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In defense of the Indian Media

July 13, 2007

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

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. July 13, 2007 2:31 pm

    Investigative stories are attractive but sometimes mislead & sadly they always put judgmental views to Viewers! But whatever they are – They are good marketing tools or I can say Highlighting tools that boost particular media in a race to make Media Brand more popular & in turn make more money.

    After seeing your blog I sat on my TV & watched DD News & other commercial channel News and counted No. of News items per minute.. Ah.. here it goes.. DD covers more news than others (almost 3 times).

    and one more interesting thing I heard thru my friend.. he says.. 80% revenue a newspaper gets is thru Advertisement.. hmmm So Advertisements are driving newspapers…like in Cricket telecast.. then I remembered a dialogue in Guru movie… here Our Hero says – put more Ads (10 times) in same newspaper, which criticized you more.

    Once I saw a xyz Channel during Abhi-Ash marriage.. one day before wedding…they’re showing the same news item repeatedly for almost 2-3 hours as if 9/11 occurred again here…and u know what was the news – someone successfully entered Ash’s house by disguising himself to look like Abhi.. My goodness that was not that big an event.. he he.. what do you say about it?

    And on recent terrorist related news item.. Just saw on Times Now .. it’s saying Australians are not finding any single evidence against Haneef.. and now I compared their own news published 2 days before… hmmmm.. I will feel very very sad about Mr. Haneef.. if he is really innocent!

    I guess people who are running these news channels (Indian) are sort of naive.. and may be most of them are less experienced, overconfident & quick Judgmental.

    That’s my view..

    Hey I am glad that you read my comment.. Mine is poor English.. No probs if you delete it or edit it to make it right.

    Thanks
    Bharath

  2. July 13, 2007 2:55 pm

    Hey Bharat, cannot disagree with much of what you said. Ofcourse its the ads that make the newspaper survive and the rate per ad is dependent on their circulation and readership.
    And as for the repetition of the news…well, its very irritating…and one of the reasons this is done is because these channels have to fill up 24 hours somehow….they simply do not have enough fresh footage. This is probably due to a lack of staff/infrastructure/money and yes, perhaps a lack of hard work at times.
    And you will be surprised about the Ash Abhi thing….I personally know someone who was watching this ash abhi coverage live, wanting to know every single thing, every minute of it! The minute the news changed, this person changed the channel!
    So you see, there are those who want it. Many people also do not admit how interested they are in film stars and their personal lives…but there is no doubt that India has now developed a very strong page 3 culture and the interest in celebrities and their personal lives is increasing.

  3. July 13, 2007 3:32 pm

    Thanks for sharing the results of the survey. I believe that just like the government, a country’s public gets the media it deserves.

    Regarding trusting media vis-a-vis the government, it depends on a lot of factors. All the developed or developing countries you mentioned (UK, Brazil, Germany, for e.g.) may be developing mistrust in their media because of sensationalist tabloid coverage. (I’m not at all aware of South Korea). That may be one reason they may be turning to conservative government views on news.

  4. krenim permalink
    July 13, 2007 4:47 pm

    I understand sting operations are quite the rage in India these days. Its a non bailable offense in the UK to entrap anyone so no such luck here🙂

  5. July 13, 2007 6:26 pm

    Hey Nita, Thanks for your prompt reply.. Quiet convincing one. I am not too negative abt media.. It helps many times.

    Hey Krenin: Yes.. There shall be such law/restriction on media in India too.. all with good effect & practical🙂 . Sometimes Media too do mistake.. and why not?? They are not fully trained detectives or Cop.. If we put ourselves in Victim’s shoes.. we can realize what goes wrong in their life.. It’s just miserable life after that.

    I am afraid some people who work in media utilize this as chance & take advantage by asking Big money.

    It can never happen that public get 100% trust on Govt. or Media.. even though they are good.. doesn’t matter. Good result is 50-50 Trust. Doubting is always good. He he.

