A.S. Panneerselvan, known as the Reader’s Editor of The Hindu, delivered the Dr. CVS Sarma Memorial Lecture at the Humanities Auditorium at the University of Hyderabad (UoH) on November 6, 2014. Panneerselvan is Executive Director of Panos South Asia, a steering committee member of the Global Forum for Media Development, and an advisory panel member of the Knight International Journalism Fellowship programme administered by ICFJ. He is also a journalism teacher and an adjunct faculty member of Asian College of Journalism, Chennai. He has worked with many premier print and broadcast media outlets in the country.
Breaking the ice by stating that “Journalists don’t make good orators,” he went on to deliver a speech that proved that statement wrong. In a learned argument discussing the state of Indian media and its dependence on external factors for survival that compromises its role in the society, Panneerselvan pointed out just how bleak the situation currently is. With no viable revenue streams to bank upon, media channels indulge in blatantly unethical practices to keep themselves afloat.
He said that Bharat Bhushan zeroed in on four factors infringing media freedom:
1. Rapidly expanding markets
2. What readers with disposable incomes want
3. Diminishing roles of editors in news rooms / desk
4. Neo-liberal ideologies
According to the Registrar of Newspapers in India (RNI), there are 82,222 newspapers in the country. Delhi has the unique distinction of being the only city in the world with 16 English language newspapers. Statistical data shows that the number of TV channels in the country has risen from 130 in 2004 to 788 in 2014. By the end of this fiscal year, it is expected that about 1,500 community radio stations would be set up across the country.
He spoke of the manner in which entertainment and media were merging to form a single structure. He spoke of dilating editorial values and journalism ethics, and the fact that newspaper personnel themselves are now beginning to scoff at the separation of editorial and advertisement desks in an organization.
In June 2013, there was a public rebuke of on the growing unethical practices of media. Cross-media owning, paid news, declining role of editors, working conditions of personnel and the lack of self-regulation are some of the ills plaguing media today.
The blurring of the line separating news from advertisements is not new. A case of advertisement being masqueraded as news was brought to the fore in April 2003. Paid news then came back to public consciousness to stay in 2008 during elections. Laudatory, contradictory pieces on local leaders were published on front pages of newspapers. Devoid of news values, these articles also went to predict landfall victories and defeat for particular leaders.
Bennett, Coleman and Company Ltd. (BCCL) in 2003 came up with the model of sending journalists to cover events for a price, defending its model by saying that this move simply eliminated the middle men who were conduits for PR firms bribing journalists to cover events.
During the 2009 elections in Maharashtra, P. Sainath exposed the extensive use of paid news in the case of Ashok Chavan. The Hindu had about 47 full page color ads endorsing Chavan, passed off as news. As ads, they would cost crores of rupees, but as news, these endorsements did not have to be accounted for as election expenditure. When the lid was blown off this scam, the only charge that Chavan faced was the incorrect disclosure of election expenditure.
Panneerselvan also spoke about the erroneous manner in which viewership and readership measurements were being taken and how such numbers effect the revenue generation of media channels. The latest IRS report that kicked up a storm with its illogical data, and the need to recognize the wide space for corruption to seep into measuring TRPs were also discussed.
He also pointed out revenue inflow had increased in the city, not in terms of an outlet doing well, but as take-over money.
Panneerselvan concluded his speech by citing N. Ram who said the deteriorating condition of media houses and news ethics, “If this is what it takes to have a thriving newspaper, there is something wrong with this growth path.”
Dr. Usha Raman, Head-Department of Communication introduced the speaker while Prof. Vinod Pavarala spoke about the late Dr. CVS Sarma and his contributions to the department and university. Through the Dr. CVS Sarma Memorial Lecture, Department of Communication, Sarojini Naidu School of Arts & Communication, celebrates the memory of one of its founding professors. Dr. Sarma was part of the department at a time when the department comprised two professors. He is cherished for the multi-faceted man that he was, and his innovative teaching methods.
-Harika Vankadara, MA-Communication