Challenges of the digital worldPeople have been relying on the media more than ever before, but it’s tough to employ a sustainable model.
There is a saying that ‘in the absence of the media, democracy dies; in the absence of democracy, the media dies’. People perceive the media as something that affects and influences their thoughts. It is a powerful tool that has been given the responsibility to be a check on society, politicians and the government. Be it war or Covid-19, democratic movements or the Maoist insurgency, the media’s responsibility is to be at the forefront—recording events, collecting information and disseminating news stories to the general public through print, television, radio and the internet. But nobody knows how the media operates. Are media houses super institutions and media persons superhumans who do not need to eat, breathe, drink or rest?
The core question is how media professionals are surviving during this difficult pandemic, when all other private institutions and government agencies are closing down their offices, cutting short their working hours and laying off staff. It is often ignored or forgotten that these media houses are part of private organisations that possess various revenue sources to sustain their operation, pay the salaries of their journalists, print newspapers and pay for satellite links.
When we think of the media in general, the first thing that comes to our minds is newspapers, television channels, radio, and lately, digital media. And that is absolutely right. Till date, these traditional forms of the media have performed as the fourth estate in South Asia, and particularly in Nepal. However, media dynamics and preferences are changing slowly with the change in technology. Thus, Nepalis are open to any new ideas and are highly adaptive and resilient. A growth in income and change in lifestyle led by technology, especially after the advent of the smartphone and the internet, has opened the vast world to urban and rural Nepalis and provided them access to the wide realm of social media. People in both urban and rural areas have taken it as a means of entertainment.
At the same time, the youths are moving towards new types of media. This generation has not seen the contribution of traditional media in shaping the democratic republic of Nepal. Hence, for them, traditional media is political content with a follower base consisting of the older generations. The new perception of traditional media will create a distance between the media and the upcoming influential minds of Generations X, Y and Z. This will reduce the importance of the media in general and lead to a trustless environment.
People spend most of their time on social media, where we see lots of self-reporting and amateur journalism. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it has led to a ballooning of fake news. Many don’t judge the authenticity of the news; they just believe what they see. But who is taking the accountability of such ‘news’? But news providers must be held accountable for any errors and falsehoods published.
Global media dynamics have already changed. A strong and influential media is possible when there is strong management. Steady management is possible when there is a strong business model in place, and such a business model is possible when there are well-skilled leaders in place.
The media has two major revenue models. One is subscription; it applies to mostly print, television and digital media. In the case of Nepal, the subscription revenue only accounts for 20 percent of the total revenue that print media receive. Television and digital media or news portals don’t get such revenue. The other major source of revenue is from advertisements. For the last seven months, coinciding with the Covid-19 outbreak, people have started consuming the media like never before. It not only plays a vital role by providing the public information but also by providing entertainment. In normal times, high viewership leads to more advertisements, but now there is less advertising. At this time, and especially in our part of the world, it becomes important for the media to act as a watchdog and ensure transparency and accountability. But the media is facing big challenges of sustainability.
The growth of the media is related to the country’s economic growth and government policies that support it. However, favourable government policy and economic growth are lacking here. Can the media sustain itself through this crucial time to update and educate the public? The answer is yes, but long term sustainability is an issue.
Swar is Assistant General Manager at Kantipur Publications.