In a country with at least 18 languages and 1,000 dialects, it was always going to be difficult to have one news channel, or newspaper represent the aspirations of the people. India’s very diversity necessitates the existence of strong regional newspapers and channels. Traditionally, regional language media has been far more important than national media in identifying issues, influencing public opinion and playing a role in political processes in the states.
The growing business success of some regional news networks has catapulted them to national prominence. Channels such as TV9, ETV and Jagran, and newspapers such as the Rajasthan Patrika and the Dainik Bhaskar are now keenly watched by media observers in New Delhi. Many of these regional players boast a rapidly growing audience, and some have acquired a reputation as sources of credible content.
Regional players have arrived on the national stage. How have national players reacted to this regional surge? Has there been a conscious change in their news strategy?
In the case of national broadcasters, has it resulted in an introspective analysis of “origin of news” (is it local, national, international)? Have national channels become even more “national” in terms of their outlook on news?
The graph shows the origin of stories during prime time (7-11pm) news in four national news channels, Aaj Tak, DD News, Star News and Zee News. It shows that while news coverage from rural India, Kolkata and Chennai has remained stagnant for the past four years, international news coverage has significantly risen in these channels. The fixation of news channels with stories from Delhi and Mumbai has shown a gradual decline, but stories from these cities still dominate national news. That isn’t surprising, considering most channels are headquartered in New Delhi.
But how does a channel become national? Does it do so by merely having a headquarters in New Delhi and increasing international coverage? Or does it have to reorient itself? Being truly national would mean that the place where a news story originates does not matter. It is the story itself that does.
The recent case of a double murder in Noida received 3,464 minutes of coverage in one month (16 May-16 June)— almost 70 times more (on an average) than the agrarian crisis (an estimated 3,000 farmer deaths in one year). One of the key reasons for such excessive coverage can be attributed to the location of the crime. A similar event in Chennai, or Kolkata may not have received the same attention.
The graph is perhaps an indication that the surge of regional channels has not dramatically changed the mindset of national channels towards the critical issue of origin of news. Still, a change has occurred in the way national television networks view the regional space.
Several news networks have started regional channels: CNN IBN has IBN Lokmat; NDTV has looked at NDTV Metronation in Chennai; and Star Network has launched Bangla and Marathi news channels. This will increase competition and consequently quality in the regional news space. Now, everyone is excited about the next growth opportunity, especially in the context of the success of several English business news channels. Broadcasters are planning regional language news channels focusing on lifestyle, entertainment, travel, the city, business, even real estate.
As national news networks try and redefine themselves by entering the regional news space, it will also be interesting to see how their flagship national channels change. Once national channels have sister news organizations in the regional space, they will have a greater ability to generate content from regional centres. The process should enrich their national coverage, but breaking the editorial mindset, presently tuned towards Delhi and Mumbai, will be a critical challenge.
P.N. Vasanti is director of New Delhi-based multidisciplinary research organization, Centre for Media Studies. Your comments and feedback on this column, which runs every other Friday, are welcome at email@example.com
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