Vivid: What India can learn from the BBC?

exchange4media's Annurag Batra compares the BBC & Indian news channels in the background of the polls and calls for Indian media to be credible, subtle, informative, yet authentic, with an ear to the ground, closer to reality

e4m by Annurag Batra
Updated: May 12, 2014 7:59 AM
Vivid: What India can learn from the BBC?

On the sidelines of a forum on ‘Global Perspective on Indian Elections’ in Delhi-NCR in the recent past – organised by exchange4media, along with BBC World News and – Mishal Husain, a BBC News presenter, noted that the “economic promise and challenges for the new government are being keenly watched and debated not just in India, but globally as well”.

Here to cover the ongoing Lok Sabha Elections 2014, she said: “We will see what we have never seen before. India has seen incredible changes in the last 10 years. I suppose there is personality politics in these elections, which is compelling to the audience all around the world.”

But a look at the BBC site tells us the entire gamut that broadcast media covers in a no-nonsense, eyes-on-the-news-from-ground-zero style, without adding its own opinion as much as concentrating on reportage. And, the channel has gone ahead in cashing in on innovative content distribution over digital platforms, better video experience for users, and consistency of experience across platforms for better distribution. There also affiliates at work provide value-added services.

A must-mention here is breaking news and the care with which such news is prepared and aired. Even while covering the personalities, the channel ensures there is a connect with the viewers, a human element that is projected, replete with its correspondents mouthing enough ‘colour’ to keep the viewers engrossed.

Indian channels must realise that we live in an interconnected and mobile era, where Indian stories are no more such. At best, they are global and rest of the world wants to engage with India, thus a keen interest in its economics, politics and changes there. Internationally, it is sinking in that a serious global news provider cannot be without a significant footprint in India with the strength to report comprehensively from the market.

“India’s demographics are also very attractive for us – with a young English speaking audience that is interested in international news and global events. The Indian mobile and digital industry is growing at a phenomenal pace and that is also a positive factor for our business with interests across broadcast and internet. Indian households constitute over 10 per cent of our total household distribution. There are positive changes happening in the media landscape in India, which will be good for India and its media industry,” said Jim Egan, COO, BBC Global News, in an interview with exchange4media recently.

One aspect that one and all – even the Indian news channels themselves – have been critical of is overt dramatisation of news in the market, even when the news is tragic. News anchors often resort to melodrama even when it is not required, taking a certain nugget of news to an altogether new low and most often, cheesing off viewers.

Rachna writes in her blog, ‘Writing is Supreme Solace’: “This is not about one channel. It’s about almost all the Indian news channels. I really wonder why all the news channels in India give news in such dramatic manner. Don’t they realise that we have enough channels for entertainment? And we people really don’t expect to watch and listen to their dramatic news. We only want to hear news to keep ourselves updated regarding what is happening in our surroundings and in the world. To have knowledge about events. But they just make all the news masala news only to increase their TRPs. I really don’t understand whether it’s the people who really want to watch the news this way, or the news media people do it intentionally. Rapes, murders, deaths, Elections, terrorist activities, natural calamities all come under one category for them. They just want to make hype of all the happenings and miss happenings. Do they really have concern about the emotional trauma of those people who unfortunately face it?”

Perhaps it’s the fallout of the competition to deliver news. Perhaps it’s the sheer competition to be ahead in the TRP race, which make the channels seem nearly emotionless.

Such things don’t happen on international channels such as the BBC, where news is treated with utmost care, delivery is thought through and clearly well defined in space, matter and treatment. “If you compare our Indian news channels with the international news channels, you will find that they give the news in a sensible manner. They don’t make the news entertaining, but just for real purposes. That is only for spreading awareness and providing knowledge to the society about the things happenings in our surroundings and all over the world,” says Rachna.

The real essence of the importance of delivery is that the news has to sink in, not only among the reporters, but also channels that broadcast them. But diligence and hard work cannot be at the cost of reality – the news providers must understand that they are not only the information providers, but also the gatekeepers of what news is ‘right or genuine’ and what is ‘wrong or made up’.

Media is a powerful source that influences people, thus it is important for channels and reporters to stick to the real rules of engagement and ensure relevance in the information that they provide. Sensationalism is, thus, best avoided.

Channels like the BBC have ensured their special places in the hearts of the Indian audience, understand the importance and the reason to conserve the space. This is the reason that such channels play to their individual strengths  in order to retain and expand their viewership, either by way of content or by technology and reach.

Channels like the BBC are aiming high and have long-term ambitions. They are constantly concentrating on trust, engagement and reach. Further, they are almost always on an upgrade mode, investing in enhancing their products and enriching viewers’ experience. They have understood that among growth markets, India has a special and unique role to play in Asia. There will be concentration on our digital strategy. For example, BBC’s new brand campaign – Live the Story, represents its brand ethos – demonstrating, as Ogen says, “dedication to the story and our unrivalled on-the-ground newsgathering presence (and) it connects audiences with the world by relating events to people and drives and conveys dynamism”.

These Elections are a never-before experience not just for India, but rest of the world too. Given the surge of new voters and the practice of new media, it demonstrated the incredible changes that the country has undergone in the past decade and more.

And, it is also a wakeup call for Indian media. To be credible, subtle, informative, yet authentic. With an ear to the ground, closer to reality.

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