While we describe the 21st century as the “Information Age” with the boom in news and information bombarding us through its various ‘superhighways’, we find, quite regretfully, that the media houses are killing themselves through uncalled for internal squabbles.
The editor of The Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) has been asked by the controlling Trust to step down for publishing two ‘investigative articles’ on a business house who has consequently sent a legal notice to the Trust. The two articles were removed from the journal’s website and the editor was accused of proceeding against the legal notice without informing the Trust. The news of accusation of tax evasion against NDTV has now attained national stature; but it all started with the sacking of an internal auditor. Hundreds of journalists are losing their jobs because of technological ‘disruption’ that’s happening in the industry. But the way these events are being handled internally callsfor some introspection.
It is common knowledge that the media industry has changed phenomenally in the last two decades. Some say that the changes came so fast that everybody was caught unawares. But twenty years is a pretty long time; and even if thechange may have come as a ‘surprise’ initially, the industry and the people involved should have re-adjusted themselves by now following the changing trends. People tend to believe that the ‘print media’ is dead; and the socialmedia and the mobile media are the future. But this is not wholly true. The social media and the mobile media have opened up a host of new avenues both in terms of revenue and human skills. Someone who has worked in the print media has the advantage of becoming a better ‘content’ writer for the web or the newer versions of the television media. All he needs is a slight ‘tweaking’ of his skills and thecourage to face newer challenges. If the print media house has not changed itself with the evolving
media environment, then there is bound to be conflict as it happened in many such organisations in India and abroad. Those houses which could merge their print media serviceswith that of the web and of other ‘streaming’ media, did quite well in the changing industry; while others, however exalted their brands maybe, moved towards extinction. The subjects oftheir contents did not change nor did their technology. Internally, there was bloodshed; hundreds of ‘working journalists’ lost their jobs – for faults on both sides. Neither the journalists (who shouldhave adjusted to newer skills) nor the management were agreeable to change.
While change is inevitable and - to a large extent - acceptable, dilution of values is not. Along with the will to change, what was necessary was the affordability to adapt to change. Changing technology – the offset press, the computers, the digital cameras and the net – were costly, at least initially. The investment asked for greater revenue; and the values changed. Themarketing team took charge- of course with the full backing of the owners - and the editors took a back seat.
The need for greater investment made the media houses vulnerable. If NDTV wanted to make money by cheating the government of taxes, surely the owners will be punished. But that has to be proved at court. The indirect pressureof the government through tax officials creates doubtswhether money or political power can or should bend the media’s rights. Similar is the case with the EPW. Has the Trust yielded to financial or political pressure or did the editor overstep his limits?