December 27, 2012

Is Masala Journalism Bad Business?

“When ice freezes, all the excrement rises to the surface. And so, when the dialectic was frozen, all the sacred excrement of the dialectic came to the surface. When the future is deep-frozen – and, indeed, even the present – we shall see all the excrement come up from the past.” (Baudrillard 1994, p.26)

2012 is sliding into history in the land of Curry Munchers, India. Although the year has been pretty ordinary from economic, political & social angles but it has brought to forefront a sort of journalism which had been confined to sectarian-vernacular ghettoes of the media. I call it Masala [Spices] journalism in TV news-media. Most characteristic feature of masala- journalism style is preeminence of the style over substance. It does not matter how insignificant is the event the anchor would make it point to adulterate the facts with overdose of shrill high pitch voice, background sound effects & graphics of the screen to grab your attention.  Channels honchos believe that since majority of Indian watch Bollywood movies full of unrealism so they would seamlessly connect with shouting screaming anchors.

Mothers do give attention to crying babies but if a baby keeps crying for hours better take it to a doctor. The Masala journalism is not an isolated phenomenon but a prevalent malady afflicting the entire TV News-media in India in 2012. The English language print media for almost fifty years maintained a distinction between national & vernacular press. That boundary has been obliterated now with rise of Hindi journalism. In 80s the largest selling vernacular newspaper was non-Hindi Malaya Manorama which has been replaced by a Cow-belt Hindi language paper. 

So the growth in Cow-belt lead to spilling over of low cost journos into English media. Traditionally media in India was notorious for paying very low wages & field correspondents were supposed to hawk advertising for the publication. This invasion of English language media by Hindi trained journos brought in new way of thought & expression into the profession. Unfortunately the Cow-Belt has remained most underdeveloped part of India with large number of districts caught up in insurgency. Social conditions shape the personality of people. So these new journos adopted an attacking slandering style of interviewing people in public in the way police interrogates criminals in privacy of police stations in India. These Masala journos will keep asking you same question repeatedly & at the same time telling you that you are wrong to hold your view.  The Masala journos pretends to be educated than IAS, Senior Execs, professors & the other educated elite.

Arnab Goswami of Times Group once threatened the principal of India’s premier college St. Stephens Delhi on public television demanding that the principal must give class attendance to a student who had not attended the college. The compliant political class pressured the VC Delhi University to pass the order making an exception in the case. The principal must have lost his motivation to maintain the tradition of excellence in his institute. Masala Goswami subverted the Taj Mahal of education in India & successive generations would pay the price of his stupidity.

There is general agreement in the media czars in India that electronic media is suited for sensationalism to get viewership. So they have let loose the marauding semi-literate armies on TV screens beaming right into homes with kids watching slogans of “Hang them, Castrate the bastards” & other puerile carefully selected jargon.  All this is done to get the attention of the viewer. These blocks think that minuscule viewership of BBC & CNN in India is because they haven’t matched the profile of consumer with the offer service. So it’s profitable to offer highly spiced curries to titillate the masses.

The media managers are rare in India because the owners want complete & total control. There is an established tradition in India to hire managers for growth phase of the business. Once the business has scaled up to an economic level the managers are often ejected & replaced by a lackey or family. This in media has led to a unique challenge that editors have come back into power in a capital intensive business. The editor wants advertising revenue to grow, so a critical level of viewership would be required to gain attention of media planers. Therefore instead of creating a business strategy they get distracted by a content oriented move to lure the masses. Here they spill the curry !  The business cycle for a hindi movie has to be shorter than a 24x7 New-media.

The media czars have fallen into trap of Editorial led strategy for a capital intensive News-Media business.”The Hindu’ commands a brand value much greater & beyond the covered markets. Masala journalism can increase the TRP but it will completely distract & destroy the attention of viewers from advertising.  Why would some business advertise on a channel where the audience is always emotionally charged?  There would very poor recall scores for the advertising message presented to an emotionally charged audience.  Masala journalism is not only bad business its poor journalism also.  Media must soothe the nerves of low-income country like India instead of rabble rousing. Look at the Hindi movies, light action based comedies do more business than others. People want some peace in their life and want to eat homemade food than spicy stuff available at the street corner. 

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