Agenda-setting in Indian newspapers?admin Post June 25 2008

Agenda-setting in Indian newspapers?

How the media reported about a new transport idea in Delhi.
Delhi-based English newspapers wrote understandably a common script on the trials and tribulations of their target readers when they covered BRT corridor issue.
English speaking journalists of varying hues-Oxbridge bred, public school kind, and government school type-unanimously sang the hate song on BRT in chorus since it based both on the faith and experience of their own and of their car-using constituents.
Two newspapers undertook the close-to the-mike role while singing. Reportedly, personal and advertising interests of these tune-leaders added salt to their wounds. Dutiful to their own experience and of their readers, they set the tone and tenor of their coverage ranging from anguish to frustration to helplessness. Blame it all was the style and rubbishing wisdom of experts as arm-chairish was the strategy. Some even attributed vested motives to the government stubbornly sticking to the project and to the originating institutions of the experts for not buckling to the media pressure. Newspapers mirrored selective reality.
Dominant language newspapers, logically, have selected target readers. Preparation of its menu of news, views, editorial, advertorial and even advertisement is based on taste, preferences, concerns, trials and tribulations of the target readers it caters to. The final touches on the preparation of such a menu are added with the brush of personal experiences of the journalits handing out their judgments.
Hence everything was almost predictable about the reporting pattern of majority newspapers in Delhi on BRT issue except for a miniscule minority who preferred to walk on the left track meant for pedestrians. It was an allegience not to a class in the Marxian sense of the term-of owners and non-owners of means of production-but to a class of owners of a commodity called car. Their percentage out of the total of BRT corridor users was tragically a handicap for them-just about 6 percent.
Predictably, the non-owners of cars were like a sack of potatoes: loosely structured, perhaps with no ideological or common experiential script to bind them together. The only commonness they shared was that they formed the target readers for the Hindi and other vernacular newspapers such as Urdu and Punjabi. They were predominantly bus-users, cyclists, pedestrians and motorized two-wheelers. Put together conceptually, they constituted a formidable strength of about 80 percent of the total of Delhi’s BRT corridor users.
Delhi’s Hindi and other vernacular media miserably failed to account for the experiences of their target readers while reporting on BRT corridor. Neither they created their own script, nor they composed their own signature tune. As if the English media set their mandate and they lacked courage to write what the reality around their constituent was. It took them quite some time to even realize that the experiences of bus commuters, cyclists, and the pedestrians on BRT stretch were distinctly positive and certainly not in sync with those of the car-users. It needed almost a PR prompt and an English survey backing to ignite them to write the truth independently and account for experiences of the bus commuters, cyclists and pedestrians.
An interesting development took place in the meanwhile. An English news channel commissioned a survey to assess the subjective experience of different segment of BRT corridor users and the survey brought out the polarized truths-diametrically opposed to each other-of minority car users and majority bus users, cyclists and pedestrians. The former group was found blaming one and all, whereas the latter expressed they never had so good.
Only after airing of this English channel’s survey finding did we saw the Hindi and vernacular media galvanized into writing the other side of the truth of their target readers.
Digging the journalistic past, we observe similar lack of confidence among the Indian English newspapers in setting their own agenda. Influence of foreign media in deciding the content and style of Indian English newspapers has been over-reaching.
For example, the Kumbh Mela at Haridwar in 1998 drew little media attention from the Indian English media who thought their readers and viewers are not religious enough to take dip in the Ganges. The exponential growth of internet and TV by the next Maha Kumbh at Allahabad in 2001 spread the news of the impending event all over the world. The western media rushed to witness the mela, expecting a congregation of millions. The western media’s response evoked an immediate response from the India English media and that showed how western media has taken over the role of agenda setting .
Another example of lack of confidence in setting its own agenda in English media is of coverage of post-riot elections in Gujarat. During this election, the national Indian news media fell short of predicting Narendra Modi’s poll-victory because it was politically incorrect to do so and no national media wanted to be dubbed as communal. It was BBC that broke a story predicting Modi’s imminent poll victory. Though national media was seeing the imminent poll victory of Modi as writing on the wall, it mustered courage to say so only after the BBC’s announcement.
Though Indian news media, especially newspapers, has come of age technologically and numerically, it is yet to form a confidence of setting its own agenda. Post liberalization, this has lack of confidence seemed to have further deepened – thanks to a newly acquired globalized habit of seeing news as a product like any other product.
Whereas globalization is the call of the age: news media need to be global in technology and management and local in content and flavour.

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