez and jeans. Unlike other Tamil channels, it covers more than the regional and political and has a fair amount of information about the national and international which has so far been relegated to the English news channels. Pudhiya Thalaimurai’s success turns on its head the assumption that Tamil viewers are not interested in anything that is not associated with “Tamil” and in its attempt to redefine “Tamilness.”

It is, however, a little early to predict if it will set trends the way that Sun TV has. While Sun remains the undisputed leader in entertainment in the region, the success of Pudhiya Thalaimurai has had an effect on Sun TV, if sources are to be believed. It has apparently caused a rethink on Sun TV policies, including Maran’s dictum that it is the organisation and not the individual that should be projected. But changes, if any, are yet to become apparent.

The channel, however, is not without its detractors. Preceding reports of the channel topping the list of news channels in Tamil Nadu, there were reports that Pudhiya Thalaimurai was far from “objective,” the criticism stemming from the seemingly changing stand on Koodankulam nuclear plant. Its “political-correctness” has been seen as an attempt to offend none and appease all. It remains to be seen if it is able to tread the tightrope when faced with a crisis. After all, the SRM group has a finger in almost every business pie. It is when one of its interests is affected that its resolve to remain apolitical will be tested. Till then, it is a welcome fare for the Tamil viewers.


Digital uncertainty

The mandated digital switchover for cable homes is to be universal—implemented in the whole country by 2014, in the four metros by 30 June this year

Talking Media | Sevanti Ninan

Over the next three months, the four metros are going to see an amazing scramble to achieve a technological shift with a deadline. The mandated digital switchover for cable homes is to be universal—implemented in the whole country by 2014, in the four metros by 30 June this year. The ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) claims there will be no extensions. Come 1 July and, whoosh, the analog signal will be switched off. India is irrevocably set on the path to universal digitization.


But is it? There is the physical improbability of what is sought to be achieved. To take Delhi, as a case study, MIB estimates 5,000 cable operators, five national-level multi-system operators (MSOs) and 3.3 million cable and satellite connections. Covering all those homes in 90 days means seeding 36,000 homes a day with set-top boxes (STBs). Even if all local cable operators (LCOs) were fired with missionary zeal to achieve this, which they are not, it would take a lot of doing.

Earlier this week, ministry officials attempted to sweet-talk an assembly of cable operators and MSOs into keeping the deadline. MIB is using everything from resident welfare associations to Facebook to chivvy the LCOs along, and get consumers to demand the boxes.

It has behind it the big service providers, some of whom have joint ventures with broadcasters. There was some significance to the fact that this meet which the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) organized in Delhi between ministry officials and the service delivery crowd was chaired by Sameer Manchanda, promoter of DEN Networks Ltd, the cable TV distribution company that has a 50:50 joint venture with News Corp.’s Star TV Group. Star DEN, in turn, has a joint venture with ZeeTurner. The Sun Network has long combined broadcasting and distribution interests, but over the past few years other big broadcasters have been getting into distribution to protect their own interests. That includes direct-to-home (DTH) operations such as Dish TV India Ltd and Tata Sky Ltd.

So far the dominant media discourse on digitization has been about broadcasters needing to get pay revenue due to them because cable operators under-declare, and needing to shed the carriage fees that LCOs levy to accommodate channels in their limited bandwidth. The industry is not achieving its potential because it is hobbled by the loss of revenue on these two counts. (Cable operators counter this argument by saying that pay channels are a third or less of all channels on offer, and free-to-air channels provide television rating points, or TRPs, to the broadcasters which get them advertisement revenue.)

Digitization is expected to bring in transparency, increase distribution capacity, and give the consumer choice, better TV signals, and price regulation, since the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India will set the upper limit for what they can be charged.

But does MIB need to hustle the process along so much? TAM figures on TV homes show that with the advent of DTH, people are opting for digitization in numbers have that brought DTH to a third of all C&S homes and 28% of all TV homes. There are now 42 million digitized homes. As people are able to afford it, they opt for digitization. So we would have got there, sooner or later.

And does digitization end carriage fee demands? No, DTH operators level carriage fees, too, as does Doordarshan’s free DTH service DD Direct. There are simply too many channels around, and too many new entrants, for bandwidth to be limitless enough to accommodate them all.

What media coverage taken up with the problems of broadcasters does not address is the issue of access for those at the bottom of the viewership pyramid.

Academic papers on the digitization experience in other countries point to the fact that it threatens two things: universal access and the public service broadcaster. So what is the score there? Doordarshan’s terrestrial service will remain analog for now, the switch-off date for it is 2017. People who cannot afford cable have the option of accessing its free-to-air signals through the antennae they now use.

Cable operators have lots of poor customers too. Can they afford set-top boxes? At the Ficci interaction, MIB additional secretary Rajiv Takru made two breezy assertions in this regard: give it to them at Rs. 30 a month rental, “anybody can afford that”. He also said, “Stop bothering about the consumer who does not want to pay for services.” Ask the cable community and they will tell you that there is enough gold at the bottom of the pyramid to make it difficult for them to shed their low-income clientele. And renting is easier said than done. What if a migrant labourer migrates with his set-top box, asked an LCO plaintively.

Are we then looking at the making of a new digital divide, this time in television access? Or should we take heart from the government’s poverty reduction figures and assume that we’ll soon be a country where the poor can afford digitization?

Sevanti Ninan is a media critic, author and editor of the media watch She examines the larger issues related to the media in a fortnightly column.

(courtesy: Sevanti Ninan &