Veteran journalist Shekhar Gupta, who was recently exited Indian Express after 19 years as the Editor-in-Chief covered a wide range of topics from media ownership to the effect the media has today on the government.
Promoting his recently launched book ‘Anticipating India’ he spoke about the news media industry and how reasonably small in size this business is in India. “Media is a small business. It is a high profile and visible business and the strength of the media does not come from its balance sheets, it comes from its institutional depths”. He further went on to say that the biggest challenge for the media is that it has grown suddenly. “Indian media has needed a lot more journalists than were either trained or were available. So almost anybody has walked in and become a journalist. Some of the problems are with the younger journalists, who have not been trained either in classroom or in the newsroom,” he added.
He said except for a broadspread daily everything else is doing badly in terms of revenues when touching upon the point of revenues in the TV news media industry. He further added that the news media market has too little money and everybody is fighting for the same pie. “TV news has to compete with the same advertisers and the same brands that go to entertainment channels. So anybody selling toothpaste, chewing gum, deodorant, cement, cola, etc., goes to Star Plus, Colors, Zee Entertainment, Sony because that’s where numerous eyeballs are. After they have exhausted these channels they go to the cricket channels. They are the second most watched. Then the advertisers go to news channels. So by the time they go to news channels they can only go with what money is left,” said Gupta.
He finally spoke about the influence of media on the government, especially on a weak government. Citing the example of the beheading of an Indian soldier on the LOC a year and half ago, he said that the huge outburst from the media that followed the incident promoted the government to cancel out many peace and trade measures and as a result undid years of work that was gone towards building peace between the two nations. “The fact is the government of India with the sixth largest army in the world and super power with claims for a permanent seat in the Security Council responded to noise from the media and changed its policy. So that is how media affects governance,” he said.
With regards to questions of ownership of media, he said that media has always been owned by corporates, it is a question of how you define those corporates. “These are new developments and these don’t worry me so much. While we may say that they have big interests and that they may use media for their own interests. But because they have big interests and stakes they have to remain in certain parameters. Also, they are not in media and to milk the media for money. I think of them having made the wrong call by investing in media. Because some think they will influence media. I think they show poor understanding of the business of media,” he added.
As to what change he expects at his new job at India Today Group he said, “It (the Group) is still what it was except it is not a broadsheet daily. They have a bunch of magazines and it has the TV channels Aaj Tak and Headlines Today. So basically I am still waiting in this sea of 250 to 600 journalists and many of them are TV stars. It has a big diverse portfolio with 36 titles. It’s a different universe but my essential job is the same, I don’t see it changing.”
Shekhar Gupta, who recently assumed charge as the Editor-in-Chief and Vice Chairman of India Today Group spoke at a conference recently on ‘Media and Governance’ organized by the Indian Merchants’ Chamber.