Oriya Language Press: Status, Problems and Prospects
Present status of Media in Orissa
Present status of media in Orissa can be summed up in one sentence, (A Tale of Two Cities): ‘It is the best of the times, it is the worst of the times’.
Looking from the reach, access and use the mood of media in Orissa is buoyant. In fact, news media in Orissa never had it so good. Oriya Newspaper readership is growing at one of the fastest rate in India. Major newspapers of Orissa are on expansion spree. Almost all the major newspapers are publishing multiple and muti-location editions. New TV Channels are coming up. Existing ones like Doordarshan, E-TV (Oriya) and O-TV are beefing up their programmes.
Net penetration, access and use are increasing. Number of web-based publications is also growing. Media houses are embracing state of the art technology. Convergence of technology is fuelling diversification in existing media houses. Technology, increasing literacy and readership, greater competition and aggressive marketing are transforming the media scene in Orissa from placid monochromatic frame to a hyperactive, techni-colour one. It is best of the times.
But looking from other angles- financial status of the journalists, their safety and security, ethics, press freedom- the situation does not look rosy. Many believe it has deteriorated in comparison to say twenty years before. With media becoming more capita intensive and market oriented- the diverse voice is finding it increasingly difficult to survive. News is being commodified. Sensationalism is rampant. Serious issues are not finding its due space/time. With media ownership becoming increasingly monopolized, press freedom is in danger- from within. Journalists are more insecure now.
They face double insecurity- insecurity arising from the intimidation of outside forces irked by his/her report and job insecurity. More and more journalists are hired on contract now. Scarcity of job forces many to accept the contract- on the owner’s term. Envelope journalism (money for news) is rampant. Corruption, many veteran journalists say, has reached new low. It is the worst of the times.
History of Oriya Journalism
Journalism as we know it in Orissa today has its genesis first in missionary activity and later in the reformist and national movement. The Mission Press in Cuttack, which was set up in 1837 to print the New Testament also brought out the first Oriya journals Gyanaruna (1849) and Prabodha Chandrika (1856).
The first Oriya newspaper to be printed was the weekly Utkal Dipika byGouri Shankar Ray in 1865. Utkal Dipika owed its birth to the upsurge of nationalism during the late nineteenth century. It played a significant role in sociopolitical life of Orissa. A number of newspapers were published in Oriya in the last three and half decades of the 19th century, prominent among them were Utkal Dipika, Utkal Patra and Utkal Hiteisini from Cuttack; Utkal Darpan and Sambada Vahika from Balasore, Sambalpur Hiteisini from Deogarh, etc.
In the early part of twentieth century swadeshi movement in Bengal had gained momentum and it had great impact on Orissa’s political and social life. This period was also marked for the spread of journalism in different parts of Orissa and publication of more papers from Ganjam and Cuttack.
The first Oriya Daily Dainik Asha was published from Berhampur in 1928 by Sashibhusan Rath. It was a turning point in the history of Oriya journalism. It demonstrated the power of press in uniting people for a cause- in this case first unification of the outlying Oriya areas under one administration and then freedom movement.
Pandit Gopabandhu Das founded Samaja as a weekly in 1919 to support the cause of freedom struggle of the country. It was made a daily in 1930. Samaja played an important role in freedom movement in Orissa. So did papers like Prajatantra.
Post independence Orissa saw expansion in the media both in number of newspapers and circulation. It also saw an attitudinal change. From being a mission- it slowly began to turn as a profession. It also became a stepping-stone for many to enter politics. Politics and literature has had a very close relation with Oriya journalism. Journalism as a separate, distinct profession with specialized set of skills began to gain ground very slowly after independence. It gained momentum only after 80s.
It was in 80s that a change swept through Oriya media. As Robin Jeffrey wrote1, “Until the 1980s, Oriya newspapers fell starkly into a particular category: they were put out by people of influence to demonstrate and bolster that influence.” Unlike the other states Orissa had a press managed by politicians, and not businessmen. Some newspapers were run at a loss because their proprietors valued the prestige and leverage within the tiny elite that dominated Orissa politics from the 1930s. Circulation, technology, advertising and profit were not the key considerations of owners; status, influence and ‘education’ were.
But in the 1980s, this began to change. Between 1981 and 1991, daily circulations quadrupled and the proportion of Oriya newspaper readers went from roughly 7 per 1,000 to 22 per 1,000. By 1992, circulation of Oriya newspapers had moved from being the lowest of 12 major languages to being eighth, ahead of Telugu, Kannada, and Punjabi.
