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Mixed Media: Welcome to India! Welcome to the country where news is also available at a price!

01-December-2009
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Mixed Media: Welcome to India! Welcome to the country where news is also available at a price!

A warm welcome to all the delegates, speakers and exhibitors at the World Newspaper Congress, World Editors Forum and Info Services Expo.

Welcome to India, one of the few places in the world where newspapers aren’t dying. Nor are magazines. In fact, an increasing number of global giants are kicking off operations here. As you read this, one international biggie is stitching up plans on an India edition of its bestselling magazine. Needless to say, all them hope to eventually make a fortune off the ever-growing India story.

If you don’t already have an India plan, by way of this column, I would urge you to consider coming here. We have a robust and free press. In fact, often so free, that many of its doings go unchecked. While nearly every move of the television news media is scanned, the big and small boys of print have a field day.

The Indian media is truly innovative and is dreaming up breakthrough ways to earn monies. One large newspaper group has successfully legitimised the entire process of paid news. It’s indeed heartwarming to see so many large corporations and individuals making ample use of this opportunity. The marketing head of a consumer goods company told me last month that she subscribed to the scheme as it is above-board. The firm is part of India’s most trusted corporate groups and otherwise known to keep a watchful eye on ‘good’ practices.

So what do we have? Content that’s paid for, approved by the editor, being printed along side stuff that appears for its editorial values. This is already earning a hundred-odd crore rupees for the company in question, and it’s also put a few corrupt journalists out of business. As an adline goes, what an idea, Sirji! One couldn’t have thought of anything better!

This ‘disruptive’ way of advertising is said to have been deployed by some political parties and contestants in the recent elections. Since the Election Commission frowns upon large spending, sponsored news is a way out. In fact, as per a report by Magsaysay award winner P Sainath in The Hindu, although Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan’s declared spends on newspaper ads around the elections was just Rs 5,379 (plus Rs 6,000 on cable TV ads), there were some 47 page full newspaper pages, many of them in colour. (See report at http://www.hindu.com/2009/11/30/stories/2009113056930100.htm). Sainath, being a very grounded journalist, doesn’t obviously know that all these full-pages happened because Mr Chavan is indeed such a dynamic leader.

The concept is found liberating by many, because for once the right of publication of news is not just that of the editor. It also belongs to those who bring in the revenues and the newsmaker directly. It is true power to the people!

So does the media get away with all of this? Of course, it does. Some uncharitable spoilsports have taken the matter to the Press Council of India asking it to study the unique concept of ‘paid news’ that prevails in this country, but we all know that even though the Press Council is set up by the Government of India and is headed by a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, it doesn’t have much teeth. The last thing one can expect from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry is any action against newspapers. They will stretch an arm and a leg against the TVwallahs, but print owners are untouchables. There is no fear of licences or registrations being revoked. In fact, they get rewarded with ads and various concessions.

Now, isn’t this a fantastic environment to be in? Welcome to India! Am sure the World Newspaper Congress and World Editors’ Forum would make for engaging fare. But in all of this, do consider the joys of newspapering in India. It is, as FM station Radio City tagline says, Whatte fun!

(The views expressed here are my own. Post your comments below or email mixedmedia@exchange4media.com.)

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