Despite the private sector onslaught, AIR held on to its own and today, has 415 stations covering nearly 92 per cent of the country and reaching 99.1 per cent of its population. It has programmes in 23 languages and 146 dialects. “We may have come late into the scene, but since then, we have exploded,” said Pratik Mathur, the officer on special duty (press relations) with the Indian External Affairs Ministry (MEA). He was hosting journalists from Asean countries at the MEA’s External Publicity and Public Diplomacy Division in New Delhi recently. There are also 832 television channels nationwide in every language spoken in the second most populous nation in the world. India has 24 official languages, including Hindi, English and Sanskrit, among others. “Out of these TV channels, 409 are dedicated to news,” said Pratik.
However, the explosion of news channels has also brought its own set of problems: the lack of qualified and experienced personnel. Mohit Varma, associate vice-president (human resources) at New Delhi TV (NDTV), one of the top private news television channels in India, said the mushrooming has created a set of problems and difficulties. “They (TV channels) have problems sourcing stories as well as the necessary contacts.” NDTV Ltd, founded in 1988, is the country’s largest news and infotainment network. Its three national news channels — NDTV 24x7 (English), NDTV India (Hindi) and NDTV Profit (Business news) — form the core of the company. In the print industry, the trend in India is the opposite of many other countries — newspapers are continuing to thrive. This is despite the advent of online news portals and social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. India’s first newspaper was the Bengal Gazette, which started printing from 1780 until 1782. “There are, at the moment, 105,443 newspapers and periodicals circulating nationwide in Hindi, English and other regional languages,” said Pratik “Out of this, 42,493 publications alone are in Hindi, while another 13,661 publications can be found in the English language.” Print media in India recorded a 5.8 per cent growth in 2014-15, with 5,817 new publications registered that year. The Hindi-language Dainik Bhaskar, with a circulation of 3.7 million, and the 177-year-old English-language Times of India, with a circulation of 3.3 million, are among the nation’s top selling newspapers.
Though the country was late in embracing the digital platform, nevertheless, it is going great guns in the nation of 29 states and six union territories. MEA is taking the initiative to fully utilise the new media communication platform. MEA’s Undersecretary (#digitaldiplomacy) Abu Mathen George said the Internet has radically changed the way the government connects with the people. “It has become a game-changer,” he said on how the MEA is reaching out to citizens. “It has radically transformed the way we do things.” MEA is using push notifications through phone apps to ease the way it does business. “It’s all out there (the various platforms) that you (journalists) do not have to attend our briefings,” Mathen said. Social media has proved to be a boon for MEA and it is now one of the most followed in Twitter, with four million followers. “You have to package it in such a away that it attracts them, “ he said, adding that the ministry’s postings are sent to 25 million people each week. Internet users in India are estimated to hit 462,124,989 this July, with 34.8 per cent penetration of its 1.32 billion population. India’s Facebook users have reached a 125-million monthly average, the second largest in its global market share. From the traditional means of sending and receiving information via telegram, which was discontinued in 2013 after 160 years, news and information these days are just at the fingertips of citizens in a nation of varied tapestry. B. Suresh Ram is a curious cat who believes that his curiosity is going to get the better of him one day. This Perak-born Tottenham Hotspurs supporter has two decades of journalism under his belt.