FICCI Frames 2010: Biggest power in the media is the boardroom

By Biprorshee Das , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media | March 18, 2010
Eminent journalist and author MJ Akbar discussed how the newspaper industry is being threatened by the massive ego mania that has swamped journalists

The news industry, particularly newspapers, has often come under heavy criticism for compromising the quality of content. Fingers have been pointed questioning who dictates the content at the end of the day.

& #BANNER1 & #On the second day at FICCI Frames 2010, eminent journalist and author MJ Akbar addressed a session on 'Content is King. But Who Dictates It - Advertising, Consumer Taste or Editorial Policy?".

In the post lunch session, Akbar began the discussion on a light note but by passing on a serious message. He said how news in a daily is often equated with politics but it is far bigger than that.

"Whenever I have interviewed a new person wanting to become a journalist, I have asked why he wants to be one. More often than not, the reply is 'I want to write'. Well, if you like to write, stay home and write a novel. In journalism, we are in the business of communication," said Akbar.

He kept his audience grinning with his wisecracks as he questioned, "Would Shakespeare get a job with The Times of India?"

According to Akbar, Shakespeare would because he wrote for his market and understood "the need to keep the till moving". On the contrary, he added that James Joyce would probably not have got the same job.

The problem before the media industry, Akbar said, has been created by the owners who have forgotten the basics and the greatest threat is the ego mania that has afflicted the journalists of the industry.

"If you want to communicate, remove yourself from the content and the recipient of the content. Get the 'I' from information and replace it with 'We'," he said, urging for the need to remove bias among journalists.

He further said that journalists worldwide are losing their jobs and profits of the international media are falling because of the increasing bias and pompousness among journalists.

He said that the editor as a dictator is a myth because dictatorship cannot survive, particularly in the communication industry. However, he quickly added that the consumer cannot be a dictator, either.

"Consumer is not precisely conscious yet of what he wants from a newspaper. Nobody has fully understood the importance and role of news," he said.

Akbar also said that it is dangerous when the media sets out to imitate public mood in the hope of larger viewership, citing the example of the television coverage of the Mumbai terror attacks.

"What you saw on television was high voltage anchor behaviour to create hysteria in a bid to gain greater viewership," he said.
"The consequences were felt later. Television lost a lot of credibility that it enjoyed earlier over print," he added.

In a later question thrown at Akbar over how the coverage helped the citizens of Mumbai stay calm and prevented a riot like situation, he begged to differ.

"If Mumbai did not erupt in those three days, it was because of the maturity shown by the people of Mumbai and not the relentless coverage," he clarified.

Talking further about credibility, Akbar was of the view that the Indian media still enjoys high credibility compared to elsewhere in the world since it has maintained a connect and communication with its audience.

He disagreed that newer technologies have led to newspapers being shunned. According to him, no new medium has been able to replace the earlier one and each has co-existed.
"Every medium has its advantages and disadvantages. You cannot beat television at the 'what' and 'when' of news but the medium collapses at 'why'. That is where newspapers score. One more reason why newspapers are successful is because they are printed on paper. You cannot possibly carry your TV set around," he explained.

He expressed concern over the transfer of real power to board rooms due to issues of financing. "The biggest power in the media is the boardroom, not advertising, not politics. Media's financial requirements have become huge. When the need for funds comes in, those levels cannot even be met by advertisers. That is when the interactions begin with the ones with power of politics and finance," said Akbar.

"The biggest purchaser of news is not the private sector but the government. The problem is in Delhi and not Mumbai," he added.

He said that idealism is an important component of what an editor's job is but the ideas must be practical and not a victim to popular taste. He pointed out that while profits are important, it must not be the dictating factor.