The role of the media is crucial in shaping perceptions of issues and countries, Peter Varghese, Australian High Commissioner to India, said on Monday.

“We've seen in our own [bilateral] relationship over the last year or so how significant that role can be,” he said addressing the opening session of a two-day seminar hosted by the Australian High Commission, New Delhi, on “Regional Media's Changing Face.”

Mr. Varghese said a feature of the Australia-India relationship was that very little was known about each other both in terms of “elite opinion” and “popular perception.” The attacks on Indian students in Australia had underlined the fact that in some matters there was a “gap between perception of Australia and the reality of Australia.”

The media seminar that seeks to learn and understand the key issues facing the media, the interplay between the national and regional media and the global and the local, was part of an attempt to try and reduce this gap, he said.

There was an under-appreciation in Australia of the historical significance of India's economic growth, diversity and achievement in creating a secular and pluralist democracy. Similarly, in India there was an under-appreciation of Australia as a modern and multi-cultural society, he said.

India leads

In his opening remarks, N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of The-Hindu, said while the print and the broadcast journalism was in a crisis in the mature media markets in the developed countries, the print media still had the space for growth in Asia, particularly in India.

India now led the world in circulation volumes of paid dailies. India, China and Japan accounted for 60 per cent of the world newspaper sales. Again, 74 of the world's 100 top selling dailies were from Asia, Mr. Ram said. The leading players in this scenario are the Hindi language dailies that accounted for 40 per cent of the daily newspaper markets. English newspapers accounted for between 10 and 15 per cent, he said.

“However, though the growth prospects for the print media in India look very good in the near term and probably good in the medium term, it cannot escape the fate prevailing in the mature media markets unless it gears up and learns to perform its core functions better,” Mr. Ram said.

While in the long-term experience, the print media had played a significant role in building agendas, informing the people and education, the integrity was at risk if trends such as “paid news packages” and hyper-commercialisation, dumbing down of journalism and editorialising in the guise of news were not checked.

The core functions of the media were the credible information function, the critical and sometimes adversarial function where it can play a watchdog role to improve governance and reform the system, the educative function and the agenda-building function where it centre-staged issues such as child labour, declining sex ratio or electoral fraud.

Credibility

Navin Suri, Editor-in-Chief, Milap newspaper, said while the media indeed set the agenda in a democracy, it was imperative that it performed the role in a careful and responsible manner by presenting a balanced picture.

Unless the media, which had become the most important source of popular expression, exercised its role responsibly it risked eroding its credibility and eventually its influence in the society, Mr. Suri said.

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