Book review of Vanita Kohli's 'The Indian Media Business': Tidy, terse, almost there

The Indian Media Business penned by Business World senior editor Vanita Kohli, published recently by Sage Publications, treads territory few Indian writers have ventured into - exploring the vast field that is Indian media.

Vanita Kohli fulfils a long felt need - finally, a tome that can be used as a textbook by students of Indian media.

A volume that brings together the latest available statistics (neatly laid out in charts and graphs) on the various segments that make up mass media in the country, culls opinions from the best of the players and threads it all together with neat, accurate conclusions and some cautious crystal ball gazing. A laudable effort, as not many have bothered to gather the scattered information available and attempt to put it all in perspective.

For students who trawl scattered sources on the Internet, wade through assorted newspaper articles and scan available books on the subject, Vanita‘s attempt is a godsend. For the rest, however, it may not be as compelling a read, as apart from a few insightful nuggets, the rest is just neat compilation. But that‘s no matter. Vanita has specified in the preface that her target is not people within the industry, but the people outside who want to get a sense of it, the student who needs a glimpse of what has been happening in the dynamic, often haphazardly regulated and erratically monitored media industry.

As Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea too rightly points out in the foreword, if ever media studies find place in Board studies in India, Vanita‘s book could be rated as a good text.

As a veteran reporter with over a decade of journalistic experience behind her, Vanita has put her skills to good use. She has culled from the memories of veterans like Ameen Sayani, Bhaskar Ghose, G P Sippy and Harish Bhimani, traced archives that give an insight into how various media developed in the country(it was in August 1921 that the TOI in collaboration with the Posts and Telegraph department broadcast from its Bombay office a special programme of music which the governor listened to in Pune), garnered expert comments from analysts, media observers and put the whole in the right perspective, as a good reporter should. Also noteworthy are the kind of candid comment she has fished out (Mid-day Multimedia MD Tariq Ansari opining that the entry of Samir Jain in the business was the big milestone in the newspaper business in India).

Credit is definitely due to Vanita for helping to demystify the workings of the various factions that make up media in India, the various interconnections and the idiosyncrasies of each, for the benefit of those not in the know.

A book like this, if it has to interest media professionals, could have been peppered with more anecdotal information and the quirks and twists that have shaped Indian media, making it a more interesting read. Apart from a few, mostly in the chapters on radio, however, Vain sticks to her agenda of presenting a treatise on her subject. Even the process of policy making, which defined the growth of Indian media, does not come through very clearly.

The language, good reportorial style, does not experiment much, and does not attempt at being great literature. The sub- headings, used to separate the topics, are prosaic - ‘First there was terrestrial‘ begins the chapter on television, ‘What is...‘ says another in the same chapter, and one has to wait for the next section to say ‘....Broadcast‘ to know what we are reading.

But these are minor matters. Vain has effectively woven together all necessary information on media buying and selling, overseas markets, regulations and policies that govern various media.

The chapter on the film industry is comprehensive, and painstakingly takes readers through the way films are financed, produced, distributed and now, sold for their satellite telecast rights. It traces the changes that have mauled the industry, speaking to veterans, new players and experts, getting figures in an industry where figures are hard to come by but strangely, the underworld, which figured big time in film financing a few years ago, and continues to figure in a substantial way today, does not find mention. Nor does the influence of politics on Indian media, a significant factor that has shaped the way most media have evolved in this country and elsewhere too, for that matter.

On the whole, however, The Indian Media Business is a good primer on the media for the information starved student.

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