Twenty four-hour news channels have proliferated in India as nowhere else in the world in terms of numbers. All that in a matter of a decade. Also, nowhere else perhaps news channels are operating as freely as in India with least regulations relatively. Their number has already crossed 150 and that number is likely to double in the next couple of years. There are many others lined up, awaiting permissions. Think of the scenario. That would have meant the theoretically leapfrogging of India.
With that kind of growth of news channels one would have expected the reach of news media to be significantly increased and higher than what it is in fact today. Clearly, contents of these channels have not helped the expansion of TV in India as their contents are not commensurate with the needs and aspirations of people. What have been their overall contribution on the growth path of the country and in contribution for good governance and deepening of democracy?. By and large channels individually have not distinguished according to their potential. While on markets, brands and consumerism, contribution of news channels has been impressive, there is no evidence of such an impact in the context of social development and behavioural change and in the context of deep rooted issues.
This book is about unleashing the potential of 24x7 news channels in India. It is not about news media. It is also not about television otherwise. It restrains from diffusing except where relevant in the context of news channels. The 13 chapters, under four sections, argue that news channels could change the face of the country if only they are determined to pursue their power and reorder their content priorities. The first section gives an over view of the larger scenario and the contextual background to do with growth, content model and marketing concerns and the idea of public service broadcasting for making a difference. The second section analyses the trends in the stunted spread and plateauing reach of news channels, despite proliferation. The considerations and compulsions that determine the content model as in the case of TRPs and awards are analyzed. The societal compulsions as against the market and consumer are also discussed.
The third section discusses media reforms scenario and initiatives as well compulsions of regulatory mechanism and ethical framework. The fourth section outlines with specific examples what news channels tend to miss in coverage which could shift the paradigm and rejuvenate news channels to their pride of place in a win-win way. Two chapters in this section briefly suggest interventions, so that news channels can get out of the grip of those which have constrained expansion of their reach and relevance of their contents. Some correctives that could help channels unleash - their full potential are given more as examples.
When something is written on such issues with concerns based passion, it is bound to miss something and repeat something else. But, when that concern and passion is backed or based on hands on experience and armed with primary analyses, it is bound to raise dilemma in galore. That is what this book is all about. I was fortunate in having four distinctly different backgrounds. I was a grassroots activist (of the programmes like green revolution, family planning campaigns, rural development, etc) first before going to academics and then become a field researcher with pioneering studies in the country and also in developing survey research methodologies. Then I had the rare opportunity of becoming part of policy making at highest level in the Government and later advise more than a couple of central Ministries; and then end up as an independent (not dependent on any body's sponsorship or dole outs) analyst of public policies and public opinions touching on a host of basic issues confronting the country. In most of these functions, news media and news television specifically has been a fascination for me and I have grown with the belief that they can do much more even where the governments have failed to make a difference. I am convinced of that even more now after seeing what some news channels did more recently. It is with that belief that I attempted this book.
In coverage "good news channels" capture aspirations of people, reflect the concerns of the disadvantaged in given situations and contribute in bringing out the better in people. That is not possible unless people themselves also take interest. But what we see more often is a jugalbandi phenomena where profit seeking enterprises take the lead while viewers remain passive and the Governments are busy weighing the opportunities (most times eternally). In such a scenario opportunities for news channels are many to make a mark or difference.
It is often said that content is king in the case of television and India is content capital. How much of that is evident given the kind of boom particularly in the last one decade of television channels. Round the clock News channels have just completed a decade (2001-2011) in a competitive context. How do we take stock of that? Proliferation of channels unabated despite their viability is not in sight and not even half of them are unlikely to be viable ever! A new realization of limitation of content model being followed appears to have set in some news channels - although it is more on account of series of scams in a short span of time. Thanks to RTI Act and Anna Hazare for the new enthusiasm of channels. "It is good enough in America, to be bad news in person as long as the television sees all that as good news". That is what I used to hear even 45 years ago when I was doing my Ph.D. in USA. This appears to sum up the situation in India during the decade.
Certain issues or notions are repeated perhaps more often in almost every chapter of the book as they are basic and at the core for a much needed paradigm shift. These include: More is not merrier, more of the same; what interests viewers and what is in their interest are not necessarily same, etc. But together, such concepts determine the scope of content priorities and direction of news channels. These are discussed and re-referred as they are relevant to explain the larger picture and future prospects. The examples given and the case of regional channels pertain to the ones in Andhra Pradesh. This is because I am very much familiar with them and I also have lot of analysis available much more reliably for Telugu channels than for others.
I benefited from CMS Media Lab analyses over these critical years of news channels growth story. And of course also from the field studies of CMS. No book on news channels could claim "updated" particularly because things are changing so fast, constantly and without even coming under public purview. Updated data for compatibility with earlier decades / years is difficult to come by for more than one reason. One is that the provider of the data sometimes does not want any such over time comparisons made. A other reason could be that data base is not robust enough the same way for all the years. And sometimes certain desegregated data is not given any more because of changes in the analysis plan and /or methodology. That is why we do not see any analyses presented by these (TAM/Nielsen, etc) agencies of trends over the years; In fact, that is how some trends do not come for a public discussion at all. That is why certain analysis could not be updated in the book pertaining for the data for 2011 and 2012. As a try out, we even wrote to TAM for certain data compatible with previous years and even agreed to pay for such a data which is supposed to be otherwise in public purview. Even then they did not give us on one pre-text or other. One pretext is that CMS is "historically against TAM/TRPs", which of course is true as there is no "conflict of interest" in CMS endeavors and analyzing the data a lot more closely from the very outset.
This book written by Dr. N Bhaskara Rao is four sections divided into thirteen chapters' talks about the Television news channels in India, which have happened between 2001-2011. The book couldn't have been more timely than now when not only the four pillars of society needs such an in-depth analyses, but will come very handy to civil society and an Indians at large irrespective of their country of living.
The policy makers (Legislature), who feel that so much proliferation of news channels in all eight major Indian languages, as well as local cable news channels practically in all cities, is an issue that they are grappling with as to how to get their point of view communicated and avoid unwarranted reportage. When the executive class sees the legislators struggling with this monster call news Channels, they also are at loss to get to the depth analyses of the scenario. The tool which could have been very effectively used to make a positive impact on issues of social development has become a disadvantage in given situation and is not able to contribute to the betterment of society.
The Judiciary also is faces with almost every day matters put up for their considerations are driven by the news flow the day before on the TV and the petitioner or the defendant do take shelter/advantage of the same by quoting the news.
The very people who are running the 24x7 news channels/network themselves are at a loss to find their feet on the ground and are at a point of losing their priorities in managing the news flows. It is becoming just a BYTE or a live feed of someone shouting of a scam or an allegation by someone against someone or a report of the petty crime which might have taken place in hinterland. The competing desire to get the rating from an already faulty system makes the task even more difficult and forces them to make expensive mistakes.
Some have decided to take an easy route to take shelter to report on entertainment or crime or astrology and if nothing else cricket. The viewer who is a passive spectator of what is happening is looking for alternatives like Internet or the news flow via text messages. Perhaps a slow doze of making them (the viewer) to believe nothing is right in this country of a billion plus people.
Hence this book will provide insights to all sections of society as Dr. Rao vast experience and database available from CMS Media lab will provide in-depth analyses for each one of us as readers to find the answers we were seeking in our respective fields. My optimism makes me feel that this book will throw light on real issues and make us this tool to become useful in social development as well as develop a better understanding between the governed and governing class.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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