“Why are our newspapers so pre-occupied with issues they consider important?and not what the readers consider important?? Recently asked a reader of The Indian Express (June 18, 2006). In an article that ran half a page, he further said: ?It is amazing how little our newspapers have changed. They are still so pre-occupied with issues they consider important?not what the readers consider important. The result is stories that are guaranteed to bring out yawns. The top-down approach is amazing. Or is it that Indian newspapers are afraid to change? The newspaper world would not have collapsed if four exciting sports stories had gone on page 1. But then you needed a brave editor to think differently.?
The reader is one Shri Sunil Saxena, a great sports lover whose grouse was that few if any of our English newspapers gave front page coverage to the ?incredible Fernando Alonso in his speedy Renault?, to Rafael Nadal who triumphed in four sets, but not before Roger Federer had given the Spaniard a few jitters?to ?Rahul Dravid and Mohammad Kaif mercilessly piling up runs on the humid and windy West Indian island? and to the World Cup matches being played in Germany.
Shri Saxena obviously has been away from India when the Indian media went gaga over the World Cup series. The space given to the series was incredible; it was as if football has suddenly been discovered. Shri Saxena thinks that sports junkies are to be counted not in thousands but in millions and that their interests should have been taken into consideration by the media.
According to him ?the Indian newspapers are obsessed with issues no one wants to read? and that the day their front pages should have been full of sports news, ?the main story in one newspaper was about the Nepal King being stripped of veto powers? and in another ? it was about India'snuclear stockpile hopes?.
Shri Saxena also noted that when the Union Budget is presented, our newspapers go into overdrive every year and extra pages are allocated to carry as many reports as possible. Special graphics are designed to capture the essence of the Budget. Having made what he thought was a valid point Shri Saxena then proceeded to point out that while ?most of the American and European newspapers are better produced, with better news sense ?yet they can sense the ground shifting from beneath their feet? and are realising that ?today communication is from many to many and not from one to many?.
Further he went on, in a profound mood: ?They also realise the urgent need to adapt to new technology and new means of dissemination of news. Most important, they realise that the era of ivory tower editors is over.?
Shri Saxena needs to be educated in some ways. In the first place?and he admits as much?newspaper circulation in India is growing and the newspapers therefore have nothing to worry about. This means that Indian editors have their feet firmly laid down on earth. Whatever else one might think of our Indian editors, they don'tlive in ivory towers, as Shri Saxena wants us to think.
In the second place it is downright silly to compare American and European newspapers with Indian newspapers. In many ways Indian newspapers are vastly superior to their foreign counterparts. But for a handful of foreign newspapers?and they can be counted on one'sfingers, most of them have little worth reading. And I say this with some authority having lived in Europe and the United States for the best part of a quarter century.
Nobody discounts Rafael Nadal's or Fernando Alonso'sheroics, God bless them, but they belong to the sports page. Why is the stripping of the Nepal King'spowers important to us? Because it has some relevance to our lives in India, because the Maoists are spreading like wild fire throughout the length and breadth of the country. Why is the Budget important to us? Because the great middle class?and the Indian middle class is several times larger than the entire population of the United Kingdom and at least twice as large of the population of the United States?and the people want to know?or at least should know?how it is going to affect their lives.
Indians are a serious lot. The point is frequently made these days that about 65 to 70 per cent of the Indian population is between the ages of 18 and 35 and do not want to read ?serious stuff?. That is pure stuff and nonsense. Indians are not morons as many foreign readers are. True, the Indian media has vastly changed in the last quinquennium. Kindly look up The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Telegraph, The Hitavada, The Pioneer, The Free press Journal, even Deccan Herald and The Hindu. For that matter read DNA and Asian Age and even a purely provincial paper like Gomantak Times. They have changed beyond recognition. Admittedly some of them have become propagandists for Upper Class Society and feature them on Page 3. The pages of practically, every newspaper are running with colours and huge photographs. Sex is being flaunted. Old values are being given the go-by.
The excuse given is that, that is what the readers want. If Shri Saxena is to be believed our ?newspapers continue to perform their duty religiously year after year, boring readers with capital expenditure, non-plan expenditure, sectoral allocations, infra-structure funds and everything you and I cannot understand.?
Too bad, Shri Saxena, I suggest you stick to sports, cinema and sex journals. You can get all you want from them. For all their faults?and they are many?the Indian newspapers are some of the best in the world and treat their readers by and large with respect.
The media has three duties: to educate, inform and entertain. Entertainment cannot?and should not?be kept out. But for a society?and therefore, the nation?to prosper, it has to be educated and people have to the kept constantly informed. Entertainment these days is freely available on TV channels which vie with each other on capturing the viewers? attention. What the normal citizen is entitled to get is information and education, not always?or very rarely?available from the Idiot'sBox. Television supplements what the reader supposedly wants. The print media should stick to its own duties and responsibilities and refuse to pander to that class of readers who want excitement round the clock. ?Is there a lesson for Indian newspapers?, condescendingly asks Shri Saxena. One might go a little further and ask: ?Is their a lesson to the likes of Shri Saxena?? Thank God Indian papers have not gone down to the low standards of the foreign media. There is hope yet for all of us.