Dialogue  July-September,  2010, Volume 12 No.1

Media in the World Today: Some Random Reflections



Introductory remarks

The term media covers printed news paper, broadcasting, and TV and Internet. A few new variants of traditional forms of journalism have also emerged; for example, film journalism, sports journalism, travel journalism, photo journalism, financial journalism etc. It resembles a joint family comprising of members belonging to different age groups ranging from 300 years old print media to the four decades old TV.

      In terms of geographical spread, the media is flourishing in the world, particularly in Asia and Africa and Latin America. In fact, media today is a more powerful tool of the power structure of nation state than in the past. Further, the Asian media is emerging as world leaders not only in print but also in online. e.g., India and China accounted for 45% of world's largest newspapers. Asia also has more broad-band users than Europe and USA, (158 millions in Asia, 123 million in Europe and 97.5 million in USA).

      The media family has common objectives and shared responsibilities, but its members function individually in keen competition. At one point of time TV threatened the print media, at another point of time internet threatened TV. Now, internet threatens the other two.


But a cross section of responsible opinion leaders continues to high light the threat posed to news papers and wider print media by other forms of media. specially by internet. It is feared, “journalism (print media) will enter the new century (21st) as an endangered or extinct profession in an alarming number of countries. "Its words going on screen and its advertising on line”. It is also said, “The world of newspapers is once again on its last legs”. In the developed world the phenomena is said to be also reflected in the reduced audiences and employment figures”. For example, America’s five leading papers lost more than 7% of gross circulation in the past decade. The circulation of newspapers in the UK also fell from thirteen million to nine million.


But so far these prophecies or fears have been proved wrong. The global circulation figures of print media went up by 1.3% in 2008, and by 9% during the last five years; news papers are still ahead of internet - 34% of world population buys newspapers every day while 24% used internet.

    Nevertheless, internet which has been compared to “a genie which can not be bottled” has become a strong mainstream phenomenon. The potentialities of this development have been demonstrated recently. WIKILEAKS which distributed tens of thousands of pieces of classified information on America’s war in Afghanistan points to the future, when newspaper will no longer enjoy the sole privilege of being sources of facts and news. WIKILEAKS has shown that internet also will be an important source of news and information. But this does not mean that print media will shrink. The massive influx of information is welcome. But its utility will depend upon the capacity of the media to filter it, sift and classify it and render it meaningful. Print media alone can play a vital role in dealing with abundant data. It is for print media to classify it render it more useful.

      It has also been realized that the key to the deal with the challenges lies in producing newspapers and websites that attract both readers and advertisers by satisfying their needs and reading habits. For example, the new generation readers, “read more text of an online story” than they do of a print story. On average, online readers read 77 per cent of the story text they chose to read compared with 62 percent and 57 per cent of the chosen text by broadsheet and tabloid readers. This intensive reading behaviour online is attributable to the lack of distractions on the chosen page, in contrast to the printed newspaper page with its competing headlines, photos, and graphics that draw the attention away, but the website offers the possibility of focused reading.

    Readers’ preferences also have important implications for the way stories are presented by newspapers. For example, an increasing number of people with high levels of access to the Internet use the Internet. According to the Pew report the printed newspaper reading habit is declining in all age groups. Websites, blogs, and multimedia are gaining more attention from readers. But this is not to say that the new media are about to render traditional newspapers extinct. “In the traditional school of journalism,” Dr. Garcia points out, “the thinking was that the readers do not know. In today’s world, it must be assumed that they know...” It follows that the contemporary newsroom must make the transition to state of fusion between online and print. While innovation in print design has made progress, it is the online medium that will be watched keenly for reactions from readers and advertisers.

     In this model, newspapers break stories on their websites and over mobile phones; they develop the stories with pictures, exhaustive reportage, and graphics for the next day’s printed newspapers; and shift the stories back to the Internet as an integrated whole with additional text, documents, multimedia, graphics, and links.

    Dr. Garcia agrees, “Putting your energy, your best reporters, and staff online is vital. But the mother ship is going to be online and the print newspapers will become a secondary accessory. They will shrink to a convenient size”.

    This prediction may have greater relevance to societies that have saturated print media markets and ubiquitous near-universal access to the Internet, and broadband. But it is not relevant to print media in Asia and Africa on account of social factors of which the role of the family is crucial.

