N. Ram: The Hindu Took a Big Hit on Advertising Revenue post-Rafale Exposé, But 'Will Not Bend'

It’s been a tumultuous year for the news industry. While the industry had been grappling to find the right revenue model between advertising and pushing subscription, COVID brought things to a head.

The industry has seen layoffs, furloughs, and even shutdowns. What does the future of journalism look like in India, and what kind of revenue models can be put in place to ensure survival ?

In conversation with Mitali Mukherjee, N Ram, Director, The Hindu Publishing Group (THG) and former Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu Group of Publications said it has been extraordinarily difficult times for newspapers in India and across the world. But it was time for new organisations to decide whether they want to pursue independent journalism or toe the establishment’s line.

He said news groups are facing tremendous pressure via the carrot of government advertising; The Hindu has faced a big hit on advertising post the Rafale investigation. Despite the challenge this had presented to the newspaper, N Ram said, “ I will not bend.”

N Ram said TV channels have in many cases bent over backwards to accommodate the view of the government, and the recent episode where a senior journalist was asked to resign from News 18 Tamil Nadu, the Tamil news channel of the Network 18 group, while senior editor M Gunasekaran’s editorial decision making was removed, seemed to be a result of direct orders from Delhi.

While the dominant digital forces Google and Facebook may have exacerbated the problem, he believes social media is merely a tool being used to further a right – wing agenda.
Likening this phase of control on the press to one seen only during the Emergency, N Ram said it was time for new organisations to draw lines between day to day reporting vs taking an editorial stand, as the conventional libertarian view of “freedom of speech” was now being abused by those with extreme views.

N Ram also expressed concern at the apparent misuse of India’s constitutional institutions. He said barring a few notable judgements, developments at the Supreme Court had been extremely disappointing. Similarly, there is fear around the Election Commission’s decisions, notable amongst them the recent suggestion to extend postal ballot service to voters above 65 years of age in the upcoming Bihar Assembly elections and other byelections in the near future. He pointed out that the fear was this may open the voters up to coercion and influence.
Rajasthan was another example of the Governor being used to act as an agent of the Centre. But he believes, just like the emergency, the current wave of majoritarianism would shift .