Pak-India media: the barometer of development

If there is one barometer through which one could gauge the intensity with which the engines are moving towards acquiring the vision of ‘Shining India’, it is their mass media. Wilbur Schramm, the guru of mass communication, too emphasised that the mass media is reflective of a society’s level of development. Using this touchstone, it would be advantageous to compare the media of both Pakistan and India with regard to the quality, cost, readership/viewership, economics and the amount of freedom afforded them by the state to know at what level of development – political, social and economic – both states stand at present.

During my stay in India as a Panos fellow, it was quite amazing to see that an 84-page English newspaper costs Rs 2.50 in India, while a 20-page English newspaper in Pakistan costs Rs 13. It is quite another thing that the 84-page Indian newspaper is full of advertisements (nearly half of the pages carry advertisements), a lot of pages are filled with showbiz news (sometimes even the front page of famous newspapers carry showbiz news – for example in the case of the Abhishek Bachchan-Aishwarya Rai wedding), while some pages are full of infotainment news, and only a handful of pages carry real news – political, economic, sports, etc. – and opinion articles. On the other hand, in a Pakistani newspaper, there would be news content on more than half of its pages, some pages would be dedicated to infotainment and showbiz news while the advertisements would be dispersed on a few pages here and there (unless there is some full-page advertisement, which is a rare case). On an average a 16-page Urdu daily in Pakistan costs Rs 7 while on an average a Hindi daily (of around 18-24 pages) in India costs around Rs 2.50 to Rs 4.00. Renowned weekly magazines like Outlook and India Today cost Rs 20 in India, while any English glossy in Pakistan would not cost anything less than Rs 75.

The quality of ink and paper used by the Indian newspapers and magazines is extremely good while that of Pakistani newspapers and magazines is quite inferior in quality compared to them. This is because of two reasons. One, the circulation of the Indian newspapers and magazines is extremely high compared to their Pakistani counterparts. Two, since the Indian economy is one of the world’s largest economies, the ads from the private sector in India are plenty while the Pakistani media has to rely mostly on government ads.

Circulation of newspapers – English, Urdu and regional – in Pakistan is quite low compared to India. According to a survey in 2006, average circulation of Urdu dailies was 6,472,510 while that of English dailies is 905,755 in Pakistan. The circulation of the five mainstream English dailies in Pakistan ranges something from 15,000-100,000. While the circulation figures in Indian are quite phenomenal. According to the National Readership Studies Council (NRSC), “The reach of the [Indian] press medium (dailies and magazines combined) has increased from 216 million to 222 million over the last one year…Dailies continue to grow, adding 12.6 million readers from last year to reach 203.6 million while there has been a drop of 7.1 million magazine readers…Over the last three years the number of readers of dailies and magazines put together among those aged 12 years and above has grown from 216 million to 222 million – a growth of almost three percent over last year…Satellite TV has grown considerably in reach – from 207 million individuals watching in an average week in 2005 to as many as 230 million individuals in 2006 – further expanding its lead over the number of readers” (findings by the National Readership Study 2006). According to its findings, “The Times of India is the most read English Daily with 7.4 million readers, but The Hindu has taken the second spot with 4.05 million readers, pushing Hindustan Times, to the third spot with an estimated readership of 3.85 million.” Leading Hindi dailies like the Dainik Jagran and Dainik Bhaskar have even higher readership than the English newspapers. According to the NRS 2006, Dainik Jagran has 21.2 million readers while Dainik Bhaskar has 17.4 million readers.

The huge difference in circulation – apart from the difference in population – can be attributed to the literacy rate in the two South Asian countries. Pakistan’s literacy rate is nearly 54 percent according to official statistics, but according to UNESCO, Pakistan’s literacy rate is around 46 percent. India’s literacy rate is officially 64.8 percent according to its 2001 census, which means that it must have increased considerably since then. According to the Indian census of 2001, there is only one state (Jharkhand) that has a literacy rate as low as 54 percent.

