Newspapers have handed over the baton of setting headlines to the television news, long back. Newspaper only provide details of what is in news. In fact I wonder if newspapers would be sold if they remove classified advertisements and informative articles. News media decide what the people should be thinking about. They set the narrative as long as the social media does not run ahead and make a different headline. But thanks to recent censorship and shadow banning, social media has lost it’s spontaneous charm. Social Media may kill itself by such suicidal biased censorship, even before it has arrived but that is a topic for another day.
What is happening in News Media?
If anybody thinks the news media to be independent reporter of news, they need to check again. The official web site of Government of India called Press Information Bureau is called “Letter Department” in Hindi. Fact is that the Official Gazette of the Government is the predecessor of the newspapers. The freedom of press was a slogan coined in previous century by the parties in opposition who wanted it’s propaganda to be printed to counter the Gazette which was treated as Gospel Truth. (The fact that Gospels too contradict is a different matter) They won not on the ground that they had right to spread propaganda but on the right to free trade.
Nature of the beast called media:
The point is that the press, earlier and news media now, was always about propaganda for one party or the other. The slogan of neutrality is as much true as claims of fair and lovely cream. Try it if you like. News reporting is one thing. Ability to relate with matters of common interest brings viewership. Agenda can be taken up after there is viewership.
Your interest in news is fine but the real business is how to tweak the news to let a section of politicians set the agenda. But then came the stammering and dumb politicians from a family who hired others to set the agenda while they waited for results to be delivered. It worked. Reputation tarnished on allegations. Governments fell and politicians hounded for decade on allegations. And the next was activist news media.
Activist News Media:
Can you tell me where you were on November 15, 2001?
Except those whose anniversary of birth, marriage or somebody’s death fall on that date can not answer that question. But such questions are asked and what ever may be the answer inferences are drawn and then an expert panel draws conclusion which always is: “Very Bad.”
This theatre had novelty about two decades back. But people grew bored of it. It is repetitive and worse the characters are the same. Imagine a TV serial with same character in lead for two decades? It is commercially not possible.
The position of theatre:
In politics, there are different political parties, which are like shops selling different merchandise. Some sell identity politics. Some shops sell poverty alleviation. Yet another shop sells secularism. And yet another shop sells Hidutva. As per convention in India, the Hindutva is the extreme right. Violent Islamist and Communist are on the left. Media is no different. After all media sells accessories for the merchandise sold by political parties. Long time ago, here the details of some of media houses in India was given. Their affiliations are apparent.
The position is no different in other democracies like U.K. or USA. Their definition of right of the spectrum is different. They have conservatives on right who oppose issues like LGBT etc. In India it is not. (Click and read.)
A new TV Channel (Republic TV) arose on the horizon some 18 months back and now a churn is taking for right slot for everybody. Republic brought in a new style of shout and shout louder match which perhaps that segment liked who does not get to speak anywhere. (Neither in office nor at home😜) Before it’s arrival, this was ideological position of media:
Left of Centre: ABP (Amrit Bazar Patrika group)
Centre: India Today (AajTak)
Right of Centre: India TV (of Rajat Sharma)
More right of Centre: Zee TV
Right: Sudarshan TV.
Now if we see, the space from the centre to the right is already crowded but that is where the viewership is. In this occupied space, the Republic jumps in. For about a year, India Today tries to maintain balance at prime time by allocating two different topic of propaganda to two anchors. Both topics belonging to left and right. Lo and behold, the election of 2019 came and left lost. Now the election of Bihar is due in November in 2020. What to do?
India Today decided to move a little left. There is ample space but lo and behold. India TV too moved left. Now the jury is out whether Republic is Right or the Sudarshan but the tenor of latter is certainly more right as it openly proclaims to be a Hindu channel.
The little decision to shift left for ideology (read shortage of merchandise) because the other left had fallen off the graph gave room to the Republic to zoom past everybody. 78% viewership in English. Wow!! near monopoly. 28% in Hindi with AajTak way behind at about 21% or so. This caused a hell to break out with arrest of Arnab Goswami on false if not trumped up charges etc.
The real culprit in success of Republic was the non-commercial decision of AajTak to move left. If only it had moved a little right, it would have crushed a few players in the already crowded space and could take ideological battle some other day. But the done is done.
On you tube the viewership of Republic Bharat 7 PM prime used to be hardly more than 5 thousand. On the day of his release that is 11th November it was way past 113 thousand when Aaj tak was dwindling on below 5 thousand and NDTV looked like a whatsapp group. Remember the following of AajTak is ten times that of Republic.
Everybody is abusing Rajat Sharma but I think he is doing right. Now he is playing the card of being completely neutral and is trying to occupying the centre.
But will this get viewership back?