Monday, September 3, 2012

Newspapers' credibility falls in Bihar, readers sulk

Special Story 

Critique, June 2012

By Manoj Chaurasia

The size of the media is alarmingly
getting smaller in Bihar. The
state that was once home
to many reputed newspapers, such as
The Indian Nation (which virtually
held a monopoly over English language
newspapers published from Bihar till
mid-80’s)and The Searchlight, now
appears to be turning into “graveyard”
of newspapers. The general feeling
among the common readers is that
this is the outcome of a change in
attitude of the media houses. Their
mission once was “journalism”. Now
it is “professionalism”. The general
frustration among the common
readers these days is that there has
been a very sharp erosion in the
credibility of majority of the media
houses. These media houses are busy
pleasing the ruling party in a bid
lay their hands on more and more
government advertisements and mint
money. For them any other collateral
cost is immaterial.
Sadly, the media houses have not
taken any lesson from the past and
aspire to join the ranks of the run
of the mill business houses that are
driven by the profit maximization
motive. They seem to be missing the
point that that the media industry
is completely different from the rest.
In this business, the main thing is
not profits alone. But it is profits
without compromising credibility.
The credibility of a media house is its
only stock in trade.
There have been instances in the
past about how the common readers
blindly relied on the news reported by
a certain media outlet. But today the
basic thinking about journalism has
undergone a complete change. Today,
majority of the local editors seem to
be acting as “liaison officers” between
the government and the media
houses. This has dealt a body blow to
the credibility, sanctity and purity of
the media. They must know that it’s
the credibility that sells in the markets
and, if this is gone, everything is gone,
including their business.
This, perhaps, was one of the
reasons behind the closure of several
newspapers published from Patna in
the last over two decades. Ironically
many newspapers had to cease
their publications when they at the
height of their popularity and had
very good circulation in the areas.
They included- The Indian Nation,
Aryavarta, The Searchlight, Pradeep,
Patliputra Times, Janshakti and
Navbharat Times. The last to be closed
down was Navbharat Times which
ceased its publication in 1995. This
was shortly after the state assembly
polls in which RJD chief Lalu Prasad
returned to power with absolute
majority. This had happened after
most of the media houses had written
him off and predicted a spectacular
victory of Nitish Kumar’s Samata
Party. He had floated this party after
revolting against his mentor.
In later years, the newspapers made
it a habit to criticize the governments
led by Lalu Prasad and then his wife
Rabri Devi. More so Prasad was
named as an accused in the fodder
scam. He then had to virtually face a
“ trial by the media”. The cases have
not yet come to a logical conclusion.
However, in one of the cases, he was
even acquitted by the designated
CBI court. The same media has now
ironically gone silent on reporting
the “failures” of the ruling National
Democratic Alliance government
headed by chief minister Nitish Kumar.
None of them, it is alleged, has the
guts to “annoy” the chief minister
and lose government advertisements
worth crores being issued every month
by the same government. It is the
same state government that keeps on
demanding a special financial package
form the Centre on the ground of being
economically backwards.
“I’m closing the Dainik Jagran from
tomorrow since it has become more
of a mouthpiece of Nitish Kumar
government. What’s the purpose of
reading a newspaper when it looks like
blindly supporting every policy of the
government?”said RB Sharan, a retired
engineer from the Bihar State Electricity
Board. “It’s very painful to disown
a paper which has been your pal in
loneliness but I don’t have any option
now”. Same is the situation with the
another Hindi newspaper which claims
itself to be the largest-selling newspaper
in Bihar. Its editors have been only too
eager to cover the very small story of a
CM’s yatras in villages.
Another Hindi newspaper which
has its headquarters in Ranchi,
Prabhat Khabar has even changed its
decades-old slogan that was printed
over the masthead from “Akhbar
nahin aandolan” (this is not just
a newspaper but a movement) to
“Bihar jage…desh aage ( If Bihar goes
ahead, the nation goes ahead) to suit
the tastes of the ruling party. This has
been done apparently in a bid to be a
very strong claimant for government
Sounds nauseating but the fact is
that there is virtual rat-race among
the local newspapers published
from Bihar about how to please the
party in power. The newspapers’
credibility and journalistic ethics,
thus, obviously are the victims here as
every journalist is being viewed with
suspicion by the common readers.
In this situation, there appears to
be a problem of survival for those
media houses which refuse to take
the government’s side or toe its line.
Sadly, most of the media houses have
 “adapted” themselves to the changed
situation in Patna and are expanding
their business fast.
The situation was not so alarming
until few years year ago. It took
a turn for worse especially in the
aftermath of 2008 global recession
when the corporate houses slashed
advertisements to newspapers citing
the meltdown. Till then corporate ads
were the main attractions for the media
houses but once they saw a huge cut
in them, they subsequently turned to
the government to keep them floating.
It is alleged the local NDA government
turned this adversity into opportunity
and reportedly agreed to increase the
ads frequency provided the newspapers
highlighted only positive aspects of the
government. Thus followed a bizarre
competition in the local media to
throw out their so-called journalistic
ethics and please the masters to get
the government ads. Not only Hindi
newspapers, even the Urdu newspapers
too changed their “style” considerably
to make hay while the sun shines
in Patna. Such was the change in
the attitude of newspapers that the
Nitish Kumar government doled out
government ads very liberally to most
of the newspapers. Even newspapers
and periodicals whose circulation
was just a few thousands walked
with ads worth lakhs. Strangely,
many of the newspapers in alleged
league with the officials of the Public
Relation Department reportedly faked
their circulation figures to get more
government advertisements. This
saw several regional newspapers and
periodicals even far ahead of English
dailies published from Patna such as
the Hindustan Times and The Times
of India.
Apart from government advertisements,
these newspapers have also been luring
away the common readers in various
ways, such as by promising assured
gifts to them if they subscribe to them
and also give ads in the newspapers.
Till recently, the advertisement officials
had been primarily approaching the
local businessmen, industrialists or
the people in the business of running
schools to get ads but now the common
men are being briefed about the
importance of their birthday, marriage
anniversaries or Valentine days. If that
is not enough, the local newspapers
have also come up with schemes, such
as promising to offer them papers at
the rate of only Re One if they buy a
one year subscription.
Among the prominent newspapers
being published from Patna, Prabhat
Khabar has emerged as the fast-growing
newspapers. Such has been
the support from the ruling regime that
the newspaper whose circulation was
primarily limited to the state capital
until few years back is now being
published from various cities of Bihar
today. Its circulation too has increased
considerably in the last few years as
compared to rival Hindi newspapers
and now it is said to be offering good
package to the journalists.

(The writer is the State Bureau Chief of The
Statesman based in Patna)

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