Let me begin on a personal note. It was this time around 20 years back that I was selected to attend the 45 day workshop on Environmental journalism conducted by International Institute for Journalism in Berlin. That was a historical moment for me as well as for the city of Berlin. It was then that the Berlin wall crumbled, East Germany dissolved, Germany unified and the Great Soviet Union started disintegrating. Turbulent days, un forgettable events. I was one of the three young journalists from India to attend the workshop.
I am very happy that my association with IIJ Berlin still continues. During the last 20 years I had participated in at least four workshops conducted by IIJ . Two were in Kerala, one in Delhi and one in Chennai. It is a nice experience to associate with the activities of a great organisation like IIJ. I remember with love and respect Mr. Peter Pruefert who was our friend, guide and philosopher in IIJ all these years. I thank IIJ for giving me golden opportunities all through, which has helped me a lot in my life and career.
Let me come to the subject of today’s discussion. We have eminent speakers here who will be talking on the national and global aspects of journalism’s present and future. I leave these big questions for them to answer. I intend to confine myself to the media situation in my home state Kerala. Kerala is far ahead of the rest of the nation and is on par with the advanced nations of Europe in areas like literacy, education, health care and media penetration. So I feel that, there is relevance in concentrating on the media development in Kerala.
India reached the level of 40 newspapers for thousand population in the year 2000; Kerala had achieved it 40 years ago ie in 1960. How Kerala achieved this, Mr Robin Jeffry, the eminent researcher had explained in his book,’ India's Newspaper Revolution ‘. He found that it was literacy along with politicalisation that helped achieve this growth. It may have worked the other way also. Media had helped the process of politicalisation and the spread of education. Mathrubhumi was established in 1923 as part of the freedom movement. Malayala Manorama started publication in 1890. Deepika is the oldest newspaper of Kerala, in its original form it came into existence in 1887. Another newspaper, kerala koumudi established in 1911 played a dominant role in the emancipation of the backward castes. All these newspapers had influenced the political and cultural evolution of kerala in a big way. Editors and senior journalists of these papers were leaders of the people. All these newspapers helped in the reformation of Kerala society. Today’s Malayalam language itself was shaped by the media. Many usages and terms coined by journalists have been picked up by common people. Newspapers helped achieve universal literacy and that in turn helped media to grow.
We have two dailies that have crossed the one million copy level. Manorama has more than 1.7 million and Mathrubhumi 1.2 million. No newspaper with less than one hundred thousand copy is considered a serious newspaper and there are at least half a dozen serious newspapers. Eight or nine newspapers have attained high standards in technology, layout and content. Mathrubhumi was the first newspaper to start a printing unit in a town other than its headquarters, that was in 1962. Now Mathrubhumi has 14 printing units, four of that outside Kerala. Manorama has 17 printing units, four of which are outside Kerala and 2 outside India. Madhyamam, a newspaper started in 1987 which now stands third in circulation in Malayalam has nine units in India and seven units in gulf countries. Which other regional language can claim to have newspapers that are published from centres outside their state and even outside the country ?
These are all very positive things bringing satisfaction to the mind of people associated with the print media. But everything is not that satisfying. As is the case the world over, newspapers are losing their prominence in Kerala too. T V has overtaken newspapers, though unlike in the US and Europe, newspaper circulation in Kerala has not started shrinking yet. Not only that, all newspapers claim rise in circulation year after year. But, Newspaper reaches only 70 percent of the households whereas TV reaches 85 percent.
We have to accept that a day may come when the printed paper may be a museum piece. In the developed world the process has already started. I feel that in five years time urbanized places like Kerala will start feeling the change. I am not going to quote Philip Meyer from his book, The vanishing Newspapers. You all know that. I do not believe that newspapers will vanish. Even with out newsprint and printing presses it will survive in I pads, e papers and mobile phones. But, we have to realize that the world is changing. Newspaper institutions have to transform themselves in accordance with the changing times. It has to be accepted that we are media institutions, not newspaper institutions alone. Online operations are to be taken up seriously, as it is where the future is.
Mathrubhumi and Manorama already have their own FM Radio stations. They had ignored the coming of TV channels . Asianet came in 1993. It was 15 years later that Manorama started their TV. Mathrubhumi is going to launch T V channel next year. It is rumoured that three other newspaper institutions are going to launch their TV channels . Malayalam already has 14 TV channels, half of them 24x7 news channels. And six more channels will come within a year. We just have thirty million people in Kerala. This is going to be a do or die battle- O ‘ GOD, SAVE US FROM THE CHANNELS is going to be the prayer of Keralites in the near future.
Competition is democracy of the market. But in the media field reckless competition kills objectivity and all other positive things associated with the media. Erosion of the media role as the fourth estate, fall in ethical standards, cut throat competition to attract advertisers which result in stooping to any level to appease them, throwing away all journalistic norms and ethics to appease caste and religious groups with an eye on increasing circulation are some of the many vices that have come along with growth of the media. Credibility of the media is falling. Why worry about credibility if you can make good profit even with zero credibility?
Ask any newspaper agent in Kerala, he will tell you about the big problem he faces in finding youngsters to distribute newspapers. Young people have no time to do that, all are going to schools and colleges. And newspaper distribution is not that remunerative. I get my paper at home at 8.30 am but I can read it as E paper in Internet at 6.30 am. Anyone can access Internet free. Why subscribe to the printed paper that comes so late? Internet reaches only two percent of the houses now. But it is growing fast. I know that even high school students want to have computers at home for their studies. There is going to be a big shift to Online media in the near future.
New media is speedily taking shape. Citizen journalism, blogging and internet discussion groups are flourishing. Interactivity is the buzzword. Readers demand to have a say in everything of public and private importance. Once mighty role of the journalist is diminishing; tomorrow’s world may not need Editors. We are no more gatekeepers blocking this opinion, that news. It high time we realised it. News will exist, journalism will exist but media will be totally different.
(Presented in the media seminar organized by International Institute for Journalism Berlin in Delhi Claridge Hotel on 11.07.2010 )