      There are several challenges facing print media. But the technological revolution presents a real challenge to newspapers to retain their readership and attract new audiences to both printed newspapers and websites. But the threat posed by internet to print media is not as much as the threat of internet to T.V. It has been argued, “If there is one media business with a chance of completing, the perilous journey to the digital future is looking as healthy as it did when it set off it is television. TV has domesticated disrupting technologies and as result the living room television has been enabled to compete with internet.

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We should like to draw attention to another important form of journalism which has not been accorded due recognition. The claim of many leading photographers that photography is an art maybe debatable, but it is undeniable that photography of today is a an important form of journalism. True, once upon a time, photographs were merely a means of capturing a “moment” - may be in the life of a family or a nation or community. But this is no longer the situation. A photograph today is more than seeing the world through a lense. Now photographers are not only partners in breaking news but they often break news also.

     If journalism means reporting stories or events, then photographs also either tell a story or are an integral part of a story. A photographic, exhibition also tells a story or a number of stories; for example, Nehru lighting a cigrette for a lady (not Edwine Mountbatten) ; Prime Minister Vajpayee in playful mood sitting in a low tree branch with a yawning pup in his hand; a kid with brother in his arms standing next to soldier in Kashmir, a scene of Tsunami victim from Tamil Naidu Cuddalore district, street protests in Thailand; a documentary in Leh, a picture of Delhi street during monsoon- a women making her way though waterlogged streets while two boys run to the middle of the street from one and two more children cart wheel there from other side of the street. Raghu Rai’s photographs of Mother-Teresa organized in Calcutta in October 2010 comparable to the other forms of media give the messege of compassion and tolerance, mutual respect and solidarity. Similarly, exhibition of photographs of prominent artists is as much a genre of information which could fall within the purview of journalism.


The above mentioned intra-family rivalries have neither disabled the media family as a whole nor its individual members to fulfill their swadharma or primary obligation. But certain developments in the closing decades of 20th century and in the opening decade of the 21st century have the potential to threaten the very persona of the individual members, of media family. These developments are the needs of a high-risk, speed smitten, globalization driven and nation state dominated civil society; demands and needs of new readership and audience in this society; the new role of nation-state (iii) the marketization of economy; the ever fast evolving new technologies; changes in the character of means of resolution of conflict, including warfare and terrorism.

      Let us briefly discuss some of these developments.

Nation - state and media

   The nature of relationship between the state and the media in contemporary world is  marked by globalization. It is not only complex and multi dimensional but it is contingent on circumstances as well as the context which in turn is determined by the balance of “power” between the state institutions and the non-state institutions. For example this balance gets justifiably titled in favour of “the state” under the following circumstances in which state can curb freedom of citizens; (a) threats to internal security such as “terrorism” and civil strife and insurgency; (b) political instability; (c) vulnerability caused by widespread “civil” disobedience leading to incipient corruption, based on pervasive illegalities accepted as normal way of life, abuse of discretionary and powers, (d) corporate greed and the use of other “unethical but legal means and abuse of conditions of free market (e) external aggression (f) cross border movement of population.

    An influential section of opinion-makers like Naom Chomsky and Edward Hermann are of the view that the nation state as such directly and indirectly controls and regulates the media. They assert that ‘the media portrays a view of the world that suits the ruling elite and that ‘money and power filters out the objective news and replaces it with propaganda of which concentrated ownership as well as profit are orientation of mass media to consider advertising as a primary source of media and reliance of the media on information provided by the government and the businessman and experts essential ingredients’.

      The recent findings based on a rigorous study of the impact of the nation-state in USA on the media freedom confirms the impression of Naom Chomsky. These findings do not show up US print media in a good light in terms of media’s independence For example, the Govt. of the USA increasingly obfuscated its way out of serious blunders committed and the pliant press happily amplified propagandistic messages. This conclusion is based on study of the policy of the USA government on “water boarding” which is the practice of intentionally inducing the sensation of drowning to create panic and fear of death in a victim in the context of interrogation. It has been found, “from the early 1930s until 2002, the newspapers which covered water boarding, almost uniformly called the practice as “torture” or implied it was “torture.” But contrast from 2002-2008, newspapers almost never referred to water boarding as “torture.” The same tendency has been reflected in the media reports from two war-fronts. First, the Allied bombing in Afghanistan War caused 300 civilian deaths a month. But this fact received ‘little or no attention in the mainstream media in the west’. And whenever there were instances of the media coverage of such events it was not without the consent of the governments. For example, the media covered in details the exodus of refuges in KOSOV in 1999 because NATO governments wanted the media to cover it in order to justify bombing. Further,  the reporting on the invasion of Iraq in 2003 shows that media failed the people by being insufficiently critical about the plans of British governments’ decision to go to war in Iraq. A study of impact of war in Iraq published by Lancet showed 1, 00,000 dead. But this was dismissed as flawed by the government and the mainstream media dutifully supported the government without investigation. similarly, civilian casualties, including of women and children, Afghanistan in air strikes were in a facile manner explamed as "collateral demange" and media failed to look at it objectively. 


