Thursday, March 11, 2010

CMS Academy in News

Paid News Phenomenon: Protective Measures and Corrective Actions

The disturbing phenomenon of paid news is attaining monstrous proportions in Indian media, raising several legitimate questions regarding the role of media as the upholder of democratic values. To discuss and debate on this extremely important issue, the CMS Academy of Communication and Convergence Studies organised a colloquium on January 16, 2010 at RESEARCH HOUSE, Saket. Organised as a part of the 2010 Colloquium series on paradigm shift in media operations, the seminar dewelled upon protective measures and corrective actions that should be taken to curb the growing tendency of sale of news space. More than 60 students from 18 different media schools participated in the colloquium.

The eminent speakers in the colloquium were Kuldip Nayyar, eminent journalist, Ajit Bhattacharjea, former director of Press Institute of India, Subhash C Kashyap, noted constitutional expert, KC Jacob, former head of Media Net, The Times of India, Rahul Dev, CEO, CNEB TV Network, Pragya Sharma, senior Vice President, INX, Sumit Chakravarty, editor-Mainstream and Dr N Bhaskara Rao, chairman, CMS.

Introducing the broad contours of the topic of colloquium, Dr N Bhaskara Rao said, “The practice of paid news is not a recent phenomenon. But earlier, it was limited to a few journalists, and covertly. While today, it has become an overt and institutionalised affair as if there is nothing unusual or deviant about.” He said that the situation calls for protective measures and corrective initiatives by news media themselves on their own and in their own interest and by other stakeholders in the civil society. Ajit Bhattacharjea, who chaired the colloquium, was of the view that resolutions and appeals for self-regulation have little influence on those who rate making money higher than professional ethics. He said that regulations must have teeth. Bhattacharjea was of the view that, “unless effective remedies are prescribed and administered, people will stop believing what they read and see, with disastrous effects on the democratic system.” He suggested that the provisions of Right to Information Act (RTI) should be extended to media houses as well.

While giving the keynote address, eminent journalist, Kuldip Nayyar wondered where is the idealism associated with the media gone? “TV channels and newspapers avoid debates on issues. They present a point of view of their own or of the vested interests. They deny a voice to those who do not tally with their bias or prejudice. In fact they are the most undemocratic species talking in the name of democracy.” He expressed his disappointment over the attitude of journalists and politicians who know that there is a problem of lessening integrity, yet they prefer to sweep it under the carpet.

KC Jacob presented the marketing point of view. “As times are changing, media has to be accepted as a product, which needs investment and investors expect profit. Accepting that, one cannot compromise with issues of national importance. But when it comes to lifestyle, fashion and entertainment there is no harm in selling space,” he was of the opinion. Pragya Sharma was of the view that marketing people should be trusted when they bring a positive story from corporate sector including PSUs, without taking money, as part of the prospective PR exercise. Rahul Dev suggested that some compromise for media, otherwise, it cannot exist. But the blatant selling of edit space cannot be accepted. Noted constitutionalist, Subhash C Kashyap shared his worry that if media starts selling news space democracy will be in danger. Sumit Chakravarty apprised that the Editor’s Guild of India has taken a bold initiative by asking all the editors of print and electronic media to make a statement that they will not accept paid news. It is to make them morally committed against this trend.

About 2010 Colloquium series
The year 2010 has special significance to CMS. It enters its third decade of independent and tumultuous operations. Continuing 20 years of tradition, CMS Academy is organizing a series of colloquia (on a number of issues). The first in the series was on ‘paid news phenomenon’ and was organized on January 16. The second seminar would be organized on February 27 on the theme ‘Ratings vs Plurality in Media’. The third colloquium is ‘Movers and Shakers’ and has been scheduled for March 27. The last in the series would be on April 29 on the topic ‘Media Agenda: Setting Redefined’

About CMS Academy
CMS Academy of Communication & Convergence Studies is a communication school aimed at developing communication and media leaders through excellence in education and research. The Academy is a uniquely designed, research driven, practically relevant and futuristically oriented educational institute. CMS Academy is an initiative of Centre for Media Studies (CMS), a multi-disciplinary research organization in the country. CMS Academy is associated with over 160 reputed national and international organizations through its 20 years experience of research, strategic planning and managing of over 500 projects. With campuses in NOIDA (UP) and Saket, Delhi, it provides a world class infrastructure that includes media lab, prototype lab, research library, audio visual resource centre, etc.

Media placements in India

In recent years, India has seen an outburst of news channels and dailies. But seldom we get to see a job opening for a reporter or news anchor on a job portal. So what is the secret of job placements in the media industry? To know more, read on...

A SIMPLE Google search on media placements in India brings more than three lakh options. But is the scenario really that simple? Finding the right job in the Indian media industry was never easy. Despite being a net-savvy industry, media seems to be avoiding Internet for hiring people.

The famous job websites, like or, seldom get job openings from the leading news dailies or magazines. Even the electronic media chooses to stay away from the sites. The only sect of media using Internet for job openings is the online media or cyber journalism websites.

The question of on campus placements can completely be ruled out in the case of media schools. Even the institutes run by big media houses seldom give their students an opportunity to prove their point. Though such students get to work in different departments as interns or should we call them unpaid employees. Wherein the company gets the work done and the student gets ‘the experience’, if not job, even at the end of the course.

