A Peek Into Indian Newsroom
Review of a book by Sandeep Bhushan
Indian Newsroom is a wonderful perception-based book on Indian Journalism. This book is covering a small perspective on how Indian News Channels function, their rise and fall, behind the scenes, experiences and a lot more.
India has over 400 news channels, which comprise English, Hindi and various regional languages. Being the largest democracy, Indians also are politically aware and consume a lot of news. The influence of media on Indian society is very large and thus we cannot discount the role of Indian media in shaping thoughts and ideas.
The aim of this article is not to review the book or make a decision if this book is good or not rather, we look into various takeaways which can be beneficial in understanding Indian media, especially Mainstream TV news.
Review of the book, opinion and context
Sandeep Bhushan is the author of the book- The Indian Newsroom- Studios, Stars, and the Unmaking of Reporters. He has had 25 years of experience in journalism as a TV reporter and later became a professor at Jamia Milia Islamia University. He has worked primarily in India Today/Headlines Today and in NDTV. In addition to that, he has contributed to Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), The Scroll, The Wire, and The Hindu news portals.
The author has done an extensive analysis covering his own profession and his professional space. He has articulated the book in an engaging way talking about both micro and macro levels of the industry.
Why the book? In his interview with The Caravan Magazine he indirectly took up a lot of issues and contemporary happenings in India and how the media hasn't done the job they should have done. This book in broad is showing the mirror of Indian Media and its functioning.
How do reporters cover the news?
This is the most interesting question which everyone wants to know. The book gives interesting insights into how the author and also many of his friends and colleagues covered various issues. It is not like one reporter will cover any issue that person likes, instead, the editor will assign the role and the reporter will have to cover a particular beat. It may not be necessary that at the EOD they will get some news or updates, but they will have to be present in the field. Beat maybe anything based on some event, an issue, or even an organisation or place. After a lot of coverage on the beat, reporters tend to be experts in their beat and can effectively cover such topics very well.
The Big Three
America’s three big news channels- ABC, NBC and CBS are together known as the big three and these were the first radio stations before becoming TV channels. NBC is the oldest followed by CBS and later ABC. BBC is the oldest among news channels to rise as radio later come to TV, ie. even before NBC. The Big Three is based in New York.
CNN's Successes and why it stood out among other media outlets back then.
Cable News Network or CNN is the world's first 24x7 cable news television. CNN coverage of the Gulf War was one of the major reasons that helped it grow among the Americans. CNN adopted cutting edge technology and improved its on-ground coverage helped it a lot. The footage was directly uploaded from Amman, Jordan. Anchors like Wolf Blitzer who has been there on CNN ever since it was formed have added a lot of charm to the channel.
A lot of channels came up around the world modelling the CNN functioning. CNN is based in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
The Rise of NDTV and the liberal media and India
New Delhi Television popularly known to all Indians as NDTV is the first private TV News Channel, which is available in both English and Hindi. This channel modelled itself on CNN which is the world’s first private 24x7 news network. NDTV the first was started and run by the Roy family- Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy. By profession, he is an Economist and previously was the host of The World This Week on Door darshan, India’s Government-run News Channel.
The idea of such a programme was actually taken from ABC news of the United States which continued to have this programme run by renowned journalist George Stephanopoulos. NDTV has since then given birth a lot of new TV channels and a class of renowned journalists like Arnab Goswami, Rajdeep Sardesai, etc.
Another channel that emerged after that time is the Headlines Today under the TV Today group and later Times Network under Bennet Coleman which ran the Times of India, which is India’s and the World’s most circulated newspaper. Rajdeep Sardesai was the key player in the channel, he had a strong role in the day-to-day affairs of the channel. His exit was an immense shock for everyone and thus led to a lot of restructuring in the organisation.
This led to the rise of Barkha Dutt on NDTV, she was the central figure every day on prime time. Even during the Kargil War, she was on the field covering the war and various happenings thus raising a lot of allegations and issues on the coverage. Despite that, she continued to be a star of the organisation until she had to exit from NDTV and partner up with Shekhar Gupta to start ThePrint.
The author spent a lot of time in NDTV and he explains how NDTV was like a family and how the Roys treated everyone in the organisation. Most of NDTV’s journalists are mainly from a very privileged background. This is almost the same in any Indian TV news channel.
