Watch any national news channel in India and all seem to run the stories in the same way. Even the language and approach towards news stories are more or less the same. There is an unprecedented uniformity in the content of news channels. The majority of Indian news channels heavily depend on limited sources for content. As a consequence, the diversity of television news and views is on the verge of extinction. Television news channel search only a small segment of Indian society because the channels seem to care only about their losses and profits. In order to minimize the cost, news channels receive the major part of news feeds (or visuals) from a few news agencies. These days, most of the news channels are entirely dependent on one news agency, Asian News International (ANI).
ANI has been dominating for the last 2-3 years and its dominance in TV news industry is growing day by day. However, ANI was not the first choice when a number of news agencies entered the TV news industry about five years ago. Most of the other news agencies failed to sustain but ANI was an exception which not only survived but also started to dominate the TV news segment soon. Actually, failure of the other news agencies helped ANI to emerge as the market leader. Initially, the ANI feeds were used because of supposed compulsions, but the news channels have since become heavily dependent on ANI. However, ANI also improve dits reporting techniques and quality of news feed seven as it monopolised the market.
News channels have to spend huge amounts of money to cover major events. The ANI news feeds were provided at much less cost as compare to the amount spent by news channels on live coverage. The news channels quickly grabbed the opportunity to use relatively low-cost services of ANI.
Certain factors emerged that immediately helped ANI to emerge as the game-changer. First, except two or three top news channels, most of the news channels were in poor financial state with no hope of improvement in future. Under such circumstances, ANI was the most suitable option.
Second, ANI was applying affordable technologies and using Internet devices like Back-Pack Solution for covering news events. As a result, ANI started to provide services at much low costs compared to the amount spent by news channels on their own coverage of events. News channels had to spend huge amounts on OB vans and associated manpower including reporters, cameramen, drivers and technical staff. But, news channels began to receive news feed at very affordable rates from ANI which resulted in a drastic cut in their expenditure.
It was also the period when YouTube arrived offering free services, encouraging the tendency to get things without incurring any cost. At the same time, infotainment was making headway and it continues today. So, the news channels moved away from concentrating on covering events themselves because they had inexpensive options for news contents. The feed for the three major chunks of a news bulletin—political, sports and entertainment—was being provided by outside sources rather than by their reporters, putting ANI on the top with sports and general entertainment channels (GEC).
In this context, the impact of ANI on television reporting was primarily examined in this paper. To test the hypothesis of research paper, the content of two Hindi news channels is analysed. The content of ABP news and News World India is taken as a case study. Time-frame and the ownership structure was the major reason behind the selection of these channels for the case study. ABP News (formerly Star News) is one of the oldest 24X7 news channels in India while News World India (owned by Jindal Group) is a recent entry in this fray.
Content analysis method is adopted in the study. Content analysis is a research method that has come into wide use in media studies and researchers regard content analysis as a flexible method for analysing text data (Cavanagh 1997). For this paper, primary data was obtained from official sources of ABP News and News World India. Under the first step, Fix Point Chart (FPC) of both channels was studied while Run-orders of both channels were examined in the second step of research. Every channel needs planning to run the show. FPC document is sued to achieve it. FPC shows the time schedule for programmes and the details of the time when they go on the air. News content of the first week of September 2016 was taken as a sample in which FPC and Run-orders of Monday to Friday were analysed. Saturday and Sunday were excluded from this study because news channels have a tendency to run special shows and recorded bulletins on these days which are less relevant for this study.
Outcome of the Study
The FPC of both news channels seems very similar. In this study, FPC part from 6AM to 11.30 PM was examined because all news channels generally repeat the bulletins after 12AM. Both, ABP News and News World India, run almost the same numbers of standard news bulletins and fast news bulletins.1 On an average, ABP News runs 20 standard news bulletins while this number is 19 for News World India.2 Fast news is a product of the last 3-4 years. Here again both channels telecast almost the same number of bulletins, seven by ABP News and eight by News World India.
Figure: Segments in FPC of ABP News and News World India
Source: Official FPC of ABP News and News World India
In case of other segments of FPC, ABP News runs four special shows while News World India broadcasts an average of five special shows. At the same time, ABP news broadcasts one sports bulletin while News World India has two sports bulletins. ABP News emphasises more on entertainment bulletins where it broadcasts four entertainment bulletins but News World India does not have any bulletin on entertainment.3 An average of 77 percent of FPC of both channels consists of standard news bulletins and fast news bulletins.
