Preparing for the coverage of the budget, both at the state and the central level, has always been a big occasion for any business newspaper or television channel. It’s an annual ritual, for which all media outfits undertake long planning processes.
Changes in technologies have made the process of procuring information much easier. There was a time when getting the bulky budget papers from Parliament or the state assemblies was a huge responsibility and because of the usual secrecy that is maintained by the finance ministry/departments, the papers reached the media houses quite late. Today, however, the budget papers (which have shrunk in size as well) are available in the government website, thanks to technology, within moments the Finance Minister starts his speech. Media people today have longer time to analyse and write their reports and edits; and speak for and against the tax moves on the television during the day itself. The ‘breaking news’ on Twitter and other social media sites has instant impact on the common man and the markets.
The structure and presentation of the Budget in the government papers distributed to the media has improved vastly over the years. It has not only become shorter and more compact in size, but is more professionally written with an eye to make the common man (without an economic or financial background) understand things more easily. This has made the work of journalists easier. Earlier, we had newspapers carrying articles days before the Budget, to explain “how to read the Budget papers”. Such conventions have almost been dropped now. Budget papers are all available on the government websites and they are written in fairly non-technical language. The charts and graphs in the original government Budget papers have also increased in number and improved in clarity.
What the media houses now plan ahead of the Budget is how well it can be presented graphically and analysed intensely. The analogy of the nine ‘rasas’ used by one of the major newspapers to explain the Budget ‘natyam’ was inventive. It was certainly eye-catching; but did it really improve the understanding of the Budget’s content? The lay-outs of the newspapers (and news sites) are becoming smarter; but are they really adding to better understanding? The Budget coverage is a test-case. The graphics are increasingly playing a very important role in the media today and much of the dry statistics become alive with the right use of graphics.
The visual communication material should be used as analytical tools to make the numbers speak aloud. Journalism is no longer just a language skill; it’s a combination of both language and visual skills. Some of the graphs, which picked up the statistics and linked prosperity to inequality or the graphic-based analysis of the credit-deposit ratio to show whether Bihar’s deposits were funding Tamil Nadu’s growth made a lot of sense. But all the graphs are not always meaningful; in most cases they tend to become mere ornamental representation of the facts already given in the Budget papers. It’s one thing to report just the facts (which the reporters are meant to do) but analysing, interpreting, and imaginatively projecting its impacts for the future is quite another ball game reserved for the evolving new editors. Time scales, comparative scales, language, and visuals must merge in the new thinking environment created for the media.