Will the Hindi newspapers take on the role of national dailies in the near future? The third session of Future of News 2010, tried to find an answer to this question. The panel included Sunil Mutreja, president, Amar Ujala; Habeeb Nizamudin, general manager, business initiative, Lodestar UM; Suresh Nimbalkar, vice-president, Hansa Research; and Shravan Garg, group editor, Dainik Bhaskar. The session was moderated by Santosh Sinha of BBC.
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Nizamudin of Lodestar responded by drawing attention to the fact that India's diverse cultural landscape can never allow a single language daily to assume the role of a national daily. "Newspapers have always been a local phenomenon and no country has a single national newspaper," he added.
Agreeing with him, Mutreja gave one of the many definitions of a national newspaper by considering it as something that "influences a large part of a country's population and uses a language understandable by one and all".
Nizamudin opined that the issue must be addressed from the readers' point of view. "There is a need to identify a single point of reference that shapes the mindsets of the people," he said.
Addressing the issue of a national daily on a lighter note, Garg said that India can have a national anthem or a national bird - but certainly not a national newspaper. He substantiated his point by mentioning how regional dailies have been doing well across the country and no language newspaper can claim to rule the entire country. Also, he said that Hindi speaking markets should not be the only concern while talking about a national daily.
Next, the moderator shifted the focus of the discussion to advertising revenues and how most of the media agencies are based in the metros, creating a set up which isolates a major part of the country. He questioned whether the language of the national newspaper is a bigger issue than its content.
Sharing some numbers, Nizamudin said that 60 per cent of the news advertisement revenue goes to English newspapers, which, shockingly, comprise less than 10 per cent of the overall newspaper circulation across the country. According to him, English newspapers are preferred because they have been marketing themselves well for a long time now.
He added that by 2030, there will be 67 metro cities in India - with an environment which is far more global.
Mutreja responded by explaining how marketing in Hindi newspapers started only five years ago. According to him, if we zero in on a national daily by the advertiser's choice, it will be a Hindi newspaper as a majority of the country's population speaks Hindi. He also added how issues such as the basics of advertising and the number of eyeballs reached fall flat when one sees the government advertising a rural development programme in an English newspaper.
Nimbalkar chalked out the difference between speaking a particular language and the ability to read it. According to him, Hindi newspapers have witnessed a growth across the country.
The entire panel was unanimous in the opinion that any one language is not big enough to take on the role of a national daily. At the same time, the panel did not rule out the possibility of having a media group churning out dailies in different languages.
(The third edition of the annual event, Future of News was organized by afaqs! in New Delhi on July 30.The event was sponsored by STAR News, Sakal and Business Standard.)