Media: Broadened Reach, Narrowed Focus?

Well, most certainly! That is how I will answer this question prima facie and so will you and thousands of others who have lived to see the corporatization of Media. While I maintain that corporatization is the best thing that can happen to a sector in this flat world, it has to be conceded nonetheless that ‘the-power-of-the-press’ brand of journalism has been somewhat left behind.

Media, as we knew it a decade ago and as defined by the great thinker Marshall McLuhan, was The Message . A message that was ‘focused’ on its goal – to be the fourth pillar on which India stands – and more often than not, the goal was achieved in those days. Back then, the media had a smaller reach but a larger impact because the message it propagated had a ‘targeted’ audience and a centered perspective. It had a narrower reach but more than compensated it by sharper focus. Fast forward to present day. The flattening of the world has ‘forced’ the media to ‘broaden its reach’, leaving it with no choice but to reach to the masses, bring in varied outlooks which were hitherto overlooked, and transform itself into a forum where our eccentric country converges.

Very difficult as it may seem, the powerful Indian media was nonetheless expected to adapt easily to this scenario but it did not. Not because of any inability, but out of choice. This was because this ‘broadening of media’s reach’ brought with it the concept of 24/7, which in turn brought about the corporatization i.e. money and to top it all, it brought with it 1 billion viewers to sustain this money and even multiply it. As a knee-jerk reaction to this situation, the media lost focus and gave birth to the concept of infotainment, sensationalism and ‘the sting‘ to which these new breed of viewers developed instant affinity. Even the masses did not mind a media scandal as long as it gave them something to talk about for a fortnight or so. As was predicted, media as a sector became officially a rat race!

The point I am trying to make is that this ‘broadening of media‘s reach’ to all parts of the country led to a variety of contradicting opinions in the public eye. Media was given the tough task of listening to them, assessing them and coming up with one winner which it would have to zealously propagate in adherence to the law of semantics and the state of the nation. This, as it turned out, was too much to ask for in a country of volatile sentiments and thus, media played safe, carrying out ‘broad’ open-ended debates which also trickled down in some cases to prevarication and ambiguity. The old school style of tough, direct and taking-single-stance reporting was ‘fiddling with danger’. Thus, media showed ‘anything and everything’ with positive as well as negative input. Here I assume that focusing on ‘anything and everything’ is also analogous to narrowing your focus in the sense that you are not focusing on the necessity that certain important things need to be in focus and certain things absolutely not. In that case, you are narrowing the focus of your working as a media organization.

It may sound clichéd but I am not here for media bashing and there are exceptions to this trend too. Thanks to the Jekyll and Hyde approach of our society and the nature of this great profession, the leading and respected media organizations today are still the ones which apply the no-nonsense approach for quality journalism. They provide matter-of-fact argument and they seem to have differentiated the more random term ‘infotainment’ from the correct term ‘news-entertainment’ that can only be achieved with focus. But without wavering from my argument, I must point out that these exceptional organizations quite often end up like individuals making valiant efforts in a team game. Media, in general, has certainly lost focus in what it wants to show and how it will do so. It needs to be noted that the main culprits today of this happen to be the media houses on the desi side of the linguistic divide. This, I repeat, is the result of sudden rise of their rural and small town viewership. When this rise occurred, the reach of the media ‘broadened’ and it found itself at crossroads of whether to take urban India to the masses or rural India to the classes. It ended up doing neither, and instead took the third way out – Good news is no news; Bad news is good news. The more the bad news the more India views (excuse the pun) and the more India views, the more we fill our pockets down to our shoes. While all this may seem to create a villain out of the media, don’t forget that the media did so under good business sense and obviously due to public encouragement which is obviously proved by high TRPs.

But the direct question here is – Has the media broadened its reach only to narrow its focus? And the answer is yes. The only point in media’s favor, and perhaps its strongest and weakest argument, is that the ‘broadening of its reach’ was not its own but the flat world’s choice. Consequently, media narrowing its own focus had a purpose, it did it out of choice and the public too made it clear that it was indeed their choice as well.

Prateek Kapil

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