This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by sonalijcampion. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Shobhana Bhartia Of Hindustan Times On How Media Affects Political Debate, And More

More from sonalijcampion

By Sonali Campion:

Note: The post originally appeared 2 November 2015 on South Asia@ LSE and is reposted with permission.

On 13 October 2015, Shobhana Bhartia, Chairperson and Editorial Director of India’s largest listed media company HT Media Limited, participated in a public conversation about media and politics in contemporary India with Dr Mukulika Banerjee. During her visit to LSE, she spoke to Sonali Campion about the role of the Indian press in supporting democracy and how the media environment has changed since the BJP government came to power.

Click here to download the podcast or watch the video of the South Asia Centre event.

Shobhana Bhartia LSE
Image source: Nigel Stead/LSE

Sonali Campion (SC): To start very broadly, how effective is the Indian media at promoting democratic debate?

Shobhana Bhartia (SB): The Indian media is the backbone in terms of protecting and constantly upholding democracy in every sphere of decision-making. Especially when leaders are pushed to the wall and things aren’t going that well, there is often an attempt to try and obfuscate, or avoid being held accountable. It is the media that constantly pushes and upholds a lot of the freedom and liberty in India.

SC: How do you feel the media environment has changed since the new government came in?

SB: We definitely want a far greater engagement, which is not happening. But neither is the converse true, the basic freedom of the press is not being challenged so I wouldn’t at this stage say the quality of debate is under threat.

That said, I think in every aspect the media definitely feels that there’s a certain reluctance by the government to engage with them. The new BJP media managers are very familiar with social media, but they use it as one-way communication. So we find that to be a slightly disturbing trend. What is also worrying is that appeals for RTI (Right To Information) get rejected, senior ministers are very hesitant about giving interviews, and the prime minister does not take the media with him for foreign tours. But equally I would say we do enjoy a lot of liberty in our country, and the media remains very frank and free.

SC: How do the newspapers influence the debate if politicians are not actively engaging?

SB: The government is a year and a half old and they feel at this stage that they really don’t need to engage, but that’s not to say that they are unaware of public sentiments as captured by the media, which works hard to give the public voice a platform. So in that way we are able to perform our task in highlighting the public mood, the issues that matter, or even turning the mood for or against a particular topic.

What is more, the government does respond to issues flagged by the media. It is just that this tends to be through one-way channels – their blogs or social media – so they can set the terms of engagement.

SC: In a country as diverse as India how effective are the national newspapers at covering a wide range of stories, especially outside the main metropolises?

SB: As many people have said, India is many countries put into one. The priorities change, and very drastically, depending on the socio-economic group that you’re targeting. So you frame your issues on the basis of that. For instance, some of the vernacular papers that we publish, they focus a lot more on issues that affect a person on a daily basis. They’re more interested in security, water, education, civic issues. You’ve got to prioritise and give them what they’re looking for.

On the other hand, for a paper like Mint, for instance, people want to know – what was the last quarter growth? What is the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) governor going to do next? What are the interest rates going to be? In our country we still have the luxury of high readership but we no longer have the luxury of a one-size-fits-all approach. The media’s become so competitive and everyone’s trying to carve out a place and their own target audience. Of course the major news impacts everyone, so that is always there, but that could be a couple of stories. Beyond that that, the focus of, say, my Hindi paper will be vastly different to the focus on my English paper. Very often you read both to get a different flavour, coming from a different perspective.

SC: Would you say Indian language newspapers cover regional politics more effectively than the big English-language papers?

SB: Definitely because their narrative is totally different, they are covering a lot of the challenges and issues with far greater in-depth reporting than the national English language media. For instance, the national media tends to skim the surface, not because they are not important but because their readers perhaps don’t want that much information.

To give you a quick example: 70% of our economy is agrarian but you’ll hardly find a national newspaper writing about the challenges for crops and irrigation, or any other stories pertaining to how the transformation or modernisation has to happen. We have experts coming in and writing commentaries once in a while. It’s a large issue for the bulk of India, but do we have it on a daily basis in the national newspapers? The answer is no.