       Besides the “nation-state,” corporatization is a major source of threat to the autonomy of the media in a democracy. A survey of 300 journalists in the USA showed that 25% of journalist avoided news-worthy stories to the benefit and interest of the news organization. In fact, the news department became corporate profit centers. The process of corporatization is rapid since eighties. For example 60 corporations dominated mass media in 1983. In 1987 the number shrunk to 29, in 1990 it was 23 and in 1997 it was ten. In fact, the news departments have “become corporate profit centers”.   It a sense media is caught between the culture of news room and designs of corporations. Here is the latest example, Murdoch succeeded in his design to purchase from DawJane, the 105 year old Wall Street Journal for five billions dollars and a debt of 9600 million dollars. It is also reported that Murdoch’s son who planned this merger became the Editor-in-chief. Similarly Warner swallowed CNN and took up Time to become Time Warner with a stake in the movies (Warner), television (CNN), cable (HBO), and print (Time and Sports Illustrated). Time Warner has 13 million cable subscribers; together, they have a platform that gives them access to every aspect of the media. Depending on rapidly evolving technology, Time Warner could conceivably have access to 20 million subscribers to distribute not just the printed word, but also moving images. Similar developments in technology could help expand the Internet through television and cable. The Wall Streeters say that this is also an example of the growing trend towards internet enterprises combining with traditional bricks and mortar firms, looking for online presence. In India also a recent inquiry Press Council of India has revealed the phenomenon of "Private Treaties" between the business houses and media owners.

    Besides, nation state, and corporations, the other forces viz., the industry and the consumer are powerful drivers of change. In fact a call for creating consumer-centric- communication news papers have been made. It has been called upon to adopt multi-media, multi-channel, multi platform system. Concretely stated, the consumer centric news papers have been called upon to performe roles of event agencies, news agencies and PR agencies.

    There is one more factor, viz., the explosion of information in the world, led by overabundance or glut of data for that media. The unfiltered data is of no practical use to people. It needs to be filtered and analysed  to be rendered useful for the readers or audience. This is an opportunity for print media to enhance its role in organizing the “raw” date but value added to the raw material.

       In other words not unoften media gets sucker-punched by the state, the corporations and other centres of vested interests and fail the public by being insufficiently critical and fail to perform the role of providing relevant and necessary information to the citizens It also “suffered from the fascination for the powerful."

       Nevertheless, some sections of media as well as individual journalists have mitigated the flaws which have crept into journalism. Many of them acted according to the belief that “goal of journalists is to tell the story of diversity of human experience boldly even when it is unpopular." Also there are inspiring instances of individual journalists who reported events which were not only not at all complementary to the state authorities but those reports also deserve to be considered a “first drafts of history” which not only exposed secret centers of power and revealed the hidden agenda of those in power but also raised the political and social consciousness of millions of citizens against oppression and domination. For example, some journalists exposed with intrepidity and insight genocide in Cambodia and killings in Vietnam. Wilfired Burchett who refused to submit to orchestrated official propaganda machine reported the devastation and horror of post nuclear Hiroshima. Linda Milverni’s reported the genocide in Rwanda, Robert Fisks burowed into the true going ons in Iraq; Martha Gellhorn showed what genocide meant after her visit to Dachau concentration camp in Germany. She reported, “Behind barbed wire and electricity fence, the skeletons sat in the sun searched themselves for lice. They have no age and no face, they all look alike and like nothing you will see if you are lucky”. Gunter Wallraff disguised himself as a Turkish immigrant, penetrated Germany’s illegal labour force camps and exposed the appalling conditions of near slavery and racism. These investigations lead to the filling of several thousands of criminal complaints. Amira Hass’ reported about the dispossessed in the Gaza strip; Water Ronkite’s despatches on war in Vietnam contributed substantially to compel Lyndon Johnson, President of the USA, to end the long drawn war in Vietnam. Also, Cronkites dispatches cost Johson his elections. Newspapers reports of Bhagalpur blinding aroused pubic indignation and resulted in investigation. Anna Politavaskaya gave account of war in Chechenya. Mikhail Bekatar, editor of Khimkiaskaya Pravada (Khimi Truth), exposed the dubious land deals, crooked loans and payments under the tables and hush money deals of local officials who were, interalia members of Putins governing party called United Russia. In many parts of the world because the environment of work of journalism in the field has become highly risk-prone. media people were killed, jailed, attacked and harassed all over the world. It is reported seventy journalists were killed in 2004 (in Brazil (2), Columbia (1) Dominican Republic (2) Paraguay (1) Peru (2) North Africa  (2 Middle East (25) Iraq (23) India (31) Russia (31) Nepal (3) Phillippine (11).


