I have heard this question being asked over and over again. As it was at Newsnext 2009, the annual summit of news television stakeholders, organised by exchange4media in the Capital last week. One of the peeves of people tracking the content of some of our news offerings – the Hindi channels specifically, as well as many of our newspapers – is that they have dumbed down so much that the stuff they air or print is not news at all.
The content is indeed not the kind that you would expect from mainstream news. But, to my mind, that’s only if you are living in the past. For, who really defines what’s news? Should only politics and civic/ national/ global issues get on the front page of your morninger? Why should current affairs only mean news and info on politics, and not how Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor are doing together? Or probe if Yuvraj Singh is really going around with starlet Jennifer Kotwal? Okay, the last one is a bit of a stretch, but surely there is need to stop being prudish about what makes for news.
At NewsNext 2009, when I asked India TV bossman Rajat Sharma to dwell on his channel’s decision to air flippant ‘kutta-billi’ stuff in order to garner ratings (bizarre stories on dogs and cats and everything else), he said all of that’s history on India TV. On the other hand, India Today and TV Today Group CEO Aroon Purie said there was nothing wrong with what channels air as long as it didn’t cross the limits of decency. I agree with this argument, and believe that we should leave it to the viewer to decide what he or she wants to watch.
If the consumer finds the content improper, I’m sure he or she will reject the news product. There are enough options available – on television as well as in print – and I see no need for any moral policing. When The Times of India’s Mumbai edition launched Bombay Times around a decade back, purists said that it would spell the death knell of the broadsheet. Interestingly, the circulation a year or two after the paper dumbed down leapfrogged over 15 per cent.
When I worked with Mid-Day in the ‘90s, I remember the circulation of the paper once fell by a few thousand copies when I dropped the girlie pictures tagged ‘Mid-Day Mate’ for a week as there were just too many ads on Page 3 during the festive season. Yes, there was a section of readers who tore the Mate page when they took their paper home so that it didn’t upset sensitivities, but that number was in a minority.
What’s important is for editors – as brand custodians of their products – to understand what works for their consumers.
From my little interaction with Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni, I believe she is progressive in her outlook on what makes for news. My sense is that she doesn’t quite care as long as there is no one complaining to her, which is what it ought to be.
My view is that editors and media owners shouldn’t really take critics of their dumbed down newspapers and channels very seriously. Also, there’s no real need to be defensive about it even though many may rubbish them and people like me will tease the likes of Rajat Sharma on it.
(The views expressed here are personal. Post your comments below or mail your views at firstname.lastname@example.org.)