India’s media landscape is changing fast

There are few places on earth where the new digital media has been as enthusiastically embraced as India.

As you would expect in the world’s largest democracy, freedom of expression and the belief that everyone has a voice are views held sacred by many Indians. The country of 1.35 billion people has one of the most vibrant media scenes in the world. Whether it is TV, mainstream media, social or print, India has every sector covered in abundance.

What is quite surprising to the outside observer is the extent to which the Indian media has become so aggressive and intrusive in recent times. With non-stop 24 hour news cycles, many believe there is a culture of attention grabbing, ‘shouty’ media which competes commercially with each other as much as they do for breaking news.

For shipowners and the maritime sector in general, this is not particularly good news.

Shipping as an industry rarely receives consistent in-depth coverage in India’s business media. Even though shipping and ports especially are a vital part of India’s industrial story, the sector is perceived as inward looking by journalists. There are just other more interesting businesses to cover.

When there is a problem with a shipping company or a maritime accident in Indian waters, the coverage can often be lurid and sensationalised. It focuses on the human element and can often involve angry communities which have suffered as a result of actions taken by a ship or shipowner.

Rarely do the Indian media talk to owners or get their side of what is nearly always a negative story. This is because the industry itself does not engage very well with the media and the companies tend to be conservative and low key.

Santosh Patil, who is Associate Vice President at a leading international ship classification society, believes shipping will continue to have a tough time getting its message across – in good times and bad.

He says: “We are seeing tremendous changes in India’s media and this is exciting as the country opens up to the wider world.

“But there are also some trends emerging which are not positive for an industry like shipping which is an often misunderstood B2B business.

Santosh believes the new journalism in India is becoming more ‘views media’ than news media.

“We are seeing more and more broadcast stations which have given up all attempts at presenting news in a fair, balanced and accurate manner.

“Today, the rolling news agenda and the need to grab attention for commercial reasons means much of India’s broadcast media is ‘shouty’, opinionated, biased and inaccurate,” he says.
Outside observers often forget that India has the world’s largest English language news media.

There are literally hundreds of TV channels, talk radio shows as well as many online and in print media.

Santosh says: “On top of the English media there is the Hindi media and then the regional media which often uses local languages. The media scene is complex and foreigners can often misunderstand the picture.”

He noted that despite the English media perceived as the most used by India’s elite, it is often the most guilty when it comes to sensationalist news reporting.

“Often the tone of reporting and accuracy in the Hindi and regional media is better,” he argues.

Shipowners with vessels in trouble in India in recent years have had a torrid time as they have failed to work with on the ground knowledgeable local advisors who understand the complex local media scene.

One owner with a recent casualty off the coast of Tamil Nadu state in southern India sent a media advisor from Mumbai.

The news media covering the incident was reporting in Tamil, a language the Mumbai based advisor did not understand.

In a European context, it was like an owner having a ship in trouble off Greece and then sending a Norwegian media advisor to liaise with the local Greek media.

The lesson: It always pays to have advisors who not only understand your company and your fleet but also have inside track knowledge of and relationships with the media on the ground in the vicinity of the casualty. Flying ‘foreigners’ in to deal with local media can often backfire.

Navigate Response’s partner in India is Candour Communications with offices in New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai. www.candour.co.in

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Edward Ion

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