Bhuvi Gupta: Indian TV news media needs to clean up its act to avoid irrelevance

20 Oct,2020

Bhuvi GuptaBy Bhuvi Gupta

 

The Indian media industry has rapidly evolved post liberalisation.  With the advent of the Internet and increased digital penetration primarily driven by mobile phones, digital news media outlets have increased exponentially.  As an early millennial, while I can still remember having only 2 channels to choose from, which time with its paucity of choice is unimaginable.

 

News Media especially TV news media has lost its equilibrium with every passing day unearthing TRP scams and defamation cases.  This is because unlike robust regulation for films via the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), Print via the Press Council of India (PCI) or advertisements via Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), TV and digital media largely rely on self-censorship and get ticked off only through PILs /defamation cases filed in court. TV Content ideally should adhere to guidelines set forth in the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 and Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994. While self-regulatory bodies News Broadcasters Federation and News Broadcasters Federation exist, they don’t include all TV news media and hence are powerless.

 

For a genuinely free and fair Press, content regulation is key. This is because content biases are becoming incendiary, defamation cases aplenty, and this decrease in content quality is causing advertisers to walk away, which will in the near future, cause advertising-dependent media to become unsustainable.

 

Media has always had bias – From news broadcasts to opinions.

Media companies the world over has political biases, which are usually determined by the company owner. Company owners are human and hence will hire an Editor-in-Chief who resonates with his thought process and biases.  Hence, the content invariably toes the owners’ biases. This is human and despite the best of efforts to be balanced.

 

https://twitter.com/hamzamlakdawala/status/1315640922567143425

The Rajdeep Sardesai and Arnab Goswami Star News Bulletin that went viral on social media recently reminded us of what news used to be  

 

In the 90’s and the ’00’s, when news meant bulletins, these biases were subtle and indiscernible to the inattentive because they existed in expression and terminology rather than opinion. With the advent of the debate-focused prime time that drives the news cycle today, these biases have become prominent, with the flow and tonality of the debate making the news channels’ leaning apparent. Hence, when watching layered issues discussed on channels with opposing leanings, the protagonist often becomes the antagonist and vice-versa.

 

These biases are however often designed to suit political motivations.  The majority of Indian media today has apparent or circuitous linkages with some or the other political party. (Link- https://www.newslaundry.com/topic/who-owns-your-media)

 

Hence, due to conscious and unconscious biases and a minimal fear of regulation, news channels today get away with content based on incomplete fact and opinion.

 

Advertising drives the business of media In India

 

India’s media industry relies on a mix of advertising, subscription and ancillary revenue streams from events, awards and branded content. Most media companies heavily rely on advertising with other revenue streams being strictly supplementary.

 

The media can’t afford to lose advertisers. Legacy advertisers like Bajaj, and Parle Products have already announced that they wont be advertising on channels which promote hatred, and other advertisers will succumb to public pressure and follow suit.  A situation that spells doom for the sector where most channels do not manage to breakeven.

 

So what is the solution?

 

As TV debates become more slanderous, and more advertisers leave it is becoming evident that there needs to be a self-regulatory body with power to keep media in check.  A good example could be a body modeled after the ‘Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI)’, which has representation from advertisers, media agencies and audiences to regulate ads.  The inclusion of audience is genius because it ensures that advertiser biases get neutralised and ads, which are upheld, are in the interest of the audience.

 

However, TV news is complicated and fractured. Currently, two self-regulatory bodies, the News Broadcasters Federation and News Broadcasters Association exist. Both are ineffective for the same reasons – neither is fully representative of the diverse news media in the country, have any audience participation, allow audiences to report any complaints, nor have government support or accreditation. Hence both are equally ineffective in producing any real change.

 

What is needed is government support to make membership essential to the grant of a broadcast license to ensure full membership. (Direct government involvement like in the Censor Board for films is dangerous as it impinges on the fundamental right to the freedom of speech and expression)

 

Regulations should be instated by this body to ensure that content on TV is broadcast only after verification, opinion is not shown as news, decorum in language is maintained and words that would count as sedition when spoken in small groups are not broadcast.

 

The current state of media affairs is not sustainable for either a functioning democracy or the success of our economy and people. Hence, it is for all our sakes I hope that the news media industry wakes up and takes actions to regulate itself.

 

 

Bhuvi Gupta is a marketer with over 10 years across industries, of which the last six have been in Media & Entertainment. She has been a part of many launch marketing campaigns – specifically at the Times of India group, Republic TV and the latest in marketing a Bollywood film. She writes on A&M (mostly marketing, but often on advertising too) every other Tuesday. Her views here are personal. She tweets at @bhuvigupta3

 

 

 

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