New Delhi: In contrast to the West, the Indian newspaper industry will grow strongly for another decade and a half due to mounting literacy, international media watcher Robin Jeffrey has said.
“My prediction is that newspapers will continue to grow for at least another 10 years and television will consolidate – painfully,” Jeffrey said in his Rajendra Mathur memorial lecture dedicated to one of the doyens of Hindi language journalism.
“I think print in India has 10 to 15 years to go before it hits the sorts of downturn that is changing the print landscapes in the US and elsewhere,” said Jeffrey, author of ‘India’s Newspaper Revolution’ book who was the first to study the post-capitalist expansion of the newspaper industry in India.
He was speaking on ‘Media Meditation: History, Prospects and Challenges for India,’ organised by the Editors Guild of India.
Pointing to the 30 percent illiterates, Jeffrey said, “more than 300 million people are still to be equipped with the ability to read a newspaper”.
Re-use value of the old newspaper is another factor that Jeffrey thinks would not shrink the newspaper industry in the country unlike in the West where many media establishments have shut down.
He says in India, where hundreds of millions live without luxuries, newsprint is so useful because it can be recycled and “can be used for so many things – from lining walls and ceilings to packaging bhel puri”.
Jeffrey, who has been a journalist in Canada, and has also lived and worked in India, Australia and Singapore, said the challenges the media faces in India were both “uncomfortable” and “exhilarating”.
Cautioning the media to guard against paid news, Jeffrey said: “None of this is to say that the society – or the media industries – should tolerate ‘paid news’.” He described as abhorring the practice of “selling the news pages for propaganda masquerading as reporting”.
He advised Indian media publications to be vigilant against the invasion of privacy.
Industry should not “tolerate the tasteless, cruel and illegal invasion of privacy that brought the downfall of the UK’s News of the World”, Jeffrey cautioned.
He added: “The contest over ethics, taste and security in Indian media are similar to those that have gone on in the US, UK and other English speaking countries for more than 200 years.”
He posed the question: Why is India not having a respected, “global Indian voice” like Al Jazeera, BBC and CNN?
Jeffrey said an Indian global news presence could become a world standard because India has it all and “there is no country in the world better able to reflect the world” than what India could do.
“India has a huge pool of talented, multilingual, English speaking journalists” coupled with the Indian diaspora on every continent who can provide both journalists and contacts.
He also asked for a more inclusive approach of the media, by the media and for media’s own personnel.
The Indian media, which faces the challenge of being more inclusive, needs to facilitate entry of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes into newsrooms as they have little representation there, he said.
Explaining what he construed as a serious challenge for the Indian media, Professor Jeffrey said there are “newsrooms and broadcast studios which have almost no Scheduled Castes and Scheduled tribes amongst them on the editorial side.”
“That means that close to one in every four Indians will not find anyone much like themselves writing stories, going to the camera or making decisions about what is news,” he added.
Professor Jeffrey said that for a very long time Dalits and tribals had continued to be away from the mainstream media and though anomaly had been noticed in the past, the problem had persisted.
He suggested Indians could act on the lines of what the American Society Newspapers Editors did 35 years ago when they had begun an audit of African-Americans’ presence in the newsrooms and set target for a rough parity for minorities.
“Annual audit of SC/ST presence in the newsroom and perhaps some very modest annual targets for inducting and bringing along journalists from such communities could be a solution,” he said.
Another suggestion Professor Jeffrey gave was setting up of a trust for funding a “high-quality publication, preferably a magazine, devoted to the issues surrounding the SC/ST experience.”