SC: And presumably the vernacular newspapers are quite important for strengthening local democracy?

SB: Oh absolutely. And the regional papers hold a lot more credibility. Readers of national papers are slightly cynical, they have access to multiple sources of information and have very often formed their own opinion. But with readers of the vernacular papers the printed word is still like the gospel truth, and nobody is willing to believe that it might not be – they’ll say in a very indignant way “but I read it in the paper!” That puts a huge onerous responsibility on publishers of these papers, although you still have many regional newspaper groups being a little gimmicky, and sometimes there are vested interests. So in smaller places, the Hindi heartland, the vernacular press still has a huge hold and therefore great influence to impact politics.

SC: You’ve been credited with turning the Hindustan Times into an offering that is more accessible for younger audiences – how did you adjust your approach so effectively?

SB: I was lucky to have a great team and perhaps my focus was single-minded in the sense that I had to turn the Hindustan Times around, to try and make it the newspaper of choice for the younger generation. At the time when I started working over 75% of our population was under the age of 35 and these were going to be my future readers. So we started trying to see how we could catch them young, not only by making the paper more accessible and interactive for young adults, but also by reaching out and connecting children to the brand when they were in school. We started something called PACE, which is a partnership for education. As part of this we provide a special paper to every school, for students who are class 6 and above and we hold events. So we start the bonding when they are still at a very young age so that, hopefully, when they grow up and become independent decision makers then their first choice might be the Hindustan Times.

SC: And how do you find their interests contrast with the audiences you were catering to when you first arrived?

SB: Very different. I got involved with the paper in the 1980s and at that stage the so-called ‘senior generation’ who were in their 50s and 60s dominated our readership. Firstly there was no other medium, it was only newspapers, even television only took hold very recently. When I first got into newspapers there were no private channels, there was only one state broadcaster.

The people who I was targeting at the beginning were people who had gone through India’s freedom struggle, and their priorities were very different. It was about nation building, they were still looking at issues from a macro perspective. India was still struggling, it was an underdeveloped country. The newspaper had to partner the government in trying to set the agenda for this nation-building project. But India has come a long way since then and post-independence children have huge ambition. It’s less to do with nation building; it’s about here and now, what are the challenges? What do we want? Boundaries are more porous and people are no longer defining what they want in terms of what an Indian wants, but what a young global youth wants. Soft culture impacts everyone and the Indian youth are watching the same TV shows that may be broadcast in America, the same films, and therefore they develop similar aspirations. It’s less about deciding what my ‘Indian’ audience wants, it’s what the youth wants, and how do I engage with them and keep them hooked on to what I have?

SC: You have been talking a lot about issues but it was very clear during the 2014 campaign that there was a strong focus on individuals, and this has been true with the Gandhi dynasty as well. Do you think the media is too focussed on personality politics?

SB: I think that is responding just to the way in which politics has developed because the media has been focussing on issue. The Gandhi family is a different kind of an issue altogether because it seems that whatever happens they are there to lead the Congress, whether the Congress has 40 seats or 240. That doesn’t matter. But Modi emerged through a certain process, and therefore the media obsession for him was very natural, this was a personality that was actually galvanising a party that in the not too distant past had just two members of parliament. If that individual had not appeared on the scene I don’t think the party would have been galvanised into getting a complete majority.

It goes without saying that your focus does change when they are players like Modi, but this doesn’t happen in every state. So for instance we are focussing a lot on the Bihar elections which are happening as we speak, and the BJP hasn’t really yet come out with who is going to be the Chief Ministerial candidate, so the media is not focussed on personalities there. There could be umpteen names and a lot of guesswork is going on, but in the meantime we are raising issues important to Bihar, which have not been addressed. We are demanding answers as to how each party, each formation is going to respond to key challenges, and therefore giving our readers a more informed discourse before they decide who to vote for.

SC: Do you think the Congress Party has an incarnation beyond the Gandhi dynasty?

SB: It’s all up in the air! It doesn’t seem like there are any plans right now.

You must be to comment.

More from sonalijcampion

Similar Posts

By Md.Sher Ali

By Anish Bachchan

By Jaimine

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below