Consumers have to start paying more to make media independent: Aroon Purie

Aroon Purie, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of India Today Group; and Anant Goenka, Executive Director, The Indian Express; spoke about ‘Ownership Responsibilities and Pressures of Running a News Organization’ at a recent event

e4m by Ruhail Amin
Updated: Aug 6, 2018 8:58 AM

Media houses today face pressure from various sources that try to threaten the independence of journalists. Aroon Purie, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of India Today Group; and Anant Goenka, Executive Director, The Indian Express; spoke about ‘Ownership Responsibilities and Pressures of Running a News Organization’ at a recent event.

Speaking about the importance of standing up for sensitive stories that can go against the establishment at times, Aroon Purie said, “I have always maintained that if you are going to publish something, it should be defensible. My mandate to journalists is that do any story you want, but I should be able to stand up and defend it with dignity. It must have the evidence and it must have all sides covered in it. If that principle is followed, I don’t have any issue. The other issue is that if owners or journalists get friendly with government and bureaucrats, or whoever is in power, you are in a position where you get conflicted about exposing people.”

Purie also spoke about corporate pressure on media houses and how India Today faced a five-year ban from a renowned private conglomerate.

“We were held up for five years since they did not like some of the coverage we did. It had to do with the Nira Radia tapes. The main lesson from this is that you have to be financially independent. For five years, we did not have any advertising from this group. I even told them that don’t give us advertising but let us get your side of the story. But they banned the entire group from talking to us,” said Purie.

Purie spoke about the need for a structural shift in the Indian media where consumers could pay more and make media houses truly independent.

He said, “The fact that media in India is very cheap, it is becoming totally dependent on advertising and it makes you vulnerable. People have to start paying more for the media and that is the only way to become independent. I think this is a very structural problem and it is a kind of legacy in India which has to change. Now, with digital media coming in, everything is much freer and people don’t want to pay for anything anymore. Going forth, in digital, those people will succeed who have content that people want to pay for. So consumers must pay more and you must produce valuable content for which the consumers would want to pay more."

Talking about the pressure from corporate advertisers against doing sensitive stories that could name them, Goenka said, “We have been partners for Panama and all subsequent things that happened and there were also advertisers in that list. I think we are getting a little more evolved in the way advertisers’ relationship with publishers stands now.”

When Purie was asked about dealing with government’s "interference" in newsrooms and "cutting access to journalists", he said, “It is a question of how much you let them get into your narrative. This government is one which watches you closely and reacts to things that it finds wrong and you need to be able to defend yourself. Beyond that, they are all the same. When they cut off access to any journalist, it means the journalist cannot do a two-sided story which cripples him. Cutting off access is a bad thing and should not happen but the governments tend to do this. The UPA did this to us when we invited Salman Rushdie for our conclave.”

“It is also to do with the strength of the government. I think the stronger the government, the more pressure and more fake news you will see going around. Actually fake news is more government than media,” added Goenka.

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