Oriya Language Press: Status, Problems and Prospects
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Oriya Language Press: Status, Problems and Prospects Mrinal Chatterjee Associate Prof. Indian Institute of Mass Communication Dhenkanal 759 001, Orissa Present status of Media in Orissa Present status of media in Orissa can be summed up in one sentence, with apology to Charles Dickens (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 capital 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 owners 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 by Gouri 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 Orissas 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: 2005 2006 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. The list of newspapers, with its owner and editors name and place of publication has been placed at the Annexure-1. 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 considera