India has been witnessing a proliferation of television channels in different genres, with over 500 channels running 24x7 now. Despite this growth, Rajdeep Sardesai, Editor-in-Chief, CNN-IBN feels that the broadcast industry is at a stage where there is a huge paradox. “We have enormous quantity, but do we have quality?” he asked.
Taking a candid look at the broadcast industry and journalism, Sardesai asked, “We are competitive, but are we credible? Even though we have power, are we immoral than before?”
He felt that there is far more fear of the media today than ever before, but there is far less respect. “These are the paradoxes we have to deal with and analyse why they have happened before looking for solutions,” he said.
In an attempt to understand why media has turned out to be what it is today, Sardesai recounted that till the advent of private news channels in the 90’s, news was a beast that was “imprisoned” by government monopoly. “Now, this beast has been unleashed,” he said. The Government decided to issue licences for new channels, but there were no set rules in place.
Commenting on the ratings issue, Sardesai asked, “How are you going to decide which channel is watched and why it is watched? That in itself created a new crisis. The fact is that it is a flawed system, it is a system that can be corrupted. But are we willing to stand up and say that? No, because that requires moral courage.”
On the switch to the new TVT system he remarked that he does not see any change in the TVT system.
Warped business model
“The fact is that we’ve had a warped business model for the longest time. Advertising is critical to news channels’ business model, yet TRAI has come up with the 12-minute ad restriction.
Until digitisation truly sets in, channels will continue to witness revenues under pressure. As it is, the industry has legitimised and institutionalised the carriage system.
Journalism Vs jingoism
Lamenting the state that journalism is in today, Sardesai said, “The ethical and moral compass of journalism has declined. We have turned news channels into garage shops.”
According to him, this is largely due to the fact that there is virtually no mentoring and training in journalism today. “We have taken a soft option to create a fast food culture and get the work done.”
He blamed the editors and called them “the biggest problems”. He remarked that while journalists come with great idealism, editors come with compromise. “We simply have lost our moral compass, because we are not asking ourselves is it time for course correction,” Sardesai added.
What is the way forward?
To bring about this course correction, Sardesai suggested having a code of conduct in place. “However, this code cannot be based on voluntarism. We need a regulatory authority mandated by an Act of Parliament that will set up the code of conduct and which will have the power to take punitive action against erring channels that do not follow the code of conduct.”
However, the problem is that the industry does not want to bite the bullet. “How can we form such committee as we have self-regulation and the regulatory authority co-existing with each other?” he asked.
To improve revenues, Sardesai suggested having subscription-based digitisation. Also, TRAI needs to support the fight for independent media.
As for the lack of ethics in journalism, the Editor-in-Chief of CNN-IBN felt it needed introspection on the part of the journalists to rediscover their ethical compass. “Journalists have to wear the flag of truth. There is difference between jingoism and journalism,” he stressed.
Sardesai wrapped up by asking, “Are we willing to invest both intellectual time and personal time to achieve this?”
Rajdeep Sardesai shared his thoughts at the 10th exchange4media Conclave, held in New Delhi on September 11, 2013.