Rise of news media in India
Post-liberalisation in 1991, private news channels start getting popular. Those journalists who were in NDTV started leaving the organisation to either start their own channel or join other channels. CNN came into the sphere and in collaboration with GBN decided to expand its foothold in India, traditional beyond urban pockets thus, CNN-IBN was formed, which later came under the TV18 network with a lot of collaborations with western channels like CNBC to form CNBC-TV18, and a lot of digital outlets.
Raghav Bahl and Rajdeep Sardesai were the faces of this channel with Rajdeep heading the editorial side while Bahl on the operations side. CNN-IBN modelled itself of NDTV and automatically overtook NDTV in its own game thus becoming the leader in the English news arena. The channel went on for a decade until Reliance entered the picture and bought its operations. This made the entire editorial board under Rajdeep Sardesai leave and join various other competitors. Now, TV18 is the largest TV network in India with several regional TVs and children’s channels.
Later was the entry of Print Giant Bennet Coleman and the establishment of Times Now and the entry of Arnab Goswami as the Chief Editor. He is known for his strong voice, and calling for the nation wants to know. He used to question each and every person back and square till 2015 when he decided to leave the organisation and float his own organisation Republic TV, which was started in collaboration with BJP MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar and later taken over by the Star-Asianet group.
Asian News International (ANI) is a private news service and a news agency that provides news to various other news channels. This organisation has wide roots across India. It has offices in every state capital and has a lot of reporters and cameramen in the capital Delhi. ANI started and modelled itself on news agency PTI.
Coming to technology and its adoption, NDTV was way ahead and had the starting advantage. In 2013, it was among the very first few outlets to start a website and social media handles. Today NDTV is one of the leaders in the digital news footprint.
Along with that NBA, NBSA, BEA along with BARC and their rule in the regulation of the media.
The Indian Media as per the author has made a very important revelation- How Indian Media reflects India's casteism as the industry is dominated by the upper castes. This leads to another important interpretation- How the middle class favours the state and the media is biased because of it.
The meltdown of Indian newsrooms
The last part of the 2000s decade and also the early 2010s show the Media industry getting into a huge crisis which ended up with falling revenue, journalists being thrown out of the work and massive layoffs happening. The author in detail explained the layoffs that happened in NDTV.
How do Indian news channels fare differently from American News outlets?
In India, there is no special protection for the press, unlike in the US where freedom of the press is fundamental under the first amendment. What all is the legal framework for each and every common person is similarly applicable to the news platforms. In addition to that, cable TV news has special rules under Cable TV Networks Act. In the digital space, recently India passed the stingiest laws regulating digital news space.
Often Indian News Channels despite trying to copy international news channels, have deliberately failed in doing so. This is mainly the difference in how journalists see everything and also the audience which doesn’t demand much accountability from news outlets as well. That is one of the reasons why India doesn’t have a legacy media outlet like BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, France 24 etc.
India despite that has a better print media than many the countries and also the legacy associated there is as old as the pre-Independence era. The audience in the print space is also more demanding and educated thus they continue to follow a very high standard. Such a situation is currently absent in the broadcast media.
Times Now from the beginning was a right-leaning channel following the Fox News model, with rhetoric, noise and questioning. Same Which is done more harshly by the Republic TV. On the other hand, NDTV is like CNN, a liberal, informative and informed news that is sent out and has a lot of popularity among the centre-left ideological supporters. Sudhir Chaudary's ZEE news is also peddling to the present ruling dispensation.
While talking about TV media, we restrict it to English media which is less than 1% of India’s entire TV audience. There are Hindi and Regional news channels which are fantastic and also have a very big audience.
Problems with Indian Media
Stars are the news today, they replace news, they replace reporters and they replace experts. The idea of breaking news has crippled TV news as only rating machines. The speed of breaking news has reduced the accuracy of the news. Noise and rhetoric have replaced news and information. The objectivity of the media has also been in question in contemporary times.
The rise of social media has led to the polarisation of society and news channels today are catering to the respective polarised audience increasing further division in the society. Ever since 26/11 channels have tried to use anger and various forms of controversies and twisting of news in increasing their ratings. BARC criteria have also destroyed the environment and a lot of channels have tried to sabotage the same.
The media needs to be keeping a check on the ruling establishment, instead of what media has been doing is supporting the ruling party and its affiliates and further acting as their puppets. The book has opened a lot of issues with Indian media and where it has to change for the good. Today, the decline of puppet TV channels has given rise to strong digital news outlets and print media which have shown better credibility than broadcast media.
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