Media¿s role in a new state

IN Regional Media | 09/08/2002
Once the state was created, the media was no longer required to hype the demand for a separate state

Once the state was created, the media was no longer required to hype the demand for a separate state. It was required to pay a rather vital role in setting the agenda for the development of the state, highlighting long-neglected areas of activity, penetrating the rural hinterland and reporting tirelessly. But what it did instead was to seize commercial opportunity, expand editions to increase circulation, and make a pitch for the increased flow of advertising into the state.


Dainik Jagran’s news-editor in Dehradun, Ashok Pande says that after the creation of the new state his paper’s circulation has seen a four-time increase. Earlier Dehradun was a retired people’s city. "Now after becoming a rajdhani (state capital) its commercial importance has gone up." The state government has its own advertising budget, and the flow of banks, financial institutions, branch offices of major companies, and of shops and showrooms into the city has meant a substantial jump in advertising available.


Both the Jagran and the other big UP daily Amar Ujala are among them the most widely circulated newspapers in Uttaranchal and have gone into high gear where competing with each other for circulation is concerned. Jagran says it has double the number of staff it had in this region. This has meant publishing "given" news such as handouts from various parties with alacrity, looking for small scoops to provide excitement at the local level, keep a hawk’s eye on the new government, in a narrow rather than broad sense, and striving for conventional journalistic norms such as closing the edition late to accommodate the latest news, and rushing taxis to the furthers corners of the state to bring people newspapers at their doorstep. It is for instance, a point of pride with Amar Ujala that it was able to carry the news of the two major earthquakes that have occurred in this region though they occurred happened after midnight. And that its copies reach pilgrims in Rishikesh and all along the pilgrim route before they start their trek at dawn.


Both Amar Ujala and Dainik Jagran have opened up employment opportunities by appointing a correspondent for every single district headquarters, and a stringer at the tehsil level. They have big networks, but these tend to generate miscellaneous local news, which panders to people’s egos, as well as bring in advertising by suggesting special supplements at the micro-level. Says the Times of India’s correspondent here, "Stringers have to have some fire within them to bring problems of local people alive and keep it in focus, but there are very few such stringers." They do not perform a socially useful role. "If we want an issue of the people to reach the Chief Minister, it is impossible", says Girish Ranjan Tiwari. One such issue would be water scarcity in the region, with people in villages queuing up to tap the trickle coming out of natural springs. "These stories are not valued", he says.


He identified three sources of news: individuals, political press releases, and organizations (hotel associations, women’s groups, blood donation groups, charitable trusts and sports associations, all of which regularly contact the press with information, and all of which get due coverage). A reading of these papers shows however, that all news releases are bunged in without comment, discrimination or further investigation. There seems to be space for everybody and everything, but whether this makes for news, let alone interesting news, is doubtful.


Competitiveness has also meant launching schemes and dhamakas or contests with a Maruti car as prize. All this has expanded circulation. Newspaper are happy, they think their importance has grown with the coming of statehood. They also point to the response to contests as proof of their popularity and readership. Amar Ujala’s Election Dhamaka which offered a Maruti Esteem as first prize drew a staggering response running into 10 lakh, 44,000 participants.


Less happy are those who see the press not fulfilling the challenge of playing a genuinely important role as catalyst, and as being extremely limited in their understanding of major issues. Listen to a secretary in the state government, a bureaucrat respected for his integrity and commitment. He is explaining with considerable exasperation why he has no use for journalists in his state. "They have only one mantra, to criticise, to be negative, to damn." It is not their job, he

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