Chidambaram’s ways of countering inflation

The Times of India has a headline on their site, “Inflation will be moderated: Chidambaram.” Naturally, worried about both inflation and Chidambaram, I click on it. and I find… nothing.

(Click here to see a screenshot of what I mean, in case that page looks normal to you.)

I’n trying to figure out if that is some form of astute editorial commentary. ToI? Actually, nah!

Newspapers and regulation

I spend the whole day at the Kitab festival, hanging out with pals like Jai, Chandrahas and Manish, meeting the litty sorts and bitching about them like bloggy sorts should. I was also part of a session on journalism in India, and found some eminent people expressing the view that journalism needs to be regulated in India. The logic: The Times of India is indulging in monopolistic practices, and, in Delhi, forming a cartel with the Hindustan Times. To ensure competition, there should be government regulation.

I couldn’t think of a worse solution to the problem. (Leave aside the issue of whether there really is a monopoly emerging; Mumbai alone has HT, DNA and IE on the stands, among daily broadsheets.) The industry actually needs fewer controls, not more. If foreign capital was allowed to pour into that sector, and foreign ownership of media was enabled, there would be more competition, and monopolies and cartels would be less likely. Consumers would be empowered with more choices. Competition is the best regulation.

Government regulation, no matter how well-intentioned to begin with, always ends up favouring the entrenched players, and making it harder for newer players to enter. The protectionist lobbying that some of the top media houses in the country have done to keep foreign media out is a good example of this.

In my clumsy, inarticulate way, I did try and make this point, but I’m a better blogger than speaker. Anyway, the high point of the evening was the presence of Bhaskar Das, the executive president of the Times Group, who rightly got assailed about how the Times of India sells editorial space. “We don’t do it on all the pages,” he argued. “Only some of them.”

The best moment came when someone asked Das why the ToI didn’t have the basic decency to indicate which articles were paid for. His reply:

“The clients wouldn’t like that.”

Joy. It reminded me of Devi Lal, in that it was honest, and shamelessly so.

On newspapers and their websites

On one hand, Steve Rattner writes in the Wall Street Journal:

The news about newspapers could hardly be more dismal: falling circulation, repeated rounds of layoffs, disappearing ads and a chain of bad earning reports. It’s an unsavory stew of ills, one that shows little prospect of becoming more appetizing.

On the other hand, there are a slew of them coming up in India, as the Economist describes in its piece, “Let 1,000 titles bloom.”

One reason why newspapers are flourishing in India but diminishing in importance elsewhere is the internet. At the moment, internet penetration in India is simply too low for people’s reading habits to change, and for some of the things newspapers do to become redundant. But it will grow.