Sambad, a daily launched by Soumya Ranjan Pattnaik spearheaded the change. In fact many scholars2 believe that Oriya newspaper industry came of age with Sambad. The credit for introducing many firsts in Orissa media industry goes to Sambad including introduction of photo type setting and offset printing. This was a turning point in newspaper industry in Orissa from technical as well as content and layout point of view.
The nineties saw more expansion in the media scene with publication of more Oriya dailies and consolidation of the established ones. Several major Oriya dailies also started publishing from more centers in the state, a trend started by Sambad with their first edition from Berhampur in 1990. Almost all major dailies started regularly printing in colour. All of them began to publish several supplements and pull out. Competition for readership began to hot up, which had definite influence on the look and content of newspapers, also on the marketing style and strategy.
Present Status of Oriya newspapers
National Readership Survey (NRS) 2006 has encouraging figures for Oriya media. The total readership has crossed 1 crore. Three leading papers: Sambad, Samaja and Dharitri together have close to 55-lakh readerships. Sambad leads the readership with 20.39 lakh readership followed by Samaja (18.97 lakh) and Dharitri (14.45 lakh). All the three leading papers have increased their readership in comparison to last year. Here is comparative data:
Sambad 17.70 20.39
Samaja 17.43 18.97
Dharitri 12.00 14.45
(Source: NRS-2005/v-3.00, NRS- 2006/V-1.00. Readership in lakh)
Number of newspapers and periodicals has increased substantially. At the end of 1964 there were 70 papers published in Oriya language (four dailies, nine weeklies, 38 monthlies and 19 other periodicals). By 2004 there were as many as 42 dailies approved by the I &PR Department of Orissa. One can see that in Orissa newspapers and periodicals are published
from many places, even from small towns.
Many mainstream newspapers have multiple and multi-location editions from several places of the state and also from outside the state where there is sizable Oriya population, and potential for substantial advertisement revenue. List of Oriya dailies publishing from several places has been given in Annexure-2
Besides the mainstream newspapers, Orissa has a sizable but not necessarily financially and ethically healthy rural press. Rural press in Orissa is largely imitating the urban, mainstream media- in terms of content and presentation. Instead of focusing on the rural population in its content, which ought to and could have been their strong point most of the rural press are poor copy of the urban press.
Changes in the last decade Content and Presentation
There is a noticeable change in the content and presentation in comparison to say a decade ago. Variety in content has increased many folds. There are stories, articles, features and analysis on subjects, which used to be thought as irrelevant to the readers or too specialized. Almost all newspapers now have a regular sports page (not there in pre-80 era) and a business page (unthinkable in pre-80 era). While this can be termed as a positive development, there has been another development, which many consider negative. That is the growth of what is now called ‘page-3 culture’-an unabashed celebration of personality cult, promotion of crash consumerism and trivia. To many media pundits it symbolizes gradual trivialization and tabloidisation of mainstream press leading to dumbing down the serious issues.
Emphasis on ‘look’
The look and layout of newspapers and periodicals has changed, thanks to fierce competition necessitating shelf-presence and influence of visual medium. Oriya newspapers are more visual now. Large photographs, cartoons, illustrations, computer-generated info-graphics are increasingly being used. The emphasis is on reader-friendliness. Almost all newspapers are now putting emphasis on the layout and design. As a result newspapers have become less visually dense, easier to read, and more alive to the need for good design. Several newspapers have gone for change of look in recent years. The get up and layout of Dharitri got a face-lift
in 2004 with a new masthead.
Emphasis on use of language of the masses
The language use in newspapers has changed over the last two decades to a considerable degree. Newspapers and periodicals are now using more colloquial and crisper language. It is more down-to-earth and close-to-common man now. The highbrow attitude with use of classical language has gone. In television the change of language is remarkable. From Doordarshan’s emphasis on chaste classical Oriya to the O-TV’s use of a mixed language, heavily dotted with English words and expressions- it has come a long way.
According to Orissa Reference Annual 2004, there are 42 approved (by Department of I&PR) dailies publishing from Orissa. Out of the 42, Trust/Society owns five, and seven are owned by limited Companies. Rest 30 is individually owned. It is interesting to note that all the large newspapers are owned by Trust/Society and limited Companies.
