Event ReportsPublished on Mar 09, 2014
The "old, new and the social media" in India are "swayed less by ideology and more by commercial interests," according to a senior media professor, Dr Maya Ranganathan.
Media more swayed by commercial interests, says expert
The "old, new and the social media" in India are "swayed less by ideology and more by commercial interests," according to a senior media professor, Dr Maya Ranganathan.

Initiating a discussion on the "Old, New and Social Media" as part of the "Agenda for India- 2014" series at the ORF-Chennai on 9 March 2014, Dr Maya Ranganathan, senior lecturer in the Journalism, Media and Culture Studies Department at the Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, commenced her talk with a brief note on how the attitude of the media has changed over the years, beginning from the pre-Independence era. Back then, she said, the media took a very strong anti-incumbent position. Post-Independence, the media initially played the role of a partner to the government. Only later did it assume a 'critical-investigative-adversarial' responsibility.

Dr. Maya noted that until 1991, radio and television were under the control of the Government. Until this period, the 'old media', or the print media, alone was owned by private entities. Only after the economic reforms, there was the advent of private television and radio channels as it invited entrepreneurs to invest in them. Private channels and also the State-run Doordarshan did not have a vast difference and the shift was very subtle. The private TV players had also borrowed ideas from Doordarshan and had developed on them.

Dr Maya pointed out that this wave of investments in the 'new media' media brought about a change in the attitude of television and radio media. They started leaning more towards commercial value of news and this explains the sensationalism that the electronic media look for today. She stressed that this shift was not ideological but a completely commercial one.

Dr Maya brought a connection to the aspect of 'paid news' that has become more predominant in today's media parlance. She said owing to the commercial interests of the 'new media', channels have dedicated media space that can be bought. Paid news, which was frowned upon a few years back have now become institutionalised, since it brings in revenue to the media house.

Supported by statistics, Dr Maya listed out a number of 'new media' outlets in which many private sector corporations from different sectors have a stake. With that she drew a market-media-business-politics connection. Dr Maya made a point that new media tools have the capacity to reach out to 23 million voters.

Partisan ideology

While referring to the traditional print media, Dr. Maya said they are more driven by partisan ideology than commercial interests. She also made the point that the print media has more legitimacy to the news put out than those by the new media. The reason being that the print media have the time to refer and do background verifications on the news story before it is published.

Against this, the 'new media' is always in competition, on who breaks the news first, and thus do not have the time to verify before a piece of news is broken. She also pointed out that since many media houses, both Old and News, particularly in States such as Tamil Nadu, are owned by political parties there is always an ideological leaning in them. However, the bias in the mainstream newspapers is not as prominent as it was earlier.

While discussing this, Dr Maya pointed out how political parties use PR firms to publicise themselves through various media sectors and outlets. In the process, she made a mention to a magazine article which indicated the work/achievement targets set for prospective PR firms by the Government of Gujarat, as a part of the tendering process before commissioning them.

Leaning towards social media

Dr Maya reserved the social media as the last leg of the lecture. She explained the various ways in which the social media attempts to reach the public. The number of internet users in India is a high 243 million but it constitutes less than 16 percent of the nation's population, she pointed out. Hence the potential of social media to exert an influence on electoral politics is very less. Owing to the lack of ideological stance by the social media, leaders have started leaning towards it. Since, in a new tool, ideology takes a back seat.

The 'social media', Dr Maya said, attracts the public who want to know the ground realities of and in a given situation. Though people "in their quest for truth" visit social media sites, there is always a certain amount of scepticism in accepting the fare as credible, she concluded.

(This report is prepared by Ramalingam. Va, second year B.A. (Journalism and Mass Communication), S R M University, Chennai)

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