Turbulent TIMES

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Even as the media scene is transforming itself, radical governments are cracking down on journalists

BY MR DUA


The global media scene is going through radical transformation. This is particularly true of social media’s powerful appeal and unparalleled, borderless reach. No wonder, news about the recent Nepal earthquake disaster traveled fast globally. Could it be conceivable in the 1990s? Certainly not.

But the effort to bring exclusive news has led many media persons to stake their lives for it. Few people spare a thought to the kind of news-gathering environment that journalists work in and the trials and tribulations they have to grapple with to bring accounts of memorable events for their media outfits and the reader or viewer.

Several developments have taken place in the global media scene and its operations—scientific governance, brisk message deliveries and shrinking economies—drastically challenging their existence. Also, innovations in technology have led to media organizations upping their production efficiency.

MORTALITY RATE

While these developments are welcomed by readers, they are abhorred by those who find their businesses liquidating. The mortality rate of media outlets is contagious. Hundreds of local, regional, national and international newspapers and magazines, including The International Herald Tribune, Newsweek and Life have vanished.

Those that are being published are shriveling heavily—in periodicity, revenue and circulation—despite their popularity, stature and enriched content delivery. In India, noted magazines which died out included The Times of India group’s Illustrated Weekly of India and Dharmayug, Hindustan Times’ Saptahik Hindustan, and Science Today. The exact number of such publications is unavailable even with the I&B ministry’s Registrar Of Newspapers for India.

In the US, the sale and purchase of daily newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations is common. The New York Times and Time are two noted examples of dwindling media outlets in the US. On April 30, the NYT notified that its losses in the first quarter of 2015 amounted to $14 million. NYT has cut down its editorial staff and enhanced its advertising and subscription rates; its daily and Sunday editions now cost $2.50 and $6.50 respectively. At the same time, it reported an increase in its digital subscribers from 47,000 to 9,57,000 in 2014.

This newspaper has unabashedly conceded and highlighted its economic pains in its columns by saying: “Times has struggled to adapt to changing consumer habits as readers have moved from print to web to smart phones already.”With declining advertising revenues, other well-known US newspapers such as The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and several others have either been sold out or are on sale.

There is disturbing news also about the Russian media’s weakening situation. Reliable sources disclose that Finland’s influential media company, Sanoma, will soon sell one-third of its stake in the Moscow-based business newspaper, Vedomosti. Meanwhile, The Moscow Times, Russia’s only English newspaper, will be sold to entrepreneur Demyan Kudryavtsev. Incidentally, The Moscow Times, started in 1992 by a Dutch publisher, has had a foreign ownership for over 23 years.

AL JAZEERA HIT

Yet another talked-about media issue is the consistent turmoil in the Qatar government-funded 24-hour news television channel, Al Jazeera, operating in English from New York since January 2013. It was started by purchasing the infrastructure of the existing Current TV, partially owned by former vice-president Al Gore, at $500 million, and commenced broadcasting from August 13, 2013.

The channel became popular with its extensive coverage of the Afghan war, and is deemed to be the fifth most influential international broadcaster. The avowed objective of the channel was to “emphasize news from the developing world, without an Anglo-American world view”. That remains a dream.

Biases in news coverage and presentation soon started ailing the channel. Frequent staff feuds, court cases and allegations of sexist discrimination have been bleeding the channel. It was banned in India for five days for errors in its Kashmir reporting. Its falling ratings and ad revenues, departure of senior producers and the sacking of its chief may hasten its demise.

But the irony is that not many viewers will miss the prematurely darkening media scenario in the age of 24-hour television.