The fast proliferation of newspapers in Assam in the 1980s has seen a peak and now readership is falling rapidly. NAVA THAKURIA says that the main reasons for this are the rise of TV viewership, a fall in quality of content of newspapers and a discerning readership that is no longer willing to accept the unsupported garbage that is dished out by many publications
Rapid growth of satellite news channels, emergence of portals and dwindling standards of news & other articles in newspapers (both daily and periodicals) of Assam have led to heavy loss of readership over the last year. At least two recent quarterly surveys of Indian Readership Survey (IRS, Q2 2011and IRS, Q1 2011) show that all major vernacular dailies of the state have lost readers. The only exception is The Assam Tribune, the oldest newspaper of the region, which has registered some increase since 2010.
IRS surveys indicate that Asomiya Pratidin, which is the highest-circulated daily in northeast India (with a daily print order of nearly 1.25 lakh) has lost around 4 lakh (combined) readers in the last six months. The present readership of Asomiya Pratidin (in Assamese) which is published from Guwahati, Dibrugarh, North Lakhimpur and Bongaigaon is over 7 lakh.
Asomiya Khabar has lost 6 lakh combined readers in the same period. Dainik Janambhumi, Dainik Agradoot , Amar Asom and Dainik Asom have recorded a loss of 5 to 10 lakh in the same period, the IRS survey shows.
While the highest circulated English daily, The Assam Tribune (with a daily print order of nearly 70,000) has maintained its readership in the last few months, The Telegraph (its Guwahati edition) lost a readership of 1.25 lakh and The Times of India (its Guwahati edition) lost over 40,000 readers since the end of 2010.
Media commentators believe that the fall in readership is a natural outcome of the rapid proliferation that newspapers witnessed in the 1980s. With a population of around 3 crore and a literacy rate of 70 per cent, Assam supports over 25 morning dailies. They compete with each other fiercely with little care for quality of content. Discerning readers have chosen to discard this speculative form of journalism. One comment on the net read, “I don’t find a single Assamese language newspaper reporting impartially. They are losing people’s trust. The local media is motivated.”
Of course, most of the proprietors of regional newspapers claim that they have gained readers for web versions of their respective dailies. Two prominent news portals dedicated to the region, www.assamtimes.org and www.timesofassam.com have also recorded high growth of viewers/readers in the recent past.
Contrary to Assam, metro dailies in India have seen a steady growth with a combined daily circulation of over 10 crore copies, the survey indicates. This is unlike the trend in western countries where newspaper readership and circulation are falling.
Vijay Darda, chairman of Audit Bureau of Circulations said in a recent interview that rising literacy and affluence were the reasons behind the healthy growth of newspapers. He also asserted, ``In the face of the entry of 24x7 electronic news media into our drawing rooms, newspapers have held their own due to the in-depth analysis that newspapers deliver as well as the fact that we cherish the habit of reading newspapers with our morning cup of tea.’’
As Indian satellite (including Doordarshan) and cable television channels increase their reach to over 50 crore people, Assam too has witnessed a sudden increase in television viewership. The state has six satellite news channels broadcasting in English, Hindi and other regional languages.
The major news channels are NE Television, NewsLive, DY365, NewsTime Assam, Frontier TV and Prime News. Except Guwahati, no other State capital of the region has a satellite news channel. In addition there are over 50 cable news channels telecasting local news and entertainment programmes.
“The news channels in regional languages may have influenced circulation figure and the readership index of local newspapers in Assam, as everyone prefers channels for prompt and brief news,” said Rupam Barua, a senior journalist and media observer. He however added that even news channels will soon witness a decline given the poor content that they dish out to the viewers.