New vistas

     New vistas of reporting news and making commentary and analysis have been opened in the first decade of 21st century, directly from war front, international terrorism and terrorism within the nation-state, violent conflicts in civil society. Anti-status quo movements for justice and space and ocean research.The entry of media into these fields call for innovation in reporting.

      The impact of violent conflict in reporting the events “on war front” is substantial. Since September 2002 hundreds of war correspondents of world’s independent newspapers agreed to be "embedded journalist”. This inaugurated the era of a new genre of journalism. The news content of conflict reports changed because of high -tech warfare reporting. But it also raised a few vital questions, viz. “does it improve our ability to answer the questions why wars are being fought, does it change our perception of war as instruments of foreign policy? is it morally and professionally right for journalists to be co-opted by invading armies."

   To be fair, many leaders of media in some countries constantly experiment with suitable devices or mechanism to cope with the new challenges and problems and flaws. For example, the media in the U.S. has been constantly engaged in looking critically at itself, and at those who critique it. However we give below the views of some journalists, who covered war front: (a) blatant attempts at censorship and about restrictions on their movement (b) amounted to censorship by other means, (c) “It was a constant juggling act between being able to report what we wanted to report and not upsetting the officers. I got the impression quite early on that they would have liked us to be a branch of British forces broadcasting.”; (d) There were attempts to restrict embedded reporters’ movements to a point where it affected coverage. “I am still amazed by people who will tell you that they weren’t censored. “he said; (e) They missed the chance to film an Iraqi encampment that had been attacked because they were “tied” to transport provided by his military unit.

     But research conducted by a team led by Professor Justin Lewis of Cardiff University’s Journalism School, which is said to be the “most through analysis of the issue to date” makes the following points on embedded journalism (EJ). First, EJ provides journalists unprecedented” access and protection; and contrary to what critics allege embedded journalists are pretty much free to report what they like. (2) It worked reasonably well and that degree of interference and censorship involved was lower than expected”. (3) The report rejects the idea that embedded journalists were necessarily “in bed” with the British/U.S. military establishments and tailored their reporting to suit the official agenda. “Indeed our evidence suggests that the embeds provided a much more balanced account of events than some non-embedded reporters.  ...Moreover, in the British broadcast coverage, we did not find that embedded reporters were more likely to give a pro-government or pro-war version of events. On the contrary, some of the most celebratory reporting- such as the coverage of the ‘toppling of Saddam’ in Paradise Square- did not come from the embedded reporters.” 

     Almost, dismissing widespread fears that EJ is a first step towards the idea of guided war reporting, the report claims that, it made journalists “less dependent” on military briefings. And, to that extent, they were “better able to offer independent accounts of military campaigns”. It was assessed that the notion that EJ is intended to be a substitute for “unilateral” reporting is wrong, all it does is that offers an alternative to official military briefings. “…In practice, embedded reporting was less a substitute for unilateral reporting- which, because of its dangers, is limited in scope- than an alternative to military briefings. Thus, however one views the limits of the (embedded) policy, the embeds (were) allowed a higher degree of independent scrutiny than would have been possible if journalists were largely dependant on prepared military briefings,”. The report concludes “The evidence we have gathered makes it difficult to offer either a simple endorsement or a straightforward rejection of the role of embedded reporters. 

      To sum up, media in journal has (and print media in particular) so far been creative enough to face the challenges it faces in 21st century.


Dialogue A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati

Astha Bharati