Breaking away from the norm of the special addresses in the first half of NewsNext 2009, India TV’s Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, Rajat Sharma, delivered a significant part of his address in Hindi, and perhaps this helped him in establishing a connect with the audience right from the word go. He began his address by saying, “In any conversation on the quality of content and news selection, Hindi channels are attacked the most. I agree that this has been a cause of concern, but in the last six months, things have changed.”
New News, Old Views
The first key point coming from his address was that Hindi news channels have course corrected their content in the last six months, but the perception around the genre has not changed as yet. He said, “After 26/11, news channels had faced severe criticism from all sections. All disciplines and people behind the news channels have taken this criticism in a positive way, and there have been conscious efforts to change the content seen on television.”
He cited the recent example of swine flu to make his point. He said, “On the first day, it did appear that news channels were creating panic, but the moment they realised this, they got together and changed their approach towards a more positive and productive direction. All the news after that was about preparing the viewers for swine flu and disseminating relevant information. It leads you to think that in crisis, news channels can be responsible.”
“If anyone has observed news channels in the last few months, all the snake stories have gone away. The stories now are related to health. There is apt coverage on social issues and issues related to terrorism. So, perception should also change by now. The problem, however, is that people who make these comments about the irresponsible and frivolous content on news channels are clearly not viewing news channels and continuing with the old perception,” Sharma observed.
He urged the media owners and Minister of Information & Broadcasting, Ambika Soni, to actively seek a way of changing this perception.
Cooperation Instead of Control is Encouraging
Sharma futher said that the inclusive attitude of the current MIB had left a positive mark on everyone involved. He said, “The cooperation instead of control approach of the I&B Ministry has encouraged everyone, and everyone would support the MIB in regards to the on-going conversations on regulations.”
He took the conversation back to the importance of the news genre in the Indian scenario, and said, “In India, news consumption of channels and even in print is very high. One big question in context to regulation also emerges from public perception. Many times, people say that news channels are constantly airing negative news, but there is a need to look at some hard numbers before making that comment.”
He explained that in India, statistics around crime was so high that it was unfair to expect news channels to ignore this reality. There was a rape, murder, kidnapping and theft committed at an average of 25 minutes in India. He said, “When this is the plight, where will good news come from? Numbers show that 13 people die every hour in road accidents, won’t that make news?”
Looking ahead, he said, “We would be responsible in our news selection and what we show, but it has to be understood that some hard facts cannot be ignored, that would not be news. I do believe that when we are responsible, perhaps this conversation of control would go away. The current Ministry has been very cooperative. The air of suspicion that has been there in broadcasters is not there towards to the current Ministry.”
“Madam Minister (of Information & Broadcasting, Ambika Soni) said that there should be a body independent of the Government that can regulate news. More than that, I think the body should be represented by every member of the society and other stakeholders that can have a reason to complain against the broadcasters,” Sharma remarked.
He concluded by saying, “We are with you, and you have to be with us. Yes, we would want ratings and would refer to them, but our motto is ratings with responsibility.”
That Sharma had struck a chord with all those present was obvious by the enthusiastic round of applause that he received from the audience.
The event partner was Encompass.