Two interesting features of Oriya newspapers are ‘proliferation of ownerpublisher- editor entity’ and politicians owning/controlling newspapers. Both have stood as stumbling blocks on the development of professionalism in Orissa. Years after Jeffrey observed about the phenomena of politicians controlling newspapers in Orissa- the situation remains the same. Politicians still own and/or control most of the large newspapers and media establishments. An indicative list of newspaper and TV channels and politicians who control them now- directly or indirectly has been given at Annexure-3.
There is nothing wrong in a politician owning and/or editing a newspaper or controlling a news channel. This is not a unique feature either. Many politicians have owned and managed newspapers from pre-independence era. In fact almost all the leading politicians from Mahatma Gandhi to Jawaharlal Nehru were actively involved in newspapers. But what is unique in Orissa is the magnitude of it.
As Srimoy Kar, writes,3“This is the reason why the Oriya media industry has failed to grow at a very basic level, though in terms of size, content, form and marketing it has undergone a sea change. Till this dichotomy is put to rest, the language daily will not be able to get rid of its branding and will fail to satisfy the palates of an increasingly literate and discerning readership. With more and more national dailies launching their editions in Orissa, the Oriya dailies will have a tough time maintaining their credibility. Ownership of newspapers must pass on to less partisan hands for the Oriya dailies to retain their readership.”
Working condition for the Journalists
Journalists world over are underpaid. In India they are generally poorly paid. In Orissa they are hardly paid. This is one of the reasons, why journalism as a profession has not grown satisfactorily in Orissa. Journalism has been and to a large extent still seen as a mission/ passion/ vocation/ or a means to achieve political clout/ to be a fixer in the power circle/ to get social status. Somehow journalism as a means of honest earning of one’s livelihood- has
largely eluded Orissa.
There are two reasons for this. One, Oriya media has never been flush with funds. Second, this mindset suits the media owners, who have devised several ways to underpay (or not pay at all) the journalists.
The situation is particularly bad for print media. Journalists working in Orissa for English and other language publications are comparatively better placed- in terms of wages and perks. Of course there are exceptions and things are improving in comparison to say pre-80s era. But the general condition remains dismal. Consider this. A sub-editor/ reporter of a newspaper or TV channel is expected to be knowledgeable, computer-savvy, besides having good command over Oriya, he/she should be English language-friendly. And the starting per month salary or wage or remuneration (in whichever avatar one gets it) in the best of the Oriya newspapers or TV channels do not exceed Rs 4500/-, one third the amount a bank clerk or a Junior Lecturer would get at the entry level.
In many cases they are paid less than half of the minimum wage fixed by the government to unskilled labourer. Few journalists- sub editors and reporters get their wages as fixed by Wage Boards. A vast majority of the journalist, especially journalists working in rural areas are not paid at all. The employers can afford to do this because of several reasons. First, they get lot of people hankering to work for them as journalists without any payment; worse some are ready to pay to work as journalists. Their motive obviously is not pious. But it suits the employers, who do not suffer from ethical problems. Second, quality of manpower has not yet been regarded in high esteem.
Mediocrity rules. Hence employers are not willing to pay more to get quality manpower. Since unemployment is rampant, and journalism has not yet acquired the status of a profession as say like medicine or law, where a particular kind of education is necessary to practice that particular profession- there is no dearth of supply of prospective employees. Third, technology has made it possible to publish newspapers from different places with less number of persons. The result: shrinking requirement of editorial staff.
Multi-edition newspapers are the current trend. Several Oriya newspapers have multiple editions from different parts of the state, some even from outside the state. The probable reasons behind this trend are:
a) to disseminate news faster
b) To create a local fervor in the newspaper by publishing more local -
c) Procuring local advertisements
d) It has become easier and cheaper to publish newspapers from different locations
e) Fierce competition for circulation has forced many newspapers to go for multiple editions.
Multi media operation and Cross media ownership
In recent times convergence of media is the watchword. Media owners are gradually shifting towards multi media operation. Therefore cross media ownership is becoming a necessity for them. It provides operational and financial benefit to them. In Orissa the trend of multi-media operation and cross media ownership is catching up fast. Almost all major newspapers have their web edition. Few though have dedicated staff. Several newspapers have also ventured into television production. Like Dharitri started a TV programme on Doordarshan titled ‘Business
Dharitri’. Sambad launched Sambad TV and ventured into cable-distribution. Samaja TV is in the offing.
