Indian media growing at the cost of ethics: Raju Narisetti

May 20th, 2008 - 11:31 am ICT by admin  

By Ashok Easwaran
Evanston (Illinois), May 20 (IANS) The rapid growth in Indian media has come at the cost of ethics, an Indian newspaper editor said here, even as the leading executive of another said the job of a newspaper like his was to “purvey optimism” and not “gloom and doom”. Indian media and Bollywood were the subjects of discussion at the Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Speakers, who included film director Shekhar Kapur and Raju Narisetti, managing editor of Mint, the business daily from the Hindustan Times group, cautioned that while the media in India had recorded dramatic growth, it had come at the cost of professionalism and a laxly enforced code of professional ethics.

The Indian media’s rapid growth, in contrast to the recession in the industry in the US, attracted enthusiastic comments from two speakers - Sarbvir Singh, managing director of Capital 18 and Rahul Kansal, brand director of Times of India.

“Today there are 2,100 daily publications with 225 million readers (in India),” said Singh. He noted that even a one percent growth in literacy adds five million readers.

Their comments came at a panel discussion on “Indian media and entertainment industry: the world’s window to India”, which was part of the India Business Conference at Kellogg. The conference, an annual event for more than a decade, was attended by a record number of over 400 students, entrepreneurs and executives. The theme for this year’s conference was “Branding India, Indians and Indianness”.

Kansal spoke about the success of his group in interacting with young readers, adding that purveying optimism was the key.

“Newspapers tend to be purveyors of gloom and doom,” he said. “Optimism resonates with youth. Moreover, young people today are not content to be mute recipients.”

The Times of India group had championed various causes, including greater civic responsibility and greater accountability among elected officials, he said. “Our campaigns like ‘Chalo Dilli’ - from walled city to world city - were a big success.”

Kansal said he owed the rise in his newspaper’s circulation to three factors - low pricing, efficient distribution and a strong orientation towards young readers.

In contrast to Kansal’s exuberance, Narisetti, a former editor for Europe of the Wall Street Journal, now the managing editor of Mint, expressed cautious optimism. Narisetti said the Indian media needed a stronger code of ethics and had to monitor itself better.

He also hinted that the market for newspapers, especially business newspapers in India, could be overestimated. “There is no country where there are more than two business newspapers. Delhi will soon have five. Add to this the fact that the average reader spends eight minutes on the newspaper,” he said.

Narisetti said the below cost price of Indian newspapers tends to devalue the product.

“The trend among Indian newspapers is to cap the price of a copy at three rupees. This is counterproductive. You cannot even get a cup of tea for three rupees. This naturally leads the reader to form the impression that the newspaper is not worth more than three rupees. We are thus a captive of advertisers and they are aware of it. Fundamentally, you have created a long term problem,” he said.

Narisetti referred to the dilution of editorial quality, some of which was at the behest of advertisers. “The increasing trend towards paid-for editorial content is detrimental to long term credibility. You cannot have a product whose credibility is continually in doubt,” he said.

Shortage of experienced journalists was also a serious problem, Narisetti said.

“We do not have a pipeline of good journalists (in India). We have journalists with six months experience. This is, of course, great for companies because the public relations officer has only to dictate the story to the reporter, which gets printed without any critical comment,” he said.

Moreover, the rapid turnover of journalists among Indian publications discourages training, Narisetti said.

“There is no code of (editorial) conduct, which has pretty much disappeared from Indian newsrooms. It is common knowledge that many of India’s largest companies have journalists on their payroll.”

Kapur spoke of the growing space for Indian and Chinese cinema in the near future.

“If ‘Spiderman’ takes his mask off, the face underneath it will be a Chinese or an Indian. The media and entertainment industry is projected to grow to $1.8 trillion. My view is it is going to be double that,” he said.

Kapur, however, noted the contradiction between the brand and the product. “Today, Bollywood is a huge brand name, but where is the product? No one (in the west) has seen a Bollywood film. You need patience to sit through three hours.”

Kellogg dean Dipak Jain, in his closing remarks, urged the students to develop the quality of caring, which, he said, was embedded in Indian ’sanskar’.

“You have to be successful to make a significance (to others),” he said. Jain divided human life into three time zones - 25 to 50, which he said should be focussed on success, 50 to 75, on making significant contribution to society and 75 onwards on sacrifice.

Jain paid tributes to Bala Balachandran, the professor who was instrumental in starting the India conference at Kellogg more than a decade ago. “He built the brand of the Indian faculty at Kellogg,” Jain said.

Balachandran expressed satisfaction at the conference’s dramatic growth over the years. “It is so nice to see that the seed we sowed has grown and become a trend setter for other business schools (in the US),” he said.

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