Tendency to dumb down journalism disturbing: N. Ram

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N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, receives the Lokmanya Tilak national journalism award from Deepak Tilak, Editor-Trustee of Kesari (third from right), in Pune on Monday.
N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, receives the Lokmanya Tilak national journalism award from Deepak Tilak, Editor-Trustee of Kesari (third from right), in Pune on Monday.

Siddhesh Inamdar

‘Hyper-commercialisation erodes values; journalists need better training’

PUNE: The Lokmanya Tilak national journalism award was conferred on the Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, N. Ram, here on Monday.

Instituted by the Kesari Mahratta Trust, the award was given to him on the 129th foundation day of the Kesari newspaper that was started in 1881 by Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

Mr. Ram called Tilak the “maker of modern Indian journalism” and referred to his journalistic output as “bold, direct, accessible and independent.”

Mr. Ram quoted from the obituary published in The Hindu, which referred to Tilak as “not so much a man as an idea of lofty patriotism and self-sacrifice.”

Mr. Ram narrated an anecdote relating to a two-column photograph of Tilak published on September 14, 1897 during his first trial for sedition. He also read from the report published in The Hindu the following day. The report carried accounts of people gathered outside The Hindu office on Mount Road in Madras (Chennai) eager to know the latest on Tilak’s trial.

“Anticipating the era of 24-hour, breaking news journalism, The Hindu posted outside its office intimations of Mr. Tilak’s trial being sent to the office by telegram,” he said.

Mr. Ram said that his greatgrandfather was a huge admirer of Tilak. One of the houses Mr. Ram grew up in was named ‘Tilak Bhavan’ by his greatgrandfather.

Mr. Ram spoke on the explosive growth of the Indian media. “India is number one in the world in terms of daily newspaper circulation, with close to 107 million newspaper copies being sold every day.”

Speaking about the media other than the print medium, he said: “Radio has not seen the kind of growth that television has, but it is policy constraints that have prevented FM radio from conducting news programmes. As for New Media, the base is low because broadband availability is poor. India has 80 million Internet users against China’s 340 million. Nevertheless, New Media is growing at a brisk pace.” However, “growth comes at a price and we are paying that price today.”

Quoting Vice-President Hamid Ansari from an intervention he made at a Delhi media workshop, Mr. Ram pointed out that hyper-commercialisation had eroded journalistic values. Though considered the fourth estate of a democracy, the media assumed a pro-profit persona. The conflict between the requirements of journalism and the expectations of the shareholders of a news organisation, too, ailed the media. Journalists also needed better training, he said, quoting Mr. Ansari.

Mr. Ram said: “In India, we have had a tradition of serious, agenda-building journalism. That was the kind of journalism that Lokmanya Tilak was prosecuted for [by the British].” Against the backdrop of such a tradition, it was disturbing to see a tendency to dumb down journalism and prioritise entertainment over news, which insulted the intelligence of readers. “One cannot be stiff and old-fashioned and refuse to cover lifestyle and entertainment,” he said. “But there has to be a sense of proportion.”

Interactive session

Earlier in the day, Mr. Ram took part in an interactive session with media students at the Tilak Maharashtra University here. Linking the phenomenon of paid news with what Mr. Ansari said, he called the phenomenon the “ugly face of hyper-commercialisation of journalism.”

Mr. Ram criticised television journalism for being “superficial and hysterical” on occasions and said the standards in print journalism were in general higher than those of television. It was strange that there was no law in India to regulate television news.

“In order to attract talented people towards journalism, the profession had to be made more rewarding and the seniority principle for promotions had to be done away with,” he said.

Mr. Ram admitted that the print medium suffered from space constraints. The Internet offered a solution, but a business model for stand-alone web journalism had not been developed anywhere in the world, he said.

Editor-Trustee of Kesari Deepak Tilak presented the award to Mr. Ram. Maharashtra Minister of State for Home Ramesh Bagwe and Minister for Cooperatives Harshavardhan Patil attended the function.

Last year, this award, the first one, was given to Vir Sanghvi, Editorial Director of Hindustan Times.

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