Director, Delhi Press and Managing Editor | 22 Jul 2011
The industry is always fragmented and that is a good thing for the independence of press… I believe that taking collective action by media is a dangerous thing. For the sake of the independence of news, media should remain fragmented, so that media itself cannot bully anyone. It will be a very sad situation if ten editors come together and start bullying someone.
Anant Nath is Director of Delhi Press Group and Managing Editor of The Caravan. Nath has an MBA from IIM, Lucknow and an MA in Politics from Columbia University, New York.
In a freewheeling interview with exchange4media’s Nitin Pandey, Nath talks at length about the ethics in journalism, IRS trends for magazines, fragmentation in print media and more…
Q. Following IIPM filing a case against The Caravan, Google and Penguin last month, what have been the recent developments?
Not much actually, because the legal process takes time. We have been to court twice and both the times we asked for the documents, but IIPM has not yet submitted all the supporting documents along with the petition. Only after that can we file a review petition or our reply in Court. That is why it is taking time.
We have also filed a transfer petition in Supreme Court requesting to transfer the case to Delhi. We don’t know the legitimacy of the first petitioner, apparently he is an admission consultant at IIPM. But the two parties – the aggrieved party IIPM and we, the publisher or Editor – are both from Delhi. Let’s see what happens.
One more development is that IIPM filed another case in the court at Silchar – that we have not removed the article from the website, but we had already removed it. In their petition, however, they have contradicted themselves as they mention that if you go to the article link, it shows ‘Server Error’ – which happens when an article is removed!
They have also filed a complaint against Google that this article is visible through Google Cash. Moreover, they have filed a case against Penguin that they have released the book (from which excerpts of the article were taken for The Caravan) in London.
Q. As Director of the Group, what is your advice to your journalists following the Court injunction in this case? What guidelines are to be followed while doing investigative stories in the future?
No guidelines as such. The legal process will take its due course. For the time being, the Court has restrained us from writing anything on IIPM. And we respect the Court’s decision. We will just have to wait and watch.
Q. Do you think the print media is too fragmented when it comes to taking collective action or decision that impacts the industry as a whole?
The industry is always fragmented and that is a good thing for the independence of press. In this particular case, I think a huge advertiser is at stake, and in this commercialised world, no one wants to lose their clients (advertisers), so most publishers have remained wary of writing anything against in this case. But it is the duty of responsible media to report. Had a similar case been filed by some other non-advertiser against a publisher, then the media would have reported that.
Q. Do you fear that advertisers may take away advertisements because of these controversies?
There are some advertisers who appreciate the editorial ethics and independence of the media. But for a publisher, that is a risk and that is why you are in the business. You cannot afford to refrain from publishing something critical because your advertising will be pulled off.
Q. Do you think there needs to be a body of journalists or media owners who can deal with such cases firmly in the future?
There are already various media-related bodies, including IMA, AIM, Editors’ Guild, Press Council of India, ILNA. But I don’t think they take collective action. However, I believe that taking collective action by media is a dangerous thing. For the sake of the independence of news, media should remain fragmented, so that media itself cannot bully anyone. It will be a very sad situation if ten editors come together and start bullying someone.
This (filing of the case by IIPM) is not an attack on the freedom of the press, so to say. If somebody is aggrieved, he has the right to approach the Court. Now it is up to the Court on how liberally it interprets the Law. Courts decide how they maintain that thin balance as to whether they are interpreting defamation law very liberally or strictly, because it is easy for anybody to say that I am aggrieved by this particular article and move the court and the court gives him easy injunction. If it happens continuously, then over time media will become very wary of carrying critical stories. Perhaps a press body can advocate and debate this topic, and that is the maximum a press body should do. It should not become another forum for causing harm.
Q. We have seen in the case of Bollywood, where controversies help in gaining publicity, especially just before a movie’s release. Do controversies also have any impact on magazine sales and readership – kind of campaign through controversy?
Controversies always help. It is true for media as well. It happened with some other magazines, and now with us. That is a side benefit of controversy. It helps in giving certain burst of recognition. But it cannot help in increasing readership. It can just help in creating awareness. Readership will not benefit out of controversy because every magazine’s issue is a new issue, and one issue out of many will not have any impact on sustained readership. Publishing good articles is the only way to build a sustained readership.
Q. To avoid a Murdoch-NOTW like situation, editors suggest that there should be a moral code of conduct for journalists in India. Do you think that will help in a country like India?
Media has to be its own watchdog. It is not that some other agency broke this scandal, but it was also revealed by media. Media should do critical stories on media itself to avoid any such a situation. One should not fall into this danger that because they are our brethren we should not write about them. This is the only way to maintain balance – by media becoming its own watchdog.
Q. The Caravan is yet not registered with the IRS. Is there any specific reason behind that?
It is too new to get registered. Now that The Caravan is fairly well circulated, in the next few rounds we will hopefully get IRS results for The Caravan as well.
Q. IRS trends for the last one year reflect growth for monthly magazines, while for weeklies the negative trend continues. Is this trend also reflective of the magazines of the Delhi Press Group?
Magazines that are reflecting a fall are mostly news magazines, because news has become a perishable commodity today. Plus, 24x7 news channels, websites and newspapers are providing enough news these days. Hence, news weeklies are now moving towards long, comprehensive features and investigative stories around the world. However, they have suffered a decline because they are into a stiff competition space. Besides that, growth of other magazines remained quite steady because they don’t have direct competition.
Q. How far do IRS trends impact strategies (content, marketing, new launches) of a group like yours?
Hardly at all. There has been enough debate about the methodology of IRS and we are never sure about the authenticity of their numbers. Our circulation team is always in the field, so we know far more of what is happening at ground level. So, we don’t bank much on IRS. Magazine readership numbers are not very volatile as compared to (TRPs for) TV. So, as far as the quarterly data of IRS is concerned, it does not make any difference to the print industry.
Q. Any specific genre of magazine that you find is doing better than others?
Women centric magazines have been doing well. Besides, the biggest advertisers also target women. Magazines for women have performed well in the regional language magazine domain also. Apart from this, the auto sector has grown in the country, so automobile industry-centric magazines have been also doing well. Another sector is the business magazine genre, which has been performing better than it did earlier.
Q. What are your plans for the year ahead? Are you looking to introduce new titles in the coming months?
No new titles at this stage. Recently, most of the magazines of our group have gone through major reforms and there are a few more that will see some major changes in 2011. Though, we have plans to strengthen our digital presence next year onwards.
Q. Your extensive distribution network has been your strength. What are the challenges of maintaining such a large distribution network?
Distribution is a huge challenge and is the biggest problem area for most of the magazines. It is a field that is forever in competition with newspapers because newspapers have a larger stake in the distribution medium. This year we would like to emphasise more on ‘Morning Centers’ (from where newspapers get distributed). In next three to six months, we will be taking some really big initiatives through hundreds of morning centers across the country. Magazines mostly rely on retail sale or subscriptions, yet it is seen that more than 50 per cent of magazines are still being sold through morning centers. Hence, constant focus on this is part of our strategy.
Q. Lastly, The Caravan has had a rich and varied history, right from the pre-Independence days. How do you preserve this history?
We stick to the editorial vision of the magazine, which is to establish The Caravan as a foremost literary magazine of the country. This magazine is known for its unique writing on art, culture and politics. Our team at Caravan is an excellent team working on various exclusive stories – which is its forte. Apart from that, the focus has always been on the basics. Some of the best writers in their respective domains are Contributing Editors, and that is the strength of this magazine.