Ajit Kaumar Jha 8.3 (16)

(This lecture was delivered by Shri Ajit Kumar Jha, Editor(Research), India Today on 8 March 2018.)

Ajit Jha, Editor (Research) at India Today, delivered a lecture on the topic titled “Sunrise in the East, Sunset in the West” rebutting the debate around the death of print media in India. The metaphorically inflected title imparts the clue to his central argument, the demise of the print in the west as the east wakes into the bright days of print. As a matter of fact, he asserted that print has positive scopes to flourish in India by comparing the status of print in India with the global scenario, especially the West. He began the discussion by focusing on three variables: what helps media to grow, what leads to its stagnation and the social media which creates a crisis for other media as well as facing the one on its own.

Quoting statistics from various sources, he claimed that the growth rate of print media to be at 3%, television to be at 12%- a larger growth and social media putting every other media at pittance with 30% growth rate. A spatial analogy is being drawn in terms of the rate of growth of each of these media. Hence social media in terms of this spatial analogy is considered analogous to the Ivory Coast of Ethiopia, which has the highest economic growth; television as being similar to the US because of its larger economy; and the print with stagnant China or Japan. Despite the pronouncement of the imminent death of print, it is stated that the Vernacular papers in India strike a growth rate of 8-9%, with Anand Bazar Patrika being the largest single edition among vernacular newspapers in India.

Pronouncing the generic death of the print, for example, the claim made by The Economist on the death of print by 2046, for Ajith Jha, is an oriental perspective as it corresponds to the reality of western world only. He further explained that in the US, 20% of the newspapers like the Boston Globe and Newsweek shut down and the television is also facing the crisis. In this light, he brought into light how in the middle-East, the six Gulf​ countries, many newspapers came into being recounting his own journalistic experience there. The reason behind the same could be the growing need for democracy and increased literacy among the people. Giving an elaborate discussion on the Al Jazeera, he argued that it was essentially following the footsteps of BBC in terms of its engagement with global news as Qatar is a small country to provide news feed on a ​global scale.

The world of media in the Gulf​ countries is based on oil and gas economy and it gets affected accordingly. There is a tripartite factor: democracy, economic growth, ​and higher education growth which lead to the rise in the media. Higher education growth and trade growth leads to growth in the domestic market and tertiary education. In India, the state, the market, ​and the civil society functions do not let the monopoly of coercion and violence by any institution reign and we can, thus, see a growth in Indian print media. He said that media should not be the fourth pillar; rather it should be the watchdog. Merely telling stories is not enough, he dismisses The Economic Times in favor of The Economist as the latter digs into the why’s and how’s of things.

The decline of newspapers in the West is more of a media correction. He compared the conditions of existence of print media in the US with India and said that the US is driven by monopoly and the MNCs have bought the media in the US; Knight Rider has 99% of ownership in the US. And then, there is New York Times and Rupert Murdoch’s monopoly. Whereas, in India, we have the trend of cross-media ownership and good content can rise. So, the solution is utopian, i.e., best of the West and the East.

Regarding the issue of representation in Media,​ he claimed that we have a lot of women journalists, especially in visual media, yet if at all we have to work on it. Extending the discussion on representation at various levels, he argued that merit is the way out and not the reservation, which was not generally accepted during the discussion. During the interactive session, he touched upon​ the larger issues of the quality of journalism, Indian model of journalism and monopoly in India.

Compiled by Rewati Karan