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Media and Society


Rita Manchanda

HEADLINES FROM THE HEARTLAND: REINVENTING THE HINDI PUBLIC SPHERE
By Sevanti Ninan
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 308, Rs. 395.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 12 December 2007

Where Robin Jeffrey’s pioneering study—India’s Newspaper Revolution, left off, Sevanti Ninan’s Headlines from the Heartland, picks up the discursive narrative of the explosion of print capitalism in what was once the lagging Hindi language belt and its socio-political impact in the constitution of localized publics with mixed democratic consequences.   Within a decade and a half, from 1991–2006, the juggernaut of the press penetrated rural and urban readership to push newspapers like Dainik Jagaran and Dainik Bhaskar to the top of the IRS list. If one in 5 Indians now was reading newspapers, half of them were rural based, and reading the Indian language press, of which the Hindi language had the highest number of papers. Ironically, the growth was post television. Contrary to the global trend, reader appetite was whetted by the news on TV.   It was spurred on by a conjunction of developments—growing literacy, a rising rural middle class, expansion in political participation in the wake of the mobilization of OBC and dalit based political formations, the entry of 3 million elected representatives in the Panchayati Raj system of local governance and technological developments in the newspaper industry that enabled multi-local editions with pages sent via modem. But above all, says Ninan, it was market driven. In 2004-5 the growth of print advertising surpassed that of the TV. In 2005 the media was valued at Rs. 120,000 million. In a well researched and quite fascinating study Ninan tracks the growth of newspapers and the making of not only consumers but citizens.   Advertising underwrote the expansion and the second-third generation of owner editors had the vision to seize the opportunities opening up in the media becoming industry and news a product. Advertisers were eyeing a rural market that accounted for the sales of a third of all premium goods. As for the highly competitive newspaper industry, marketing built upon the incentive strategies of gifts and circulation packages that were initially experimented with by market leaders TOI and India Today. Dainik Bhaskar spent Rs. 15 million tempting subscribers with a plastic chair gift and gained 30% increase in circulation. Ninan memorably recounts how ‘when Hindustan in Bihar launched a gift scheme with a Maruti car as a grand prize it was won by a farmer in Madhuban. Before he could claim it, however, he was kidnapped and the kidnappers approached the newspaper to have the car transferred to them. Negotiations led to a ...


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