After the 21-month long emergency was lifted in 1977, there was a mushroom growth of newspapers in India. In his book, India’s Newspaper Revolution: Capitalism, Politics and the Indian-Language Press, 1977-99, historian Robin Jeffrey “has authoritatively tracked ‘India’s Newspaper Revolution’ which began in 1977 and has gathered pace ever since. Among the components of this revolution we may single out five. Two were enabled by the new technology: the simultaneous printing of multiple editions of the same paper in towns far distant from one another and the enhancement of print quality and, especially, of the production of pictures and other visual material. Other innovations were a product of changes in society and politics: the end of censorship facilitated the rise of investigative journalism, of hard-hitting stories on crime and political corruption. The spread of education and the expansion of the middle class gave an enormous fillip to Indian-language journalism” (Quoted in India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy, by Guha, Ramachandra, New Delhi: Picador, 2007, p. 544).

In Pakistan the newspaper industry has grown gradually while the boom in the electronic media came after 1999. There only used to be one state-owned television channel in Pakistan till 1999, but today there are more than 40 local television channels. Though the media is relatively free now, some problems still persist due to the advertisement ration of government ads and private sector ads. In Pakistan, the electronic and print media rely heavily on advertisements in order to survive. Although the private sector gives out many ads, the government sector ads make up a large chunk of media sponsors. Therefore, these government ads are an important part of the bread and butter of any channel or newspaper. If any news report or comment does not appeal to the government’s taste-buds, the ads may be withdrawn. In order to appease the government, some reports/comments that are bound to displease the government are either censored or completely dropped.

On the other hand, the Indian media relies more on the private sector ads. This has had adverse effects on it. “Ever since substantial economic liberalisation in the country [India], the media has taken a sharp turn toward uninhibited commercialisation and sensationalism (with honourable exceptions of course). The English press in particular has devised a formulaic way of conducting ‘news business’ making the traditional role of acting as the guardian of the fourth estate of democracy to be a secondary one. The coming to town of the energetic and privately-owned TV news channels has exacerbated this trend. These channels thrive on a business model that is advertiser-driven and hence, relies on a competition that tries as much as possible to pander to the lowest common denominator of tastes to enhance viewership” (Ramani, Srinivasan, ‘Indian media — beyond bias’, The Post, March 15, 2008).

In Pakistan, the press has been under siege for a long time now. Coercive methods have been used by the government to threaten journalists or make them quit if it is deemed that the said journalist is working against their vested interests. A case in point is that of Amir Mir who says he was first sacked from weekly Independent in June 2003 due to the establishment’s pressure and was again made to quit from monthly Herald after he authored a book, The True Face of Jehadis, in which he had exposed Pakistan’s intelligence agencies’ links with the jihadi groups. He was then labelled an ‘anti-state element’ (Mir, Amir, ‘The pen is mightier than the gun’, The Post, June 2, 2006).

Despite having an independent media, India is not that different from Pakistan. A recent example of how commercialism and politics has affected the Indian media is that of M.J. Akbar. Despite being the founder-editor of the Asian Age, Akbar was unceremoniously sacked from the Asian Age by his partner for publishing opinion pieces against the India-US nuclear deal. Apparently, Akbar’s partner had some political ambitions and did not want to be in the bad books of the Indian government.

Though some of Indian newspapers and magazines look like tabloids in the sense that they mostly carry sensational and showbiz stuff, there are several anti-establishment voices in the Indian media, which are reflective of their political orientation. Even those newspapers that have gotten down to a ‘dumbing down’ approach through Page-3, etc., carry substantial opinion pieces, rally behind progressive issues and back India’s secular polity. This was specifically seen during the Gujarat riots when the entire English media – barring some exceptions – took up an anti-Modi government position. Sometimes, the media tends to adopt anti-Left stance. Siding with any specific parties, however, is not a norm. The media groups in India do question the elected authorities on various issues, not least of which is corruption and administrative inefficiency. On the issues that are of national significance, like taking a solid position on the Kashmiri issue (even from a human rights point of view) or the North East, Indian journalists generally do not question the establishment.