Samaja and Prajatantra have their Book publishing ventures. So does Eastern Media (publisher of Sambad), which also has its Films ventures. It has definite plans to set up FM radio stations in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and Rourkela. In fact, it has already put advertisements to recruit for its radio stations in late September 2006. It is also trying to move into mobile sector.
Oriya Press was a late starter so far adopting communication technology is concerned. It did not get hot metal typecasting until the mid-1970s, 40 years after it had been introduced for Bengali and by which time the technology was obsolete.4 Thirty years later, Oriya media is taking to new communication technology at a lightening speed.
All daily newspapers are now printed in rotary offset. Large newspapers have modern printing press capable of printing up to 60,000 copies of broadsheet newspapers per hour. The pre-press work has also been technologically improved. Image setters are being used in several presses. All newspapers are using computers and net-savvy devises to get news from their reporters. Fortunately Orissa has a strong telecom backbone and network, which is being utilized extensively. Almost all major newspapers of Orissa have their websites, some have e-paper version.
Emphasis on marketing
As the competition has become fierce, media owners are pulling all stops and resorting to all gimmicks to market their ‘product’ and ‘produce’. From putting up large banners and hoardings on roadside, to putting advertisements on different media to offering freebies to sponsoring and organizing events to offering scholarships media owners are doing everything.
They are also associating with events to further their corporate identity. For example Dharitri organizes Urja, a women’s’ meet. Some media houses are also into philanthropic works. Samaja has its relief activities. Samaja also offers scholarships to needy students. Sambad has also started offering scholarships.
Cost cutting Exercises
The cover price of newspapers has not been increased much in the last decade. In fact Samaja reduced its cover price from Rs 1.50 to Rs 1.00 to increase its circulation. No Oriya newspaper covers even quarter of its production cost from the sale proceeds. The dependence on advertisement revenue is increasing. So is pressure to reduce production cost. In order to cut production cost, the daily newspapers have reduced their size to save on paper cost. The other way of saving expenditure has been to cut on news gathering/processing expenses. Less people
with lesser pay- this has become the watchword for the management of many newspapers.
Though a late starter, (the first Oriya newspaper was published eight and a half decades later than the first newspaper of India) Oriya newspapers have caught up with other regional language newspapers- so far technology is concerned. But it is still lagging behind so far content is concerned. Oriya newspapers are still obsessed with politics. An elitist bias still persists. The language used in most of the Oriya newspapers is still quasi-classical.
But it is fast catching up with the modern trend in journalism. The area where it needs improvement is professionalisation. It is still now mostly family managed business. Financial remuneration to the newspaper-workers especially the journalists is low.
To quote an Oriya newspaper man, hardwarere ame thik, softwarere pachhei rahichu. We are at par with others in hardware, but lagging behind in software.
Sambad: Bhubaneswar, Angul, Balasore, Cuttack, Berhampur, Jeypur, Rourkela and Sambalpur.
Samaja: Cuttack, Sambalpur, Visakhapatna, Kolkata, Rourkela and Bhubaneswar
Dharitri: Bhubaneswar, Sambalpur, Dhenkanal and Berhampur
Anupam Bharat: Berhampur and Bhubaneswar
Pratidin: Bhubaneswar and Berhampur
Politicians controlling newspapers, either as owner or /and editor
1. Sambad: Soumya Ranjan Pattanik, Editor. Mr. Pattnaik was MP of Bhubaneswar.
2. Dharitri: Tathagata Satpathy, Editor. Mr. Satpathy is MP, Dhenkanal.
3. Prajatantra: Bhartruhari Mahtab. Mr. Mahtab is MP, Cuttack.
4. Samaya: Ranjib Biswal, Managing Director. Mr. Biswal is MP.
5. O-TV: Baijayant Panda, MP. His wife Jagi mangat Panda runs the outfit.
6. Janavani: R.K.Nayak a former bureaucrat, now a member of Rajya Sabha. An NGO run by him publishes the paper. He used to edit the paper. Now his wife edits it.
7. India First: Sanjay Hans, editor. Mr. Hans, a well-known businessman contested for Rajya Sabha unsuccessfully.
8. Sanchar: Dr. Damodar Rout controls this paper. Dr. Rout is powerful BJD leader, former Panchyati Raj minister.
Written By: Mrinal Chatterjee, Associate Prof.