Outcomes from the Run-Orders
Run-order is a term to describe the order of content in a particular news bulletin. To know the source of news feed, it is important to study run-order extensively. For this paper, run-orders of normal news bulletins and fast news were analysed while run-orders of special shows, entertainment bulletins and sports bulletin were excluded to make study more comprehensive.
After the study of run-orders, it is crystal clear that ANI dominates in the contents of both news channels and such dominance is growing day by day. In case of the standard half hour news bulletins of News World India, ANI dominates with the greater share of nearly 55 percent. ANI feeds contribute average 35 percent part of a traditional news bulletin of ABP News. ANI dominance is even greater in case of fast news. News World India used 65 percent of ANI visuals or its Fast News bulletins. In case of ABP News, ANI contribution consists of 47 percent visual content of Fast News as compare to 40 percent feed from the channel’s own reporters. This was totally different four years ago when their own reporters used to provide most of the content for every bulletin.
Table: Sources of Feeds for News bulletins
News World India
|Normal News||Fast News||Normal News||Fast News|
Source: official run-orders of ABP News and News World India
In an another contradiction, news channels consistently use feed from foreign agencies like APTN and Reuters where ABP News utilised 2.5 percent of it in its normal bulletins and 6 percent in fast bulletins. This ratio is relatively higher for News World India where it used 5 percent ANI/Reuters feed in its normal bulletins while 8 percent in its fast bulletins. Both channels used 5-10 percent feeds from other sources like Doordarshan (DD), YouTube, Sports, GEC channels etc.
Overwhelming dependence on a particular news agency has made certain negative impacts on overall television journalism where reporting is the biggest victim. The major content of a news bulletin is being provided by ANI, so reporters have become less relevant. As a result, the importance of reporting by news channel staff started to diminish and this trend has become affected they quality of reporting. This is evident when news channels have started to decrease the number of reporters. News channels are shutting down many bureaux or drastically reducing the strength of their bureaux.
Official data regarding the closure of bureaux could not be obtained but it is very much in the public domain. News World India closed down a large number of its bureaux during last one year which includes Lucknow, Jaipur, Patna and Bhopal. At the same time it has brought down the number of reporters to more than half in Delhi. The story of ABP is a little bit different but the trend is the same. ABP News did not close down any major bureau but it has reduced the number of people working in different bureaux. A large number of its Delhi based reporters have been assigned desk duty.
News channels are being run from the desk without much dependence on their reporting staff. That is why we get to see very few or no original reports. In exceptional cases, some channels occasionally spend resources on spot reporting of major events by their staff to stay ahead of their rivals. Under such circumstances, a significant number of TV reporters either have forgotten reporting or are not given chance to do reporting.
The impact on content is visible. All the news channels telecast the same kind of news stories by repackaging the news feed provided by ANI. More than two hundred to three hundred and fifty news channels simultaneously telecast the same news item based on feed provided by ANI. The length of stories has been reduced Earlier they used to air some good reports running into three to four minutes, but now they have set a maximum limit of one and a half minute for such stories.
The growing dominance of byte-journalism is another consequence of ANI. As a routine practice, ANI gets reactions from persons concerned on the major issues of the day. These reactions (or bytes) are utilised by TV channels very regularly in their news bulletins. As a result, bytes dominate the large part of any run-order. This tendency is being further steered by social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram where people comment and react.
These trends in television journalism are expected to intensify in the future where social media along with ANI will create further pressure on news channels. By sacrificing their own news coverage, news channels are losing not only their credibility but also their own appeal and diversity. As a result, people now turn to the Internet to look for novelty and variety of journalism.
- Half hour tendency of news bulletin
- Traditional news bulletin consists of edited packages, shots, shots-bytes, live, phone-ins etc.
- Here Entertainment means news related to movies and TV serials.
- News Feeds taken from sources like Doordarshan (DD), YouTube, Sports and GEC channels
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Romana Isar Research Scholar, School of Journalism and New Media Studies, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi