enba 2016: Pressmen try to balance Lakshmi and Saraswati in the news business while redefining TRPs
enba 2016 hosted a panel discussion on the theme ‘Redefining TRPs: Trust & Respect Points’ moderated by Madhavan Narayanan.
A thought-provoking panel discussion on the theme ‘Redefining TRPs: Trust & Respect Points’ was held during the exchange4media News Broadcasting Awards (enba 2016) on February 25. Moderated by senior journalist and commentator Madhavan Narayanan, the panel comprised some of the biggest names from the news broadcast industry.
Maintaining credibility while chasing TRPs
Narayanan opened the proceedings by echoing the need for balancing journalism between the goddesses of Lakshmi and Saraswati in the business of media. “Money is Lakshmi and power is Parvati. Saraswati is the business of presenting credible news which often gets squeezed between these very powerful goddesses,” he said.
Responding to Narayanan’s initial remarks, Anuradha Prasad, Chairman & Managing Director of B.A.G. Films & Media Limited stated that the co-existence of TRPs and credibility is a must. Being a journalist-entrepreneur, she claimed that one cannot afford to compromise on credibility irrespective of the medium he/she was involved in or even in his/her dreams.
“If you don’t have money, you can’t run the organisation. If you can’t run the organisation then there is no point talking about credibility,” Prasad said highlighting the relationship between the two.
Preparing to make his comeback to active journalism, Pankaj Pachauri, Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Go News was questioned in relation to his credibility considering his previous advisory role to the Prime Minister’s Office under Dr Manmohan Singh. The former presenter of Hum Log opined that he wasn’t facing any such credibility crisis since his predecessors like Harish Khare and Sanjaya Baru also returned to journalism after shaping the PMO’s communication strategy.
Citing the ongoing Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, Pachauri felt that journalists had been relegated to the sidelines since the electoral battle was being fought primarily on WhatsApp groups. “People are watching what you call as MSM or mainstream media lesser. That’s the biggest pointer to your declining credibility,” Pachauri said as he mentioned that more people followed Donald Trump’s campaign online than on the mainstream media.
Rana Yashwant, Managing Editor at India News countered Pachauri by arguing that an increase in the presence of individuals on digital platforms does not automatically result in declining credibility of the mainstream media. According to Yashwant, there was a need to understand the difference in approach of both the mediums.
“Digital platform is a two-way traffic involving constant communication from both sides. Television or print is a single-way platform,” he said. Having the privilege of working in the news broadcast industry throughout his journalistic career, Yashwant flagged the umbilical cord between honesty, integrity and credibility. He conceded that the parameters of TRPs did not take into account credibility but emphasised that one cannot generate TRPs for long by sacrificing credibility.
The business of news
Narrating the requirements of media planners, Prasad talked about how they were driven by TRP data. As per Prasad, media planners had to “make certain placements” which were heavily influenced by TRPs and credibility in the ratio of 75:25. Justifying the lopsided ratio in favour of TRPs, she added, “What will be the yardstick for them (media planners)? One will be TRP because you can question someone’s credibility with other person’s credibility but the positioning in terms of number one, two or three cannot be questioned because there is something to judge.”
However, Pachauri strongly rebutted the crux of Prasad’s arguments. He noted that except for a handful of news channels that were barely making profits, most of the news channels in the country were running in losses. At a time when people were buying more television sets, he stated that “English news declined by 17%” whereas “Hindi news declined by about 6%”.
Mentioning that the advertising pie of the television news segment was in the range of Rs 1000-1500 crore, Pachauri repudiated the notion that TRPs signified financially successful media. “TRPs are not an assurance for money or successful media which we can see from Times Now. The channel in eleven years has lost about Rs 545 crore. It reigned for five years as the top channel in the country but people were not paying for the content because the content was questionable,” he said.
At this point, Yashwant spoke about the relationship between a channel’s revenues and expenses. He stressed that a channel can achieve the number one position in terms of TRPs and build on revenues accordingly but it would be of no help if they did not rein in their expenditure.
“If you make 1 paisa and spend 3 paise then your channel will always remain in losses. That’s your mistake,” he explained. As a part of the business of news, Yashwant pointed out at the necessity to take both business and news together.
