“If you are not looking at media fragmentation today, what are you looking at?” this was how Suhel Seth, CEO, Counselage started the Special Address at the exchange4media Conclave 2009 in Delhi on June 5, 2009.
Seth enumerated various things that he believed were going wrong with the present media scenario in India. To begin with, according to him, the media was compromised today, and the reason was that the stakes were very high; costs of keeping channels afloat were high. Most importantly, editorial integrity was compromised upon too. Seth said that one could notice the ‘herd mentality’ even with the media planners. Instead of analysing strategic pressure, they looked at numerical pressure. He stated, “According to me, they have really not understood the new media.”
He also pointed a finger at the advertisers, and said that they had not understood the strength of regional media. In his opinion, understanding regional media was of grave importance, as consumption patterns differed in rural and urban India.
He did not stop himself from saying that let’s not ascribe to old and new media; it is about relevant and irrelevant media. According to him, there are two kinds of markets, one that is driven by pursuit of market creation, and the other that is driven by market share. He said that the Indian media was at the stage where it had moved from inquisitiveness to only questioning; from “aggression” to “shrillness”. He said that today businesses are becoming more risk averse, and that explained the decline in advertising spends.
Seth was clear that it was important for accountability to precede innovation. He said, “News should be editorially more honourable and not TRP driven. There must be accountability at each level. If accountability is not considered important enough, then it shall open the floodgates to a domino effect.”
He went on to say, “If we look at editorial quality, it is diminishing by the day. National editors are talking of food, and food editors are targeting politicians. In our times, editors were only read and not seen. It’s a totally different ball game in today’s scenario when the editors are only seen and not read.” He added here, “We must build an ethical media world, as the lines of editorial sanctity are blurring. Media should create options and stop using the abused term called ‘innovation’. Today, New York Times is worried about losing readership, as people want to switch to different mechanisms of reading and hence is experimenting with how and what kind of content should be created and consumed.”
The session was followed by a Q&A round with the Group Chief Editor, exchange4media Group, Pradyuman Maheshwari. The questions ranged from who should ask tough questions and why do the perpetrators go scot-free and a lot more. Seth handled the questions well and to the delight of the audience, added a touch of humour to all his responses. Seth said that he did try to follow what he preached and wherever he was asked to toe an editorial line or dictated what to write or not , he stopped writing for those media products and talked about how he stopped writing for Asian Age once M J Akbar left Asian Age.
He finally ended his session by saying that media needed to create an environment where it is respected and that it was time for media organisations to reinvent themselves.