In comparison, the media in Pakistan, whether pro-establishment, anti-establishment, or a balance between the two, despite its limited independence, is often critical of the establishment, the government and the politicians. Even when the emergency was imposed by General (retired) Musharraf on November 3, 2007, the media did not take it silently despite heavy curbs. This is because in Pakistan, since there is a problem with the establishment on democratic issues, the media has tended to safeguard democratic interests. In India, the media, therefore, plays its normal role in India because democracy is well entrenched there. In Pakistan, on the other hand, the media is sensitive towards democracy with the aim to shore up democratic institutions in a country bereft of democracy.

The Pakistani public has become more aware due to the media, especially the electronic media. This awareness about national issues has been accentuated by the role Pakistan’s private television channels played in highlighting the issue of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s removal from his office by Army Chief/President General (now retired) Pervez Musharraf. By giving voice to Pakistan’s civil society, led by lawyers, and thereby making an impact on the country’s polity, private television channels brought about a sort of media revolution, which turned the media into a powerful player in the power structure. This led to the changes in the laws governing private television channels – known as Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) Ordinance. The amendment curtailed the freedom of television channels to carry out transmissions as well as imposed restrictions on the content shown by them. The good thing is that the new government, led by the PPP-PML-N, has announced to do away with the restrictive Pemra law. If that happens, it would lift an undemocratic law from the budding electronic media in Pakistan. Government ads and the interlinked interests of the big media groups and the government would, however, continue to impinge on Pakistan media’s potential to uphold the principle of speaking the truth for the general good of the people and the state.

Comments

Anonymous said…
A very nice article. i give you a score of 9.99999999 on 10 for the accuracy of the article from Indian side.

84-page English newspaper costs Rs 2.50 in India

"I have never come across such a newspaper in India with 84 pages."- I read hindu, times of India and Indian express. and Deccan Chronical and others...but none of them are 84 pages...even employment newspaper is not 84 pages i guess.
Anonymous said…
quite good article...but I didn't come across any news paper in India or a even a weekly news magazine with 84 pages, Is that a typo error or did u mean 48 pages instead? may be, who knows!!
Anonymous said…
hello mehmal please do check with some sources about 84 page daily,how the hell the reader can hold that heavy daily.
Rahul said…
"Anonymous"..I believe you haven't checked/read/seen newspapers such as Ad World and similar to that which are widely circulated in Metros in India. They have 50-90 pages in them which contain some regular news but heavy buy/sell real estate and other ads..Such "newspapers" are actually ad world which are released weekly!
Anonymous said…
excellent ! :)
Anonymous said…
stuff like 'Ad World' cannot be categorized as newspaper. yeah its definitely a paper but where is the news in it?
vichchoobhai said…
Tabloids like MIDDAY and Mumbai Mirror havae above 60 pages. Even Times of India and Hindustan Times, on Sundays and festival issues, have more than 60 pages inclusive of Mumbai Mirror, and a spate of supplements which are given free. I am told that of the Re 1.50 charged for Times of India on weekdays more than a rupee goes for distribution network including the boy who slips the paper through your door. If you look at the ad tariff of TOI or HT and count the number of classified ads, you can have a guesstimate of their ad revenue, this apart from half page and full page ads of latest models of cars, tv sets, computers and the like. These papers are run not by erudite editors but by harvard educated busines school whizz kids.Profit is the overriding factor in running these media empires. Unfortunately Pakistan does not have a booming economy like India's and ads are hard to come by let alone sustain a newspaper.

Another subtle method of increasing the circulation is to publish syndicated articles from UK and US media, with attractive photographs of semi-nude girls highlighting the sex lives of Paris Hilton or Britney Spears and who is seeing whom, how Brangelina are bringing up their kids and stuff of that sort, almost prurient. This is to hook the younger generation who are encouraged to ask all sorts of questions to a sexual expert ( or an agony aunt) who gives expert advice. One does not know how the Information Ministry turns a Nelson's eye to such hot stuff.Can the Pakistani newspapers dare to bare their pages to such material?

Mehmal's analysis is overall well balanced and scholarly. May be material for a dissertation for her doctorate? Wish her best of luck !!

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