In defense of the Indian Media
I don’t know whether its because I have a journalistic background, but often my friends and acquaintances bring up the subject of the media – about how good or bad it is. And then I have read blog posts that criticize the media too…the media is accused of everything from being non-analytical and inaccurate to being sensational.
I don’t want to get into the details of whether the media is actually like this or not because (and I am sure everyone will agree) every media source is different in quality, and its content dependent on its audience. I do distrust certain media sources, and there are some I don’t like at all but trust nonetheless, some I think are biased but not all of the time….but if comes to putting a label on Indian media, I would say its as good, if not better than some of the public institutions we have in this country. A country’s media is about as good or as bad as its institutions anyway.
Secondly, in a free market situation the media’s main objective is to keep readers happy and thus to that extent readers get the media they deserve. If you feel a particular newspaper of TV channel is airing sensational news which you detest, the obvious conclusion is that its targeting a certain kind of audience of which you are not the typical representative. If you are still getting something from that channel, then you tend to stick on. Its like visiting a restaurant which serves very spicy food (which you cannot digest) but as there are other items on the menu, the food is always fresh, the restaurant clean and the service good…you might visit regularly.
On another note – the media (unless funded by the government) is concerned with monetary objectives, and thus they feed people the news they want…or think they want. The ideal situation would be if government does the funding but does not interfere…but this may not always work. We have to think whether its working for DD (Doordarshan) news. Does DD cover investigative stories? Does it expose scams and corruption in the government?
But all this talk aside, I could not help wondering what the people felt about the media. Did the majority of us really distrust the media? I hunted around for a study …and I did find something…a Globescan survey commissioned by the BBC, Reuters and Media Center. The research is about a year old but well, thats not very long ago.
The survey polled 10, 230 people (age group: 18-65) in 10 countries. Beside India, the other countries sampled were the US, UK, Germany, Nigeria, Egypt, Indonesia, Brazil, Russia and South Korea.
These are the main findings concerning India (keep in mind that the sample was largely urban):
1. When asked who they trusted more, the government or the media…on an average 82 percent of those polled gave the thumbs up to the media, while 66 percent trusted their government. There were some people who trusted both the media and the government.
2. TV was rated as the most important source of news (37 percent), followed closely by newspapers (36 percent), radio (7 percent), and magazines (4%) and TV and newspapers were trusted the most (by 85 percent of the people). Sources like AAJ TAK, DD television, Dainik Jagran, Sun TV, Star News, NDTV, AIR, Times of India, Zee News, Rajasthan Patrika and BBC World Service radio were mentioned by viewers on their own. There was little awareness about getting news online, either from news sites or blogs, but awareness was the highest in the to 18-24 age group. Therefore online sources scored badly.
3. 76 percent of those polled believed that news was reported accurately, and 64 percent felt that the media struck “the right balance between freedom of speech and respect for culture.” However, 58 percent felt there was “too much foreign influence in their media” and 60 percent felt that the media is far “too focused on Western values and concerns.”
Was India different from the rest of the world when it came to trust in the media? Here is the graph from Globescan:
Developing countries apparently have greater faith in their media and their government (except for Nigerians who don’t seem to have much faith in their government). The US also stood apart as a significant majority of Americans trusted their media and their government, inspite of the country being a developed nation.
In nations like the UK (47 percent), South Korea (45 percent) Brazil (45 percent) and Germany (43 percent) less than half of the people polled trusted the media.
So compared to the rest of the world, we Indians do have faith in the media. But do people in developing countries trust their media more because they are less cynical or is it because they are more naive? I do not know.
Where trends are concerned, trust in media has increased in most of the countries polled, as compared to 2002. In 2002, only 76 percent of Indians trusted the media, but this has gone up to 82 percent today. In fact the most dramatic change seems to be in the UK where only 29 percent of the sample declared that they trusted the media in 2002!
Well, while such surveys do have their limitations, they never fail to fascinate me. Its good to look at these rather than drawing conclusions after talking to the people one knows.
Related Reading: A newspaper defends itself
Indian print media in trouble
Print readership takes a beating in India
Fake stunts by political parties
Shocking fake encounter
Fake stings and journalism frauds