“Print media has a monopoly on the credibility business”

The stronger the government the more the fake news and pressure

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Anant Goenka, executive director of The Indian Express Group. Photo INMA
Anant Goenka, executive director of The Indian Express Group. Photo INMA

The new generation of publishers spoke up at the INMA India conference in the persona of Anant Goenka, the young executive director of the Indian Express group, pointing out that Indian dailies still lose Rs. 4 to 12 per newspaper copy on their cover price and need to get away from the free business model. “Apart from print, in the beginning television emerged as free medium as well . . .  Even the best digital products are free in which the audience has become the product and there is nothing wrong with free, but advertisers are now being forced to think beyond reach and frequency,” he said.

“Even the biggest and best media businesses that are free can survive only with the best profile, segmentation and combinations of audiences and the richest and most dynamic data,” Goenka went on to say, adding, “The print media has taken its eye off the ball as far being able to segment the audience. We mainly do four things – news, advertising, distribute and build brands. We cannot be leaders in most of these categories as these are only partially in our control. However, we have a monopoly on the credibility business. Print is possibly the world’s and certainly India’s most credible medium. My view is that in this post-truth world, never has the weight of the word counted as much.

“Another issue is fake news, which is nothing new. In the current situation people opine before they read. The opportunity for us is to be balanced. You can say what you want about this government but I think it’s our job to take on the government only and when we have a story . . . . Given all these pressures from advertisers and governments, I think I can say even from my experience in the past few years that the stronger the government, the more the fake news. The stronger the government the more the pressure. In my experience when you publish something like the Panama papers as we did a couple of years ago, you end up being disliked by advertisers because you have named them and you end up being disliked by a certain section of the readers because they think you have not published enough names.

“If we step back, and think about this space, I think we should appreciate what a privilege we have to shape public discourse, to influence conversations that people have in their homes, to make India a better place to live in, even given our constraints. We should not worry about digital businesses that are being sold off for a billion dollars – we should be competing only with ourselves. Keep in mind that if we keep allowing the widest public to set the agenda, it will only be a race to the bottom.”

Further coverage of the INMA Conference and WAN-IFRA conference in Hyderabad Conference in mid-September will appear on our website and in our October issue. www.indianprinterpublisher.com