IN the West, the print media is on a downward slide. But that is not so in India where the print media seems to be going from strength to strength. The Hindu (22 June) claims that its readership has recorded an impressive growth of 46.7 per cent in Bangalore in the first quarter of 2012 over the corresponding quarter in 2011. Indeed the paper, according to latest reports, has gained 1,38,000 more readers during this quarter. The publication’s current Average Issue Readership (AIR) is 22.33 lakh and it has reportedly retained its position as the most-read English daily in South India and the third largest English newspaper nationally. The top rank is occupied by The Times of India which leads in circulation among all other English language papers with an AIR of 76,16,000. Hindustan Times comes next with an AIR of 37,91,000. The Kolkata based The Telegraph, according to Vidura (April-June 2012), the journal of the Press Institute of India (PII) has an AIR of 12,73,000 which, of course, is nowhere near The Times of India’s popularity or sales expertise, though The Economic Times from the same Bennett Coleman Group is seeing a decline. Actually – and it does come as a surprise – Hindustan Times has consolidated its position as the Number Two broadsheet English daily in Mumbai for the sixth time in a row and is the only one to have grown in 13 out of the last 14 IRS surveys. Mint, the business newspapers of Hindustan Times has further consolidated its Number Two position with 2.58 lakh daily readers.
English magazines also seeom to be doing well. Eight of the top ten magazines have gathered additional readership with India Today leading the English magazine domain. The growth is not limited only to English language papers. Six of the top Hindi dailies have done well with Rajasthan Patrika reportedly growing the fastest (24.9 per cent) while Dainik Bhaskar lost some 2,74,000 readers. Among other languages newspapers, the Marathi dailies Lokmat and Daily Sakal reported higher readership, as have Malayalam Manorma and Mathrubhumi. Sakshi, the Telugu paper also recorded high growth but what comes as a surprise is the decline in readership of Hindi magazines, considering that eight of the ten magazines have declined in Average Issue Readership (AIR).
Among other language publications to lose on AIR are Ananda Vikatan and Malayalam publications like Mathrubhumi’s Arogya Masika. Kerala must be the most literate of all states in India and Malayalis are spread all over the country and they are as much in Mumbai as they are in other cities. So it comes as no surprise that a new journal is out entitled Kerala In Mumbai that deals with Malayalis in Mumbai and of Malayali culture in general with P.K. Ravindranath, a distinguished journalist as its Consulting Editor.
But to come back to The Hindu. This column has long complained of the lack of an obituary column – forget a page! – in our dailies. The Hindu does not have a special page but at least it takes note of the passing of individuals who have made a substantive contribution to society. One also thinks of the very poor notice taken of a former Atomic Energy Commission Chairman, P.K. Iyengar who passed away some six months ago. During this period at least a dozen people of substance have died but they died unnoticed and unsung.
What prevents our top papers with high AIR from employing correspondents to work abroad to cover nations like China of high importance to us? Turbulence is reported practically every day in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere but we don’t have a full-time foreign correspondent to report it and what it means to India. The media has now come in for strong criticism in Vidura (Jan-March 2012) with an article from B.G. Verghese, a recipient of the Magsaysay Award in 1975 and since 1986 has been working for the New-Delhi based Centre For Policy Research. According to him while “rising circulation and viewership have been facilitated by the communication revolution and technological change, rising costs and competition for readers and viewers to attract advertisements have transformed Mission to Commerce”. Verghese who once served The Times of India now says that “editors have altogether disappeared as in the case of The Times of India, or have in some cases been reduced to being brand managers, high level public relation men or ‘editorial advisers’. They have no real editorial authority, which they have lost or willingly bartered for grandiose titles and fat pay packets”.
In still stronger words Verhese says: “The competition for readers, listeners and viewers in order to grab advertising has led to dumbing down of content with sensationalism, trivialisation, titillation and sometimes local or national chauvinism, crowding out more serious and worthwhile content”. But Verghese goes beyond criticism. He advocates reform. One reform he suggests. And quite rightly, is an amendment to the company law or other relevant legislation to compulsorily ‘entrench’ the editor so that he may play his traditional role, as the conscience of his paper. Another and equally relevant is to legally insist that every media house shall have a body of public interest directors selected for their standing and integrity not to speak of experience. Think it over, Justice Khatju. Work towards that end. It is time to check family bosses of newspapers in the larger interests of the public.