An average fresher or one-year experience profiles, only get offers from book publishers, content writing websites, new and independent news portals, etc, for the post of editor/writer. Seldom do they get an offer of the desired profile.
So if net is not a proper channel then where does the media HR go hunting? Placement agencies are seriously not an option for them. Apart from one public sector unit agency, BECIL, none other provides the facility of proper screening for testing the abilities of a media professional.

Media in India is expanding exponentially. Despite the global downturn, India has registered request of over 1,000 new news channels for the coming year. We daily see new channels popping up on our television screens but where do they get there work force from?

Here comes the unorganised placement regime of the media industry. Indian media system hires on the basis on who-knows-whom. In Indian media, people still survive on contacts. If you know a person placed at a good position, you have a fair chance to get placed soon.

The system is pretty simple, yet reluctant to adapt you. You get in touch with a well placed and networked person in media, prove your qualities before him and get in his list of possible candidates. Next time, the HR asks him about any possible candidates for the job, he will suggest your name. Now, rest really depends on your skills.

It is unbiased from the view of skills and abilities but is very inconvenient for outsiders. For people, who are first generation media students. Such system ensures speedy placement of influential people and delays success of freshers, who may be very talented.

The system very much works like Indian Film Industry and yes, it also follows the Pitaji-Betaji rule. In past few years, several successful journalists have placed their kids at good positions across the industry. Of course, their sustainability and success depends on their work but the parental connection surely gets them the right note to start with.

Outsiders struggle over the years to prove their metal and build their 'profile' to fit into company's requirements. This process takes years and sometimes decade or so.

Well, in all the hustle bustle of the glamorous electronic media and not so glamorous but intellect print media, online media gives a platform to aspiring journalists. The budding websites provide a good platform for young talent to start their career with. Perhaps, very soon electronic channels and newspapers will also start supporting the younger talent, as before.

Shah Rukh Khan: the man India can’t ignore

What happened in early February with SRK’s film My Name is Khan, could be studied as a strategic use of a political controversy fuelled by our news channels to promote and market a film

Two of the biggest Khans in Bollywood—Aamir and Shah Rukh—have an uncanny ability to court controversy at just the right time: before a film release. The latest episode has been the row that erupted ahead of the release of SRK’s My Name is Khan. Whether it’s his cricket team or a film release, the actor ensures that you cannot ignore him. With some controversy or the other preceding the release of most new films, it’s difficult to say if these are stage-managed or just coincidence. But what happened in early February could be studied as a strategic use of a political controversy fuelled by our news channels to promote and market a film.

No doubt the Shiv Sena’s campaign against SRK was provocative. While this deserved to be in the news and debated, the prominence given to the issue and the film in this coverage was quite distinctive. It’s interesting to note how television served to raise the pitch, thus unwittingly marketing the film. The table below shows the prominence given to the ‘real-life’ drama, which fizzled out immediately after the film’s release. Given that films make most of their money in the first weekend, the controversy breaking out two weeks before the film’s release on 12 February ensured that Khan and the film were in the headlines throughout.

The table shows coverage of the film from 29 January to 9 February. The debate received a total of 1,441 minutes on six prominent national channels (CNN-IBN, NDTV 24x7, Star News, Aaj Tak, Zee News and DD News), with daily 20 minutes on average on each channel. Except for DD News, which had eight stories during these 12 days, all other channels gave more than 10% of prime time space to this issue, with news stories, special programmes and discussions. In fact, most channels treated the story as a law and order issue of national prominence.

During that period, the 7 February meeting of chief ministers on internal security was completely overshadowed, receiving less than 50 minutes of total prime time coverage on all six channels (compared with almost two hours of coverage on average for the SRK-Shiv Sena controversy). Home minister P. Chidambaram’s special meeting on 9 February with the chief ministers of states hit by Maoist insurgency was also given short shrift, with a few channels such as Aaj Tak and Zee News having no coverage at all.

On the day of the release, three out of every four headlines on almost all news channels were on the film—featuring Khan’s appeals or the Shiv Sena’s comments.

While the news channels may have milked the drama surrounding My Name is Khan, the biggest winner was the film itself. The prominent media presence created curiosity about the film and boosted its appeal, leading to full-house openings all over India. Despite the growing electronic and print media clutter (not to speak of the Web), Bollywood has ensured that its films and their stars are constantly visible in every way possible. Professional image managers ensure the right “placement” and “message” to maintain brand value, besides which it’s now common to have special tie-ups with news channels for the promotion and marketing of films.

On the one hand, the news channels don’t want to lose out on the celebrity value of stars or the immense popularity of cinema in our film-crazy nation. Then again, the media is held up as one of the pillars of India’s democracy, setting the agenda and enjoying a privileged position.

Unlike the West, we still do not have niche news channels providing exclusive celebrity gossip or even entertainment news. That gives Indian news channels an added area to cover, although they need to balance that with the need to maintain the credibility that sustains them.

There are lessons and implications in the conversion of a political storm into a marketing opportunity, irrespective of how the film fared at the box office. The episode goes to show that the country’s news media needs to think about whether it was used to raise the pitch of the controversy to sell a film. The news channels need to have stronger and clearer editorial guidelines that will help them make the right judgement calls and serve a discerning audience.

P.N. Vasanti is director of New Delhi-based multidisciplinary research organization Centre for Media Studies.