Industry leaders bared all at the NewsNext 2008 that was held in Delhi on August 22. The first session of the day looked at what News Next is. The panel that was moderated by Arnab Goswami, Editor-in-Chief, Times Now, delved on subjects like whether viewers were still associating news with credibility, given the kind of content that was seen on channels today. The panellists included Ambika Srivastava, CEO, ZenithOptimedia; NDTV’s Barkha Dutt; Abdul Khan, Head – Marketing, Tata Teleservices; Counselage’s Suhel Seth; Lynn de Souza, Chairman and CEO, Lintas Media Group; Shashi Sinha, CEO, Lodestar Universal; BV Rao, Editor, Zee News; and Tehelka’s Tarun Tejpal.
News is what made brands
The first clear point that came out from this panel was that it was time to get ‘back to news’ or to begin investing in serious news again. Lynn de Souza quoted numbers to state that the time spent on every genre had increased, except for the Indian news genre. She also said that the growth and the increase in advertisers on the genre had both stagnated, indicating that viewers, and hence the advertisers were already turning off from the genre.
Tarun Tejpal minced no words in stating that commercial intent was taking over the genre and that the marketplace could not determine what news or media was. Though there was good work also that was happening in the genre, but television was skirting dangerously close to the borders where ratings were more important than content integrity, he maintained. Tejpal also pointed out that talent was an issue in the genre, where the generation next of reporters didn’t understand the sensitivity of the medium.
Suhel Seth said, “Our fraternity chose to equate content with branding and did not use their minds in what that would result in.” Like Tejpal, Seth felt, too, that there was good work happening in the Indian news space. He also cautioned, “Indian news media may lose the training edge if more editors are on televisions and more television anchors are in editorial.”
Barkha Dutt observed that perhaps the changing numbers were a reflection of the change in the society itself, where everything was about political journalism, and the conventional hierarchies were changing. “The basic point is that we want to be taken seriously,” she said.
Abdul Khan admitted that he was confused as to what news really was about. He said that the future looked good with distribution platforms like IPTV coming up, which would allow something as focussed as a Vasant Vihar channel or a Juhu channel, but at the same time wondered with comedy and reality show clippings on news channels, what news was about today.
Arnab Goswami cited the US example here to state that India, too, could see the emergence of serous news channels and news plus channels.
BV Rao admitted that channels such as Zee News had gone astray, but the focus was back on news for the channel. He also said that news media wasn’t investing enough in reporting, news gathering and in ideas.
Do news channels really work on ratings?
Ambika Srivastava reiterated that the big point would always be about the viewers. She said, “Viewers say that they want to be inspired and motivated, and news anchors do that. Therefore, we believe that news has a very big role to play because the masses are tuning in to channels for their information needs.”
Shashi Sinha candid pointed out, “Media is about delivering audiences. The point is how you are looking at the audiences. You are talking about carriage fees, but who is to blame for that, who came up with that idea?” de Souza asserted that advertisers didn’t look at ratings when it came to news channels and that the perception was more important.
The importance of content came back in focus here. Dutt divulged that many a times newsrooms were creating content targeted at other newsrooms and had created this sense of urgency. Tejpal felt that the kind of people in the business was important because the content line-up was like a good menu put together by people of great talent. “How you order information is also as important, and that is the new consensus that we need to strive for,” Tejpal noted.
The session ended with Goswami citing examples like CNN and BBC to show that it was hard news coverage that made a brand, and so for success, the motto had to be to focus back on news.
Self Regulation – is the intention set to become a reality?
The second panel focussed intensely on self regulation. The reason is simple. While the news broadcasters have got together and worked on the initiative of putting together a code for self regulation, the time in which it takes off and the clout that it would have in the industry is of utmost importance. India TV’s COO Rohit Bansal was the moderator of this session. The panellists included Pankaj Pachauri, NDTV; Ashutosh, IBN7; Markand Adhikari, Live India; and Prawin Kumar, Director, Broadcast Content, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
Like the first panel, this panel too said that ratings shouldn’t be applicable to news channels. The panel members further said that there would be news channels and news plus channels and that the difference between the two would be clear in the future.
Bansal ensured that the discussion didn’t digress from self regulation.
Markand Adhikari raised an important point when he cited examples where the I&B Ministry had banned channels even before the Court had anything to say. He said, “We should have faith in our judiciary system and we should at least wait for what the Court has to say on an issue. Though there have been cases where without any government interference, the Court issued orders to shut a political satire on the channel, but we still should wait for a judgment on a problem before taking a channel off air.”
The panel argued on whether the government should be allowed to intervene in content or not. Praveen Kumar, who was in the minority in the panel, explained, “The Ministry has seen all the efforts from the industry, but the government should have a role to play in this.”
Needless to say, the rest of the panel opposed this. Ashutosh argued, “Media is the balancer in a democracy. It is media that exposes political figures, what would happen to that if the government would intervene in media? Would the Parliament and Judiciary want to be regulated by the government?”
Pankaj Pachauri added here, “Governments changed and have their own agendas and stakeholders. Prasar Bharati was to be an autonomous body, but it is not. The government cannot intervene in the news channels’ content.” It was pointed out that one reason why the government wanted to intervene in content was to avoid any situation that could lead to communal riots. To this Pachauri replied that the last time there was a riot because of something shown on a news channel was on some clippings shown on DD in 1984. The panel gave examples of markets such as the UK, the US and Italy, which had their share of tabloid television. However, the media in these countries haven’t ever been blamed of misbehaving.
To this Praveen Kumar pointed out that bodies such as the OFFCOM were government appointed bodies and that it was unfair for news broadcasters to be selective on what they accepted.