    Thanks,
    Bharath

  6. July 13, 2007 9:48 pm

    Confidence in Indian media.
    It will be a nice idea to survey, those who have confidence in authenticity of above survey.

  7. July 15, 2007 3:08 am

    One of the problems in the US media is Video News Releases, which are prepackaged video reports that look like real news stories, but they are created by government agencies, large corporations, and large non-profit organizations (usually funded by large corporations). News stations typically display these pieces without disclosing their source.

    I’m curious. Is this a problem in India? Does Tata secretly fund many of the “news stories”?

  8. July 15, 2007 7:29 am

    Hi Katherine,
    No, industrial houses do not fund the media here. But the media is largely private and well, these guys do have their own agendas, alliances etc. As for the Tata’s in particular they are considered the most respected industrial group in India and their reputation is very clean. There are other industrial houses (not so well known abroad) who have more dubious reputations…they have reputations of buying ministers etc Ofcourse all industries have PR agencies and these people try to infuence the news….but the end of the day, the media boss does what he wants.

  9. July 16, 2007 6:17 am

    I have absolutely no respect for the Indian media. I have made a couple of posts on my blog about the media and it doesn’t take a Nuclear Scientist to gauge my mistrust of them. I however look at print media differently and as the primary source of news. TV however is not news but a soap opera.
    I do not buy the notion of “filler news” for a 24 hour news channel. There is far too much going on around the world for the need of filler news. And star weddings are not News contrary to what you have said in your post. And I do not accept the explanation of News agencies being corporate organizations and hence profit oriented. These are large media houses we are talking about and can surely find the resources to have a tabloid magazine/news channel with the hot gossip and retarded wedding coverage they wish to show.

    As for the poll itself, it just goes to show how irrelevant it is. There is no understanding of why the people trust their media and why they do not, same with their governments. And I really do find it hard to believe that 2/3rds of Indians trust their government. How does that explain the poor voter turnouts and the extreme non-political stance today’s youth has aligned itself with.

    The bottom line is that NEWS agencies have a responsibility to the public and while government news agencies can not be expected to hold the government at task, the private ones act more like corporate organizations rather than news media.

  10. July 16, 2007 8:00 am

    true, such polls do have their limitations…
    but about the voting remember a general question like do you trust the govt. may not reflect a person’s political stance or whether the person actually goes out to vote or not. and ofcourse the private news media do act like corporates, because thye are so. You are sai\ying they should have a social respsonsibility, well that is ideal. teaching, medicine etc are noble profession too but you know what they have fallen into today in India…

  11. July 16, 2007 10:15 am

    Hey, Just curious to know similar poll on Pakisthan.. do u have views on them after their Govt’s recent restrictions on media? I really donno whether things were rigjht or wrong!!!

  12. July 16, 2007 9:38 pm

    Pakistan has not been polled by globescan, at least I did not find anything on it. However, I have several posts on Pakistan and two of them refer to their media. Here is one:

    https://nitawriter.wordpress.com/2007/04/13/pakistan-takes-a-step-back-at-saarc/

    and another one here:

    https://nitawriter.wordpress.com/2007/03/16/police-attack-geo-tv-office-in-pakistan/

  13. July 17, 2007 8:59 am

    Thanks a Ton.. I am glad that you give prompt reply to every comment.
    Bharath

  14. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    September 10, 2007 11:22 am

    Sorry, I chanced upon this thread a bit late, so there is a gap of nearly two months since the last post on it.

    I am amazed by the comparative figures for the US and the UK, which many of us believe to be the foremost champions of democracy and the free press, where trust in the media (I presume that means privately owned corporate controlled media) is lower than in governmental sources of information. Especially when the governments of these two democracies are known to extensively idulge in a very Orwellian practice of what is now euphimistically called “knowledge management”.

    There is an anecdote attributed variously to Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Noam Chomsky who, when asked what he thought of Time Magazine, responded, “Well, it is good, but not a substitute for original thinking!”

