10 Reasons why English News Channels have been generating a Frown…

26 May,2017



By Pradyuman Maheshwari


If you’ve been subjecting yourself to the developments of the last few weeks, you would possibly be left wondering whether the same news media that sermonises on what’s wrong and what’s right in India has embarked on a path that’s very uncool. Uncool is perhaps too soft a word. As the road sign says: Danger lies ahead.

Let’s start with the beginning:

01. Shout as if there’s no tomorrow: I was among the first commentators to applaud Arnab Goswami in 2008 for asking the tough questions. But is it right to forever keep raising your voice – with 6 to 8 talking heads screaming and shouting? Perhaps not. And even on nationalistic issues, if Pakistan is Enemy #1, why call people from there? How about some neutral, global commentators? And look at what’s happened when Goswami left Times Now? Another bunch of noise-makers!


02. There’s no really neutral English news TV channel. Sadly, there is no clearly neutral English television channel. NDTV 24×7: Appears neutral only because it doesn’t gush about the government, but clearly left liberal. CNN-IBN is mostly neutral and isn’t obviously pro-Modi even though it’s Mukesh Ambani-owned, but given its ownership, it can’t obviously be neutral. Must say that it hasn’t been tested on this score yet. India Today: Rajdeep Sardesai is exceedingly neutral, but Gaurav Sawant? And why did they need to cover Yogi Adityanath live for nearly two days. And Times Now: unlike the paper, the channel is pro-BJP, and in my mind, it’s to the extreme. Sorry, I don’t watch enough or any of NewsX and WION to comment on them, but from what I remember of it, NewsX isn’t exactly neutral and WION is as of today too insignificant to matter


03. Legit, but unfair distribution marketing: Using multiple frequencies to promote themselves on different genres is wrong as per the rules, but almost every channel has been reported to have indulged in it – in the distant and recent past. At one level, it’s an unfair practice. But why should the government or TRAI bother. An activity likes this costs top $$$s (in fact $$$$$$$$$$s), and a channel can’t do it forever, unless it cares a damn about its bottomline. Crying to the quasi-government TRAI and the ministry too often can backfire bigtime!


04. Pulling out from the BARC ratings is incorrect. The joint industry body was set up by the ecosystem – broadcasters, agencies and advertisers. And the setting up was accelerated because of a news network’s angst against the earlier measurement firm (TAM). The likelihood of relative errors is a reality, and needs to be factored in at all times. Does this mean one must pull out of the measurement system. What the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) has done doesn’t augur too well for the entire ecosystem. In fact it was Regressive. Let’s capitalise that: REGRESSIVE!


05. While television channels can be aggrieved, industry associations should be above interests of individual channels. The NBA erred on that. NBA President Ashish Bagga, is also CEO of TV Today Network, which runs the India Today channel and the decision to advise member English news channels to pull out was taken under his leadership. From what I hear, NBA may not be a divided house on this decision, but it’s clearly not united on it. There are some who believe that the episode could’ve been handled better. Meanwhile, I believe constituents of the ecosystem mustn’t handle them with kid gloves, as I think they have been.


06. The secretariat of the two key industry associations could do with some attention. The reason why NASSCOM or the much larger FICCI and CII are so successful is not because of the Chairman or Presidents, but because of the Secretary Generals or whatever the head of the secretariat is designated. The IBF, which is 60 per cent owner of BARC, chose to stay mum on the issue. And the NBA secretary-general chair perhaps needs a new occupant. The issue could’ve been handled better had there been a more dynamic head of both these bodies


07. Times Now has been making optimum use of its siblings The Times of India and Economic Times for promotion. What it doesn’t realise is that its readers see through the negative propaganda and every printed report actually gives more publicity to Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV. While it’s got India’s most celebrated journalist as a mascot, Republic got a major shot in the arm with all the publicity in the #1 paper of the country. Earned media or whatever it’s called! PS: the page slug on the ET page that carries the report today says: Pure Politics.


08. Cross-ownership issues have sprung up again with the Times of India and Economic Times offer prime space for negative stories on Republic TV. The stories make for good fodder for a trade site, but for a broadbased general news or a business daily? Had it been any other country, there would’ve been complaints on cross-media ownership. In India, no such luck. Governments are just too scared of the print mediawallahs


09. BARC guidelines not followed on advertising: This is something that Republic TV is going to get nailed on. By promoting viewership numbers for just one or two weeks, one is going against the guideline of advertising viewership numbers. The problem is that the reprimand, if any, happens when the damage is done. And the only way in which this malaise can be corrected if an industry association issues a diktat and imposes penal action.


10. The NBA and all the English news channels must realise that while the wars may have resulted in greater viewership attracting undue attention can be counter to their overall interests. For instance, the repeated statements by various people that the English news channels audiences don’t really matter. Etc, Etc. In the longer run, the perception sticks while making advertising decisions. And all of it is very bad for the genre as a whole.


Pradyuman Maheshwari is Editor-in-Chief, MxMIndia. The views expressed here are his own



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