Traditional news media in India will, in three to five years, be challenged by the “ubiquitous Internet”, believes N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu. However, the media is yet to find a viable revenue model for online content.

Mr. Ram was delivering the keynote address at a two-day seminar, “The Emergence of New Media: Challenges and Opportunities,” organised by the St. Joseph's College here.

Recession's impact

Pointing out that an increasing number of people today read their news online, and in real time, he observed that both television and print media were in “inexorable decline” in developed countries or “mature” media markets. The situation, worsened by the recession, had resulted in about 16,000 journalists losing their jobs in the U.S. in 2008 and 2009.

Thus far, however, the developing world is still a growth area for the old media — the press, television and the languishing radio — and, although from a low base, for the new media too. In India, periodicals, dailies and television are still in a growth phase, he said. Asia is the most dynamic newspaper market; and India, China and Japan account for 60 per cent of newspaper circulation worldwide.

While discussing the emerging “centrality of the Internet”, Mr. Ram pointed out that while China had an estimated 385 million Internet users, comprising 27 per cent of its population, India lagged behind with just 82 million users, seven per cent of its population. “Nowhere else is the digital divide, between urban and rural, as stark as it is in our country,” he observed.

Journalistic principles

The great Indian “media bazaar” has many streams, multiple levels of development and types of market practices; non-uniform standards and discrepant rules of the game, he observed. Exhorting his young audience to uphold journalistic principles of truth-telling, freedom and independence, justice, humaneness and social concern, Mr. Ram said that young journalists must learn to report and write about the deprivation that exists in a large section of “rising India.”

Borrowing an idea from Rector Fr. Terence Farias's talk that likened the media and religion to a candle that could be used to either “enlighten” or destroy, Mr. Ram said: “The media can participate in agenda-building, but it has to be a worthwhile agenda that upholds the best of civilisational values.”

“Is it too much to demand from a socially intelligent media that it must discern in a free and independent way what is right, just, democratic or humane … and avoid the trap that abounds in the professional arena?” he concluded.