Industry, guardians & gurus discuss Net impact @ Google summit

22 Mar,2013

 

By Ananya Saha

 

It is not every day that one witnesses a high-power conference like this; in fact it was being held in India for the very first time. The one-day Big Tent Activate Summit, organized by Google in association with The Guardian and MediaGuru saw Indian and international thought leaders focussed on issues relating to the Internet and its impact on economy, politics, culture and society in India.

 

Kapil Sibal: Committed to Freedom of Expression

While delivering the keynote address at the Google Big Tent Activate Summit, Kapil Sibal, Union Minister for Communications and IT made it a point to highlight that the government is committed to the cause of freedom of expression. “There should be no doubt that we are wedded to the freedom of expression,” he said. He underlined that the Internet is the most important and transformative forum as there are no borders on the net, he stated, “we must move slowly but surely towards making internet the equinet.”

He underlined the three important points for making the internet a truly empowering, transformational and inclusive force. He said that from the point of view of the State, “we must have an enabling framework – rules and regulations must not come in the way of the growth of the net. Secondly, networks in terms of fibre-optics and also wireless must be developed to facilitate access to the net. Thirdly, affordable access devices are needed for a true inclusive transformational internet revolution.” Mr Sibal also said that it will be truly transformative, if through the internet, “we can reach people in their traditional languages.”

 

Haves and Have-nots

Deep Kalra, Founder & CEO, MakeMyTrip.com spoke about how according to a recent study “SME’s who invested in internet presence have grown by 10% and those who did not, have not grown by that much.” Giving the example of China-based e-Commerce giant Alibaba, he said that a single website has helped the entire economy by hand-holding the SMEs. Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau, Director, Economist Intelligence Unit, reasoned, “Why don’t we have Indian Google or Indian Apple? Apart from talent probably, it is also about regulation. In our research, we have found that within Asia there are many challenges facing the SME and thus, global frontier is not a focus for them. They do not know what regulations are applicable to their internet presence, there of lack of clarity about content and third-party content services and policing of content.”

 

Even as India witnesses increasing internet penetration, Anu Madgavkar, Senior Fellow, McKinsey Global Institute stated, “The urban and rural penetration ratio stand at 20:2 percent. Rural ecosystem will flourish provided there is equality.”

 

The very Social media

It is a fact that many big ticket announcements, and now even political statements, are made on social media platforms. Stephanie Cutter, Political Consultant, who was also the Deputy Campaign Manager for Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, spoke about how investing in social media helped them to communicate outside of the media filter, helped them to generate donations and organise online with offline actions. While saying that he is not a big fan of Section 66A, Shashi Tharoor, Minister of State for HRD stated that social media is usually used to create brand identity for the person. Even as Ms Cutter said that all US politicians are on social media, Omar Abdullah, Chief Minister, Jammu and Kashmir said, “Social media is now taken more seriously. And hence, I have to be more careful. I am reluctant on social media because it is now taken as statement of record.” Mr Tharoor concurred.

 

On the question of media restriction in volatile J&K, Mr Abdullah said, “What we say on social media is picked by traditional media. People ask me that what they say on social media is deleted or blocked, and what I say is not. What I need them to know is that what I say on social media will not get people killed.”

 

Narendra Modi, Chief Minister,Gujarat, joined in the Big Tent summit via Google Hangout. He said, “The internet has therefore truly empowered the citizen. It has forced the politician to perform, not just promise.” He focussed on how the internet has been a gamechanger in the realm of information-based decision making and has transformed the policy making process. He concluded, “Technology in itself is neither good nor bad. That depends on how it is harnessed. While technology in politics plays a crucial role, it would do us great good to stay away from letting politics into technology.”

 

Google’s play

Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman, Google shared a fireside with Alan Rusbridger, Editor, The Guardian at the summit. Mr Schmidt began by saying that there are 600 million mobile phone users in India, 130 million Internet users and only about 20 million broadband users. “India is under-penetrated. Many of the next five billion users of internet will come from India, of course in many more languages.” Talking of non-English users, he said, “You want entrepreneurs to take risk but definitely not go to jail for it in India. Fearing the outcome, many Indians might not join the Internet.” He said that interconnectivity might help the telcos and intermediaries like Google to help the entrepreneurs. Talking about privacy issues on internet, he said, “We need to fight for our privacy. As technology becomes pervasive in Indian society, privacy issues need to be considered.”

 

On Mr Rusbridger comment that Google is talking about privacy, Mr Schmidt said, “If Google was not even present, the privacy issues would still be there. There is no delete button on the internet. But of I would still say that the despite the negative like privacy issues, value of internet is profoundly positive.” Talking about how mobile can adapt to a profitable business model, Mr Schmidt said, “Mobileads need to be more valuable since it is more personal. Mobilegives more info where the consumer is, what is the consumer doing unlike other screens.” In the end, being asked about India and China, he said, “In short span, China gets all the attention, but the math favours India.”

 

View from the industry

Jeff Jarvis, Professor, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism; Raghav Bahl, Managing Director, Network18; Siddharth Varadarajan, Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu and Sanjay Salil, Managing Director, MediaGuru discussed how traditional media is adapting to online media and if online is proving to be a challenge to traditional media.

 

Mr Jarvis said, “It is of course challenging to cannibalise yourself to new media.” Mr Varadarajan said that while print media in India is dependent on advertisements to get revenues, online media cannot yet capitalise of ads for revenues and neither would the readers pay more for online version of news. Mr Bahl said that while India did leapfrog the disruption, “as internet infrastructure catches on, the transition is going to be very fast,” even while adding later that India been a subject of bad regulation, especially internet.

 

The panellists agreed that news has become platform-agnostic as Mr Jarvis argued “we should be seen as a service industry.”

 

As Mr Bahl said that TV has made an easier migration to internet, compared to print media, Mr Varadarajan said, “Even today, when there is a breaking news situation, one turns to TV since it is centrally-curated product.” However, he insisted that The Hindu is getting ready for internet, “We ask our journalists to file two reports: one for print and one for internet. The only challenge is how to integrate different forms of narration: reading, listening and watching. No one has industrialised or scaled it.”

 

Photograph: video grab from an NDTV.com webcast of the Q&A that Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger had with Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman, Google

 

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