None of the models will work when democracy is decaying
Dr Santosh Kumar Mohapatra*
Recently, there was a lot of concern expressed by patriotic people, and pro-people intellectuals about the obliteration of the credibility of media, democratic rights and the emasculation of genuine intellectuals. In India, media has lost its independence and reliability in advertisement gimmicks. Media independence means the absence of external control and influence on an institution or individual working in the media. It is a measure of its capacity to “make decisions and act according to its logic” and distinguishes independent media from state media. Media capture refers to the full range of forces that can restrict or skew coverage.
The media is not discussing the problems of poverty, unemployment, inequality and other ills of society and the economy and instead have become mouthpieces of ruling classes. The mainstream media no more represents the voice of the voiceless, while social media is flooded with false, fabricated and half-truth news and used by IT cells of various political parties to create hatred and polarise society. Most of the news channels are catering to the political and business interests of owners. They are providing sensational news and running for TRP instead of educating society. The government is used to highlight its positive aspect while camouflaging failures.
Some journalists blame the market and advertising business model of revenue generation for the decline of the credibility of media. It is argued that, in foreign countries, media is more independent as it does not depend upon an advertising model and gets its revenue from a subscription model. In India, 80 to 90% of the paper cost comes from advertisements. Of all sources of advertisement, a major share comes from government advertisements or political parties. Since media depends upon advertisements for survival, it is dictated by the advertisement givers/sponsors.
A subscription model means that the company charges users for services or content. By contrast, one benefit of an advertising business model is that you can offer free services or content to attract users. If your business provides similar or better quality than subscription-based competitors, you should be able to attract a sizable customer base.
A drawback of an advertising model is that you don’t generate direct revenue from a large or active customer base. If customers would pay even a small fee for your services or content, you have an opportunity cost. Additionally, during tough economic times or industry downturns, advertising budgets often decline.
This puts your business at risk for revenue reductions if your sponsors don’t have as much money to spend. The primary benefit of a subscription model is that you can generate revenue from an engaged customer base. Additionally, if you make money from customers, you don’t face the risks of advertising reduction from economic downturns.
It is argued that in case of subscription model if viewers pay the full amount, the media can be independent and they can get correct information. But none of the models can be impartial. Neither the subscription model nor the advertising model will work when democracy is decaying. Further, many media are controlled by business/corporate behemoths who will cater to the interest of the ruling class irrespective of any model of revenue generation. In India, when regulatory bodies are backed by the persons who favour the ruling class, the subscription model can be misutlised too .
The question is that in past (before 2014), media was also dependent upon advertisements as it is now, but the media had a lot of independence in the UPA era. The real problem plaguing media is the decaying of our democracy and growing authoritarianism. The journalists cannot be absolved for the present decline of the credibility of the media by making the market a scapegoat. Why did market behave differently under the present regime?
However, I do not blame journalists for the present crisis as they have to save their jobs, sources of livelihoods but one cannot completely absolve them from moral responsibility by blaming the advertising business model of revenue generation.
However, the national media have already undergone partial subscription mode or a combination of both the advertising model and subscription model. Despite people being made to pay, no qualitative improvement. Poor students are affected. whether subscription model or advertising model ultimately people pay. Who bears the cost of advertisement? It is consumers.
Further, people’s mindsets have changed a lot and they have grown selfish and least concerned about correct information. Reading habits and intellectual pursuits have declined because genuine intellectuals are not respected today. When people are not reading newspapers or watching debates and discussions when freely available, how can they read or watch when having to pay money?
In the last 9 years, crores of blind followers of ruling classes have been created too who love to listen or read the news that camouflage failures of the ruling dispensation at the Centre and magnify its success. Independent and critical thinking, pro-people philosophy has been discouraged. Intellectuals are writing pro –a ruling class angle instead of a pro-people angle to get a favour. Journalists are divided into political lines.
Had people complained about unethical, biased, pro-ruling/pro-corporate journalism, the media would have been forced to embrace pro-people journalism. What is disquieting is that instead of influencing people in a constructive way, the media is getting influenced by the taste and preferences of people. That is why more sensational news is shown and the culture of nudity is welcomed.
Now, power, position, and wealth are getting more weightage than intellectual, creativity. Powerful people want yes people, not intellectuals. They want others should appreciate their performance instead of pointing out failures. Now, there is an unethical competition to appreciate and praise the ruling class, powerful resulting in the decimation of the voices of the voiceless.
The Indian democracy is now considered as a flawed democracy in the Democracy Index produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit. According to Varieties of Democracy Report (V-Dem) 2023, India Is ‘One of the Worst Autocratisers in the last 10 years. India’s press freedom ranking has fallen from 133 out of 180 countries in 2016 to 150 in 2022, in the World Press Index of Reporters Without Borders, or RSF, in the 2021 index, India ranked 142.
India is also considered the most dangerous country for journalists. So, neither the subscription model nor the advertising model will work. Rather, in the case of the subscription model, economically weaker sections will be affected as business ethics is drowned in commercial gimmicks and maximisation of profit is the sole objective of media houses.
The author is an Odisha-based eminent columnist/economist and social thinker. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.