  15. September 10, 2007 11:37 am

    Vivek, I think one of the reasons for the lack of trust is the tabloid journalism which has become the rage in some developed countries. It has made people dislike private media.
    I think Diana’s death was a kind of watershed and made people realise to what extreme journalists could go to for that story…and also I think quite a lot of stuff in the tabloids is made up. But I guess the tabloids too have their audience!
    I believe the BBC, while funded by the govt., has a fair amount of autonomy. It would be ideal if media could be like this.
    Our educational institutions like IIM for example are autonomous and funded partially by the govt, but there is constant interference. The babus will simply not let go!

  16. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    September 10, 2007 2:56 pm

    Nita,

    Point on tabloid journalism well taken. But tell me, other than The Hindu (I haven’t seen The Statesman in recent years) do we have any national, English, daily newspaper (I don’t mean the pink press) which does not in varying degrees approach tabloid journalism? I am particularly thinking of ToI, the Ahmedabad edition of which I read daily. Except the editorial page and the cartoon strips, there is little in it that is worth my money.

    And show me one TV news channel other than DD that is not so obsessed with being “the first to bring you the story” that checking facts and ensuring truth become immaterial.

    Diana was just a lot of hype surrounding a glamour personality. What about two more recent incidents that happened in India almost at the same time?

    A glamorous model doubling as a barmaid at an illegal watering hole run by another glamour personality, is shot; she gets reams of newsprint and gigabytes of TV time devoted to the trivial minutiae of her largely decorative life.

    At the same time, an engineer working on a prestigious national highway project is assassinated for exposing malpractices. He is soon forgotten.

    I thoroughly condemn a media whose raison d’etre seems to be mainly to cater to people’s taste for the prurient and the sensational.

  17. September 10, 2007 3:11 pm

    Well, I guess that is how it is. I too detest certain things. But I find TOI, Mumbai pretty good, even though they too put all the wrong things on the front page. The TOI pune is pretty bad and so is the Indian express.
    btw, if I tell you why the standard of indian journalism is nto too good, you might be surprised. In a nutshell…

    They are mostly understaffed. in new york times for example, a reporter will get 15 days to do one story and have time to research and investigate plus there is a research department! Here reporters often get a few hours to work on a story. And as freelancers are paid a pittance, they avoid writing for the papers on a freelance basis. I have joined the latter group. Its simply not worth the time. Might as well write for myself.
    I am not sure whether this boils down to money or monoply. Lack of money I mean. And a monoply because there is not enough competition so the owners eat up all the money instead of investing in better infrastructure and more people.
    Ofcourse this does nto answer the question of sensational journalism. Unfortunately that is here to stay as long as the human mind craves for it…

  18. August 26, 2008 10:22 am

    Nita, let me recount for you an experience I just had that illustrates how unethical the English language media in India is.

    Me and my friends are holding a Binayak Sen film festival here at my university to raise awareness about human rights issues in India. One of the movies, we are screening is ‘Tales from the margins’ by Kavita Joshi. I emailed her asking her whether she had any contact with the major TV News Channels about screening her movies.

    This is what she had to say,”I did submit Tales from the Margins to NDTV for its docu slot, but they were disinterested and indifferent… After speaking to 2 persons there who handle the docu project, I didnt see any point in pursuing them.

    CNN IBN was also in touch over my footage of Irom Sharmila long back but wouldnt offer a contract of any sort, nor any commitment to broadcast, and just wanted to buy off the footage instead. I found their behaviour rather shady, and refused.”

    Is this not the totally corrupt, unethical behaviour we always complain about ? And mind you, these are not overworked, underpaid Mumbai policemen, but well-earning, highly educated journalists.

    Not only do these channels want to not report the truth, they also want to suppress it.

    Btw, I discussed a journal article on the Indian English langauge media: http://vikramvgarg.wordpress.com/2008/08/14/indias-murdored-news-media/

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