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Can A Subscription Revenue Model Help Indian Journalism Reclaim Its Credibility?

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The Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index 2020 ranks India at 142 among 180 countries. This poor ranking is attributed to a series of incidences such as the longest electronic curfew in world history in Kashmir, amplification of the spread of fake news and rumours during the pandemic, the addition of communal colour to the spread of the pandemic and so on. Additionally, the quality of news coverage is deteriorating and the public is questioning its credibility.

The media is chasing to get higher Television Rating Point (TRP) in a compromise with media ethics and professionalism. A dramatisation of news, shaping of public opinions, aggressive reporting and become the government’s mouthpiece on sensational topics have gained priority over sensible, informative, objective and diversified news coverage.

But the question arises: what can be done to save the Fourth Estate — a term coined by Edmund Burke to refer to the press and news media? Is the Indian news agency incapable of producing sensible news coverage? The answer to the revival of this flailing state of media rests upon the people of India, not in the form of criticism or ban, but by increasing the demand for unbiased news.

Print media, over the years, has increased its pages or reduced the number of news articles to accommodate more and more advertisements.

News in India is considered a public good that increases the dependency of media houses on external sources of finance to continue their operation. Thus, it is primarily the business model of television in India that has much to do with low-quality reporting. Looking at the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) tariff order of 2016, news channel face a price ceiling at Rs 5 per month.

On the contrary, it is as high as Rs 12 per month for entertainment channels. Such dismal regulatory mechanisms are not available in developed countries. Comparing revenue earned from subscriptions of news and entertainment channels in developed countries, one may notice that these channels earn about 70%, while in case of India, it is only 36%. This low revenue has pushed Indian media houses to heavily rely on advertisements, TRPs and other such compromising factors.

Similarly, print media, over the years, has increased its pages or reduced the number of news articles to accommodate more and more advertisements. Post pandemic, it was quite visible that the entire print media suffered a huge loss as their revenue from advertisements reduced drastically, leading to job losses.

Way Forward

For the subscription model to kick-off, Indian media houses have to focus on providing customised news, avoiding misinformation and disinformation to the customers, using a freemium model, and considering citizens’ inputs as citizen journalists.

Coming to the possibility of building credibility of the Indian media, a subscription-based model is a plausible one in that direction. According to IBEF statistics, over-the-top (OTT) platforms have seen a significant increase among Indian viewers. Between March and July 2020, there has been a 30% rise in the number of Indian subscribers on OTT platforms. This bursts the idea of Indian being ignorant of the content being provided to them.

There is a shift in this outlook and quality content is given preferred. However, it is an undeniable fact that the content being produced on Indian news is not comparable to the quality of content being generated by Netflix, Hotstar, Amazon Prime and others available in the market. Thus, solely depending on subscription would not be advisable in the current scenario. But, a combination of subscription and ads could be approached with efforts in the direction of subscription.

For the subscription model to kick-off, Indian media houses have to focus on providing customised news, avoiding misinformation and disinformation to the customers, using a freemium model, and considering citizens’ inputs as citizen journalists. However, a question arises with the increasing number of news platforms but limited disposable incomes: how can we prevent the media from falling again under the trap of increasing their subscription rate?

And here’s where the concept of ‘pay as you read’ comes forth. Readers only have to pay for the news articles that are of their interest. This will increase competition among all media houses in producing quality news with a deeper analysis of the situation before it can be presented in front of the audience. The cost of each article should not be high enough to make it difficult to access for those in the bottom of the pyramid.

Such a strategy of publishing content to appeal to the masses will considerably raise the bar of the slowly dying Indian media, thereby minimising their dependency on TRP-focused sensational news.

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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.

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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.

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