The Indian Media Leaders eSummit – first day

The evolution of Indian media – going nowhere fast

The Indian Media Leaders eSummit – first day
Clockwise from top left Suhashini Haider Diplomatic editor of The Hindu, moderator, and panelists Jayanth Mathew, Malayala Manorama, Mohit Jain, The Times of India and Navaneeth The Hindu

The Indian Media Leaders eSummit began yesterday at 3 pm and will continue for another two afternoons. It is almost painless; one can learn quite a bit from some of the factual presentations. From the panels so far, one can assess where Indian media leadership is today – or at least how it is evolving or stagnating – tentative in public and going nowhere fast.

The first session, which presented the annual Wan-Ifra report on World media trends, could have served as the basis of some questions but didn’t provoke many throughout the afternoon. No one asked how a report of such stature could be based on a worldwide sample of only 92 respondents. And then, while participants asked about the relevance of the information to Indian newspapers, no one bothered to make any connections to our reality. The report cited a worldwide spend of about 35% with only a 1% or 2% decline in the pandemic year on news gathering or journalists and editorial employees.

Our media leaders didn’t bring up the fact that the spending of the significant Indian mainstream print media is far less on editorial resources – published figures show that for even a major print media group like HT Media, it’s less than 23% in the pandemic year, representing a decline in the past financial year of slightly more than 20%. They didn’t also bother to mention that their ad declines were far worse than the global average of 26%.

The panel of Indian media leaders all spoke about democracy and freedom of expression. Although this is a hint of possibilities, there was really no discussion about the course of democratic expression except in the context of social media and fake news. It was mentioned that social media directly damaged the print media with fake news about newspapers spreading the virus, and also there was some cognizance of ‘tech dictating democracy.’

As Navaneeth, the CEO of The Hindu group, said, “In looking at big tech’s algorithms, the algorithm makes sure to feed the existing polarization. So tech has played a big role in preventing people from consuming a plurality of views.” No one talked about social media and fake news emanating from the government as it has bungled its way through the pandemic and tried to suppress criticism of every kind. However, there was a mention by Jayanth Mathew of Malayala Manorama of the new digital laws that have a chilling draconian provision.

While implying that the legacy print media in India enjoys great credibility, no one assessed its performance (much of which is outstanding and highly commendable) in the pandemic year when foreign newspapers were compelled to send in extra resources to decode the mess of the second wave. To my mind, apart from most of the larger print media groups having missed the opportunity of exposing the governments in power at the center and the states, they have played an extremely middling game bringing facts to the population. Although many of these groups have done an excellent job on scientific reporting of the Covid-19 virus and the vaccine developments, some major groups do not even have a science correspondent.

There was little mention from the media leaders of what is blowing in the wind – the backing of courageous journalism – even when major language newspaper groups hitherto loyal to the government such as Bhaskar, and Sandesh have broken ranks to report on the Covid-19 deaths and falsified records of deaths, burials and cremations. Likewise, no one mentioned that the mainstream Indian print media is in danger of losing its credibility as it prevaricates on the brutal truths of pandemic – a veritable gold mine of stories from migration to scientific stories on the virus and its spread and the development of vaccines – that it is likely to be displaced by digital alternatives.

To be a bit fairer, much can be learned from the eSummit, mostly from those involved in trying to save the media by changing how it works. And there are good sessions coming up in the next two that again discuss important issues such as diversity – but will they discuss caste diversity? The Indian media leaders are on the whole too preoccupied with survival in the near term and are missing the longterm opportunity to do something that they all recognize – to present a plurality of views, and with their great resources and legacy bring back some of the character that was their reason for being. To some extent, this conference is an opportunity missed for the leaders to inspire each other – to lead.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

It is the right time to support our high-impact reporting and authoritative and technical information with some of the best correspondents in the industry. Readers can power Indian Printer and Publisher’s balanced industry journalism and help sustain us by subscribing.

– Naresh Khanna

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