January , 2021
Can the media regain its spine?
01:39 am

Buroshiva Dasgupta

The outgoing US President Donald Trump had a love-hate relationship with the media. He loved the media glare and was a regular on Twitter. The attack on the Capitol by Trump followers was unprecedented as was the decision of Twitter, Facebook, and Google to block his accounts. He misbehaved with most media persons, especially with the members of the television channel CNN. But surprisingly, what is known as “Trump bump”, television news viewership had soared from 6% to 16% during his presidentship.


However, in spite of the short period of the Trump ‘bump’, TV viewership has been steadily declining over the years, like print, in the US. As one of the studies reveal, the general decline of TV viewership has been as much as minus 20%. It is not just the preference of the digital media over the traditional one; the credibility of media is also a major cause.


The Indian media scene is different. Though the English language newspapers, like their western counterparts, have declined, the vernacular language newspapers in India have continued to flourish in spite of the increasing use of the mobile phones, newsapps, and the social media. One of the reasons claimed by media observers here for this peculiar behaviour of the Indian vernacular press is the increasing literacy rate. The first generation readers, they claim, prefer the newspapers in their mother tongue. Increasing popularity of the mobile phone could not replace the reading habit of the vernacular.


Again, unlike in the west, TV viewership in India has not declined. TV viewership in India from 2018 to 2020, according to a study, has increased by at least 7 percent. But what is surprising is the sharp rise in viewership of video streaming or ‘over the top’ (OTT) facilities. The increase has been over 136 percent for OTT facilities among the Indian viewership for the same period of 2018-20. The sudden spurt in OTT viewership is attributed to the Covid situation when the people generally stayed indoors and avoided the cinema halls.


 One of the dilemmas of the 21st century is that while media platforms have gained a lot of diversity and have undergone radical technological change, media’s credibility has reached the bottom rung. Most of the mainstream media houses have compromised with the political parties, either out of fear or financial sustenance. Traditional media – the newspapers, radio and the TV channels - clearly took sides, either Democratic or Republican in the US and in India becoming spokesperson of different political parties. Media generally lost their objectivity, which should have been their prime outlook. Clearly therefore we know why people have stopped believing in the media. The drop in readership is not always because of the change in technology, but more because of the ‘slanted’ content.


Even the newly popular social media is becoming packed more with propaganda and marketing stuff than in real events or news. Platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Google were trying to eat into the ‘news’ sector while primarily serving the interactive personal communication. But suspicions increased with volumes of ‘fake’ news. Credibility was almost gone. In this context, the decision of the social media giants to block Trump’s statements, forcing him to go offline, came as a big surprise. Can the media undergo a sea change and regain its spine ? Democracy needs it.

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