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‘We’re in the News!’

ON GLOBAL MEDIA BECOMING MORE LOCAL YET LESS SIGNIFICANT

It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper. —JERRY SEINFELD

In communication studies, news values can be defined as the amount of significance a news story carries. Several factors, such as its timeliness, influence, prominence and human interest, among others, determine its worthiness. Nobody cares about your kids but it is always a front-page news when the son of a film star flopped in every movies. Slightly resembling this concept, media value can be defined, in this context, as the amount of a medium’s significance. In the last couple of decades, the exponential rise of satellite television, Internet and localisation of various media outlets have been the foundation on which this concept is built on.


We used to enjoy MTV but not anymore. Over the years, it had changed to MTV India and further into a reality TV channel. The unending Bollywood music 24x7 was becoming so allergic that one time, local cable TV switched it with the Indonesian edition in my hometown! We would love to blame it as a qualitative loss but the ground realities tell a different story. According to television and audience surveys, MTV India  has been achieving a growth in audience numbers at the rate of 8–10% annually. In fact, 2014 started at a high with an increase in viewership from 10 million GVMs (gross viewership in millions) in January to 15 million GVMs in July of the same year. Apparently, the new crops of viewers and their likes are more important for programme scheduling than those of the die-hard puritans.

For one of its former archrivals, Channel V, the situation has been quite different. On its website, it is mentioned that it had discontinued music programming altogether in July 2012. Now it is ‘aggressively pursuing original content through fiction dailies and hard hitting studio formats that address crucial and undermined youth issues.’ Maybe it is only nostalgia of our favourite channels that it seems the changes are undesirable.


This does not mean less people are liking newer music. If we go by the trend, the audience and reach of new pop, underground and independent music around the globe has increased manifold. The emergence of digital media has even made iPods and Walkmans redundant. Personally, I prefer Earbits and AccuRadio to YouTube, SoundCloud or ReverbNation.   In this context, music channels have little option to diversify their choice of shows. This trend is succinctly captured in one of the Washington Post’s columns, Light bulbs vs. the Internet, by Robert J Samuelson, published on 15 Feb 2015. He wrote: ‘The new obliterated the old. Railroads displaced wagons and canals—and then gave way to planes for long-distance travel. Cars eliminated buggies. Supermarket chains overwhelmed mom-and-pop groceries. Personal computers outmoded typewriters.’ Then, video killed the radio star and now the World Wide Web destroyed the music channels, reducing them to reality television channels.



There was once a time in our life when we were delighted to see local news published in national dailies. By these papers, we meant mostly Kolkata-based The Telegraph, and later Guwahati-based The Times of India—which usually reach us as eveningers, and if not, arrive in bulks if there is general strike or a transport problem. We are still missing the bus in the 21st century: here, ‘we’ refers to the native people in Manipur, where governance and administration can be best described as defunct and toothless. Meanwhile today that excitation has ceased when we read local news in the national media. Our desires are never ending.

However, these are the days of localisation, thanks to the e-revolution. Also, no media houses can afford to do without an online presence. Specifically in our hometown, the relaxation of geographical constraints has made the mainland media’s negligence as almost negligible as their entry into the territory does. Now we can access, on one hand, the Washington Posts and the Guardians before we check the Imphal Free Presses and the Sangai Expresses. On the other, we have seen the advent of global newspapers and magazines in Indian and other local editions.

In 2009, the Press Information Bureau and the Ministry of Commerce & Industry issued a press release in this regard: in their own words, their priorities deal with how the union government would be allowing foreign investments in facsimile edition of foreign newspapers. It mentions that ‘the policy for foreign direct investment (FDI) in publication of facsimile edition of foreign newspapers include permitting 100% FDI with prior approval of the Government for the publication of the facsimile edition, provided the FDI is by the owner of the original foreign newspaper whose facsimile edition is proposed to be brought out in India. The policy also specified that, the publication can be undertaken only by an entity incorporated or registered in India under the provisions of the Companies Act, 1956.’ (Source: Press Information Bureau)


To take a few examples in print and online media, Reuters, Fortune, Forbes, The Economist, the Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal amongst others have their Indian editions now. This course of media transformation has a two-sided consequence implying world-class publishers are hopefully taking interest in local stories for the impeccable news and views. However, it has been found that, on more than one occasion, the standard has fallen well below their former self after localisation, with apparent disregard to the former quality of their global editions—just like MTV India does by catering to a dominant local population group than doing it universally. We might be missing the point if we overlook the roles, ownership and ambitions of media giants. The only deciding factor is the return on their investment and records show they have been running a brisk business. George Orwell puts it straightforwardly, ‘All the papers that matter live off their advertisements, and the advertisers exercise an indirect censorship over news.’ With quality or without, it is good business as long as the foot soldiers are bringing in more glories while the big shots laugh all the ways to the bank.

Again, another prominent feature is that even after years of this phenomenon, we are stuck in the sideline far away from the mainland, both literally and geographically—and this has resulted in fomenting the cause for one of the existential crises that has been drifting us apart from the global trends. In such a condition the rhetoric on information for growth and communication for development appear to be mere hokum. Apparently we lived in a parallel universe: the only difference is that we can see the wretchedness clearly in our backyards although we are stormed by glitters and blings and razzle-dazzles a minute after we move out of our homes. 



In Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Edward S Herman and Noam Chomsky elaborated on the propaganda model of media. Their main contention is that the private interests in control of media outlets will shape news and information before it is disseminated to the public using the five information filters: (i) size, ownership, and profit orientation; (ii) advertising license to do business; (iii) sourcing mass media news; (iv) flak and the enforcers; and (v) anti-communism.


Certainly capitalism has propelled mass ownership but new media has somehow counterbalanced the one-sided tilt. The rise of Edward Snowdens and Julian Assanges has proven that the top ranking of The Times of India and Hindustan Times in every poll survey are just a part of pop culture, while deeper inside us, we still care for sensibility and rationality. Now we also know it is far better to scan through the Guardians than sink into the various English tabloids to give an example. Still the concentration of ownership to a few corporations and conglomerates is poised to narrow down the voices and opinions but all’s not lost yet. The solution lies in a rise in the strength of an educated mass and its active participation in shaping the flow of information. If the trend of new media, ranging from citizen journalism to blogging and from independent media houses to non-profit organisations continues, we can safely say that there are hopes left in humanity!   

No one can deny the loss of specialness in the media; and it has collectively become exclusive on another totally different platform. The exposure and mass publicity of local artists, the issues of native importance and the growing influence of local innovation have inherited a few positive tendencies. Never in history have we been able to access the amount of limitless information; so is our power to choose and grasp the contents of global standard. Life has become easier too. For instance, all along we had to rely on limited-stocked bookshops. Portals like Flipkart and Amazon (the latter which has been also localised) have given us abundant space and time to explore our deepest passion. The choices are unlimited: it only depends on our prudence and informed decisions. Now it does not matter how MTV is broadcasting ridiculous programmes or how many foreign media houses are entering into the market. Now it counts how much we can enhance the media values for our collective good.       

Concluded.




Image courtesy: All sourced from the Anonymous ART of Revolution, except the microphone’s from libcom.org

PS

Revolution Will Not Be Televised by Gil Scott-Heron

Read
The Challenges of Democratizing News and Information: Examining Data on Social Media, Viral Patterns and Digital Influence, by John WihbeyShorenstein, Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, Harvard University

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, by Edward S Herman &
Noam Chomsky, Pantheon, available on Amazon

Save the Internet, a campaign for net neutrality, Free Press



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