India rightly congratulates itself on its dogged free press, which in many ways is superior to America's these days, though the latter is feted more often. But it occurred to me today that we may be missing the point. If the point of the free press in a democracy is to educate the people so that they can vote, our focus on the English-language media (OK - I concede that maybe it's MY focus, hence the title of this post) is misguided: Essentially, it's like looking at the Atlantic, the New Yorker, and the New York Review of Books to talk about the state of the media in America. Because just as those hallowed intellectual rags don't reach the heartland, India's English-language press doesn't reach the voters.
America's intellectual press -- even a comparatively "mass" market outfit like the New York Times -- recognizes this, so it spends a good amount of its time and space analyzing and deconstructing the real mass media. But India's myopic focus on its tiny middle class (not intellectual, but also not important as a voting bloc) has prevented any attention from falling on the sources of information that "the people" do receive.
So, my question is: What's happening on Hindi TV?
I'm the wrong person to write this, because I don't understand enough Hindi to tell you. But my impression from the bits and pieces of conversations I've listened to -- mostly from people who hardly watch Hindi news, either -- is that the Hindi channels cover most of the same stories that the English channels cover, only with a slightly more salacious style, and perhaps a few less scruples. I'm curious whether someone can tell me, however, if the Hindi channels do anything different on issues like the killer Blueline buses--where English TV just tries to jerk our heartstrings for the poor folks who get run down. Apparently it is common knowledge that these buses are owned by mafia types with connections within the government -- ripe fodder for investigative journalism if I ever heard it -- but when the English press decides this is worth looking into, nobody really cares, because the readers of the English press don't ride the bus and don't vote in large enough numbers to matter. If the same thing was divulged on Hindi TV night after night, including the names and addresses of bus companies and their political patrons, I suspect matters might be different.
Then again, maybe that's happening already. If so, I'd like to know about it.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
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Calling the middle class "tiny" and "not important as a voting bloc" is glossing over things a bit, IMO.
I don't own a tv myself, so I can't help you with what's being shown in the "national language". But you seem to have the measure of it pretty well. Saas-bahu soaps, lifestyle crap such as Zoom, music, news channels, many with English-language partners, and of course, DD.
It may indeed be an oversimplification. But basically, the "not important as a voting block" statement is what I hear every time I talk with a politician or a political analyst in connection with my job. The conventional wisdom, also, is "the middle class doesn't vote."
RE tiny: if I recall correctly McKinsey recently said the middle class currently numbers 50 million people. A big number, certainly, but only 5% of a billion.
Yeah, thats true. Middle class is big if you compare with many other countries but its relatively smaller part of the population. You can see the same thing in the increased reaction to the recent Mumbai attack compared to previous blasts in places like Sarojini Nagar which might have hit more of the lower-middle or lower classes.
There are some exceptions like the Vernacular (i know its slightly derogatory term) press in southern states especially Kerala.
But in the Hindi states, there are very few senior Hindi journalists maybe you can say a Vinod Dua. Other's are usually starting out but I think it is the Hindi journalists who are going to be more important to the politics if and when they become a strong force.
The Hindi press also strikes me as where the money is going to be, too.
RE the southern vernacular media - another interesting difference there that was pointed out to me by Subir Gokarn yesterday is that they tend to play the role of "local news" outlets that the big English (and to my knowledge Hindi) networks have ignored.
Local TV news seems like the area where the big players should transform their business model during this period of expected consolidation. (Wow, I can't believe I used "business model" and "consolidation" in one go.)
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