Rise of opinionated, nationalistic journalism and news as entertainment
A late entrant into the discussion, Sreenivasan Jain, Managing Editor at NDTV said in a lighter vein that he was a ceremonial Managing Editor who managed nothing except for Truth vs Hype, an in-depth news show. Raking up the controversial style of Republic TV Founder Arnab Goswami, he suggested that news always had space for both reporting and opinion accompanied with analysis.
But the emergence of Goswami altered the trend. “The problem is that ‘Newshourification’ of prime time led to the balance tilting completely in one direction which created an asymmetry where you have an overwhelming amount of opinion,” Jain said. Owing to the same, prime time slots starting from around 7 PM up to 11 PM only had opinions. Jain asserted that the overload of opinion not just resulted in low quality of opinions formulated on a weak footing but also damaged the quality of guests on news shows and the overall standard of journalism.
Coming to the defence of Goswami, Narayanan specified that Goswami was much more than simply theatrics. He was quick to bring up Ravish Kumar’s sentimental style of presentation describing it as the “antidote to the Arnab style” and credited Goswami for pioneering combative journalism in public interest.
Yashwant agreed that one has the right to opine and maintain relations with individuals but he/she shouldn’t allow that to affect his/her journalistic work. “But when I am doing news that should only be as a journalist. The problem comes into play when journalists become spokespersons,” he thundered.
Recalling that there was a time in the Indian news media when individuals like Rakhi Sawant and Raju Srivastav always grabbed the headlines, Yashwant claimed that the scenario transformed post-2008 Mumbai terror strikes.
When asked by Narayanan whether journalists were supposed to be nationalists or thinkers, Pachauri shot back by saying that they should be global as they have to report from everywhere.
Reflecting on the past, he recounted that there was no space for nationalism in the building of BBC World Service as it had journalists from 69 countries. “The only time the BBC had a strike was regarding BBC’s policy on IRA (Irish Republican Army) and how do we cover IRA,” Pachauri stated adding that the BBC World Service studios went silent for 48 hours due to the strike.
The future of news
As the discussion neared its end, Narayanan came forth with a suggestion premised on his experience as a financial journalist. He suggested having “credibility ratings” for news channels as “we have for bonds and fixed deposits” in the financial markets. Stemming from his belief in technological innovations, he was open to the idea of tech-led metrics to measure credibility. “Even Google has some very advanced ways of measuring credibility in content,” he said.
In an era of trolling and online abuse, Jain lamented that the news media stood divided as journalists trolled fellow journalists which directly benefited the establishment. In his words, “partisan journalism” was not new but some did a “better job of concealing it” than others.
“It has never been the case where news channels and anchors have becomes spokespersons for the government,” Jain said. To come out of the difficult situation, he batted for bringing the focus back on reported stories and reporters. For him, prime time television is the first page equivalent of a newspaper.
While the front page of newspapers still has about twelve stories, prime time only has opinion, a trend Jain wished to change. In order to insulate newsrooms from compromised political reporting, he placed his hopes in an owner or boss who guards his journalists.
Yashwant wanted editors to understand the difference between a viewer’s choice and his/her requirements. While providing news to viewers as per their choice was important, he stated that keeping in mind their requirements was the responsibility of a journalist. “How much do you sensitise your team? How sensible are you as a leader? What is your understanding of the country’s issues and people’s nature? It is very important,” he said.
Unfazed by the rise of social media, he refused to accept that the demise of broadcast or print journalism was imminent. He was of the opinion that the future of news media depended up to a large extent on the editorial independence enjoyed by journalists and the nature of the relationship between the editorial and sales team.
Asking the media to take note of global trends, Pachauri said that renowned foreign media brands like The Guardian, The New York Times and New Yorker were outperforming their traditional business by way of their digital operations. Urging the domestic media to innovate, Pachauri asked the mainstream media to cut down on expenditure not by sacking employees but by rather not buying expensive microphones.
“You have to basically come up with innovations so you can bring down the cost of journalism and then you will not be hounded by your TRP, marketing and advertising department,” he said as he pleaded for proper training of personnel. He concluded but not before issuing a word of caution to news broadcasters. “The new game which is coming on digital is going to change that. This is a warning to all the people in the news television industry. The rug is going to be pulled out from underneath your feet any day,” Pachauri said.
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