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The magic of the printed word

The magic of the printed word
Highlights

The German social theorist Jurgen Habermas who probed the questions of print and public spheres said, “the articulation of critical public opinion through the printed media was a vital feature of modern democratic life.” But, the skeptics always advanced a doomsday prediction for the printed word in the wake of unprecedented onslaught of television and the internet.

The German social theorist Jurgen Habermas who probed the questions of print and public spheres said, “the articulation of critical public opinion through the printed media was a vital feature of modern democratic life.” But, the skeptics always advanced a doomsday prediction for the printed word in the wake of unprecedented onslaught of television and the internet.

But, the empirical evidence suggests that the Indian experience is certainly otherwise, unlike in their western counterparts. The latest in such an overwhelming evidence to prove the vitality of newspapers in India is the report of the RNI which suggests that newspapers and periodicals in India registered 5.8 per cent growth.

This once again proves the point that the television or internet creates an insatiable appetite for news and the newspapers cater to it. Thus the growth of newspapers and television in India at least is not contradictory but complementary to the newspaper.

The celebrated political scientist Robin Jeffrey describes capitalism, language and politics as the driving factors that fuelled newspaper revolution in India.

Despite trivialisation of content, the localisation of news, as explained by Jeffrey, played a big role in readership explosion. Television suffers from a severe space constraint to compete with newspapers in this regard. The English language newspapers are spreading out from big cities to smaller towns in a bid to expand their readership, while the Indian language newspapers are capturing the metropolitan readership, too.

The phenomenal growth of newspapers in India is made possible by a combination of factors like increasing literacy rates, improved purchasing power, technological developments, and more essentially due to politicalisation of masses.

Despite the emergence of online journalism, the digital media is yet to pose any serious challenge to the newspaper in India. A KPMG study reveals that internet penetration is still nascent and consumer migration has not yet happened. In the West, the internet explosion resulted in the mortality of newspapers.

The tumultuous political and economic changes also contribute to the growth of newspaper industry. The deepening of democracy is playing an instrumental role in the expansion of newspapers. India enjoys a considerable press freedom. The free press with all its limitations is always better than the controlled press. Thus the emergence of an open society and the surging civil society activism are also contributing to the growth of free press in India.

The newspapers with very limited circulation could play a significant role during the freedom struggle challenging the mighty imperial rulers. But, despite the unprecedented growth of the press since then, the moral authority which the newspapers enjoyed seems to be under question. The homogenisation of newspaper content poses a challenge to plurality which the medium is supposed to serve in public sphere.

While the television is plagued by shouting matches, printed word is adversely affected by commodification of content. The experience of the newspaper in India itself reveals that the bridging of the great disconnect between people and news would certainly herald a much healthier and more vibrant newspaper revolution in India.

Editor: Prof K Nageshwar
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