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Towards a better informed society

The National Readership Study 2005, whose findings were released recently, shows a positive trend towards the still distant goal of creating a better-informed society with a richer public, social, and cultural life. Over the last three years, the print medium, which promotes the virtuous reading habit and is ideally placed to provide detailed information on complex issues of public affairs and promote democratic discussion, has increased its readership from 179 million to 200 million. This represents 27.4 per cent of the Indian population over 15, according to what is described as the world's largest readership study with a sample size of 261,212. Among the positive signs are the increased penetration of rural areas from 17 to 19 per cent and the longer time — 39 minutes a day, rather than 30 three years ago — spent on reading newspapers. On the other hand, within the print medium, newspapers have increased their readership from 155 to 179 million, while the readership of magazines has declined from 86 to 69 million, reflecting perhaps the demands of both television and magazine-like newspaper supplements on their time. One highlight is the growth of the Indian language press, confirming what Robin Jeffrey described as "India's newspaper revolution." The increased reach is marked both among newspapers and among magazines, particularly in Hindi but also in Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, and Bengali, with the largest circulated daily, Dainik Jagran, claiming a readership of over 21 million.

In the electronic medium, television now reaches 108 million homes, or over 50 per cent of all homes, with cable and satellite television showing an explosive growth in the last three years and reaching 61 million or 53 per cent of television homes. On the other hand, radio as a whole has been stagnant, reaching 183 million people even as FM radio has shown a growth of 100 per cent over the last three years. Of the new media, the NRS puts the number of Internet users at 11 million as against the 20 million estimate of the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM), with the home rather than the workplace emerging as the main place of access. While the growth in the print and electronic media shows a positive trend, compared with the reach in the industrial world, the leeway to be made up is huge. According to the World Development Indicators 2005 published by the World Bank, the number of copies of daily newspapers per 1000 persons was 60 in India in 2000. This represented less than a third of the reach in the United States, less than a fifth of the figure for the United Kingdom, and just 10.6 per cent of the coverage in Japan. The print medium in India has the potential to reach the 314 million literates — 21 million of them in the high-income category — who do not read any publication. The yearning for news and information as an essential requisite for getting ahead in life is apparent and the challenge before the media is how to gain the attention of the young and the new readers and meet their needs.

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