The penultimate role played by the media in our country in general and in our lives in particular, happens to be undisputed. The omnipotent media with its omnipresence is widely recognized as the fourth estate, the other three being Parliament, Executive and Judiciary but since the past few years, an unequivocal slogan has been gaining gravity and that slogan is of the media being at crossroads.
The Indian Media evolved rapidly during the days of the British Raj and was soon recognized as a power to reckon with. During those days, the media operated with pulsating zest and played a stellar role in quenching the ambition of ‘Swaraj’. After India achieved its independence, pundits and intellectuals sat down together and indulged in comprehensive brainstorming to decide on the future role of the media. Skepticism, cynicism and confusion dominated the agenda of the meetings. Some wanted to establish the media as an ally of the new establishment whereas others advocated in favour of an adversarial role of the media, a role which it had played to perfection in the past. Innumerable sittings failed to break the impasse and the logjam seemed to last till eternity. Ultimately, the middle path was chosen and the media was assigned the job of being both an ally as well as an adversary of the establishment. This decision prompted the end of the stalemate.
Indian media grew ferociously and did what it was assigned to do. Praising the government on numerous fronts and being a staunch critique of it on numerous other issues. Throughout its history, Indian media remained largely independent, the only time it was used as a mouthpiece and spokesperson of the government was during the emergency but after the end of the emergency era, the media emerged as an even stronger unbiased industry. Globalization had its set of impacts on the Indian media. The media had now restructured itself as a full-fledged industry and had in some way compromised on the role of social service which it had donned since decades. In the over obsessive hunt for TRPs, higher viewer-ship and readership ratings, credible and commendable content took a backseat.
The only source of revenue for the media industry comes from advertising. Right from traditional media like newspapers and magazines to relatively new media like news channels and news portals are dependent on advertisers for keeping their venture and enterprise running. Advertisers usually base their campaigns on highly fallible TRP and other rating systems which take a set of households as base for measuring a program’s popularity. Channels in the hunt for higher TRP’s start looking for content which amuses the audience. In a country of 1.2 billion where over 500 million people live in a state of absolute destitution, it is not very tough to predict the mood and likelihood of the masses. A large section of the audience to which the media caters is hugely unaware and intellectually bankrupt.
Indian media needs to propagate news stories coming under the realm of development communication. Stories which are related to poverty alleviation, hunger, infrastructure, development etc but the demand for such stories doesn’t exist in the market. In India it’s a known fact among media pundits that the 3Cs (Cricket, Cinema and Crime) sell and all media houses over-concentrate on such kind of stories. Sometimes they even resort to sensationalism to make the story click. There is a fundamental contradiction in what the audience should get and what they get and this is solely because of the financial constraints of the media house and also because of the tastes and preferences of the audience. No media channel can vehemently promote development communication on the national scene and the reason is simple, it might take a toll on the financial health of the enterprise. The demand for such content as mentioned earlier doesn’t exist in the market. Media is not to blame for the pathetic kind of stories which are aired and published; it is its business model which deserves brickbats. One thing is for sure that the media cannot expect the people to develop a taste for dev-com stories until and unless it is provided to them.
Media has to take a gamble and take the initiative of banking upon such stories. In the contemporary business model it’s not possible. No viewer in the country pays specifically for seeing news channels. Most of the news channels, barring a select few, are made available to the audience for free. Newspapers are given away at a meagre cost of Rs 2 to 3. No substantial revenue is generated from this exercise. The lone concentration is on fetching advertisers. Media houses need to bring about a fundamental change in their business model and their revenue generating strategy. They need to sell their product profitably and directly to the audience instead of being over-dependent on advertisers. Advertisers too need to be raked in to increase profits but advertising needs to be made the second source of revenue. If media channels will bank home quite a feasible amount of money from audiences only then they will no longer be entrapped by TRPs. They will be free to air shows and content which they wish to air and which will help in bringing developmental issues to the forefront. The menace of yellow journalism will be dealt with quite easily with this practice. Once the media will start giving mileage to such kind of stories, the demand for them will obviously generate. Once the demand will be generated then the advertisers will also be more than willing to put their money on such beats. Via a new business tactic which focuses on generating revenues from the audiences instead of the advertisers, media houses will be able to take care of their business concerns and will simultaneously raise issues which are truly related to the development and betterment of citizens which is indeed the primary goal of a media enterprise but the fact that a media organization can no longer exist without financial healthiness remains uncontested and unperturbed.