Govt needs to regulate distribution and licensing of news channels

NEW DELHI: Television news content is getting redefined as costs spiral and revenue is under constant pressure, senior newscasters said here today.

The investment in news gathering is being sacrificed and content is much weaker today amid an uncontrollable distribution cost, launch of a plethora of channels, and glamorisation of the profession.

“As an industry, there has been a decline in content. Better TV journalism was done 10 years back. We can’t look at content in isolation from the commercial environment we operate in,” said IBN18 Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai, while speaking at the third Indian News Television (NT) Summit.

The chase for eyeballs, in fact, has resulted in news getting commoditised. The fundamental challenge for content makers is to free from these “ratings pressures” and create differentiated content.

“The real crisis is the lack of distinction. In an age of clutter, how different can we be. That is the important question,” said NDTV managing editor Barkha Dutt.

A glaring example is the “sameness” of guests across news channels. “We have started working on formula,” admitted Aaj Tak news director QW Naqvi.

Elaborated Dutt: “The crisis is more with political journalism.”

The problem at hand, particularly in the case of Hindi news broadcasters, is when there is a collective effort to swing from a niche to a mass market as this means introducing higher doses of entertainment content.

“We have created an industry solely dependent on ad revenues while we have to pay heavily for distribution. Channels are forced to cut costs to stay afloat. Editors are moving into jingoism or trivialisation and news is getting commoditised. English news channels are beginning to learn from Hindi channels,” said Sardesai.

While noting that self-regulation of content was bound to happen, Sardesai said the government should also ensure regulation of distribution and licensing of new channels. “Less than 10 per cent of the cost is being spent on content. Around 50 per cent is going into distribution,” Sardesai said.

Naqvi said news selection is done often on the basis of what will ‘sell’ or accepted. He blamed the problem of TRPs but said this was something that news channels could not avoid.

Author and former TV journalist Nalin Mehta said Indian television was the third largest and fastest growing medium in the world, but was also the most unregulated. There was necessity to put an independent regulator in place. Despite complaints that news on Indian channels appeared similar, the viewership of news channels had gone down by 30 per cent in the past year.

Sahara Media India CEO and Editor-in-Chief Sanjeev Srivastava who moderated the discussion accused most news channel heads of being ‘escapists’ who did not want to try anything new. He also blamed lack of research for this.

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