Urdu media modernises, but declining readership a worry

New Delhi: Overcoming technical and commercial challenges, Urdu media in India is now trying to re-invent itself as big corporate houses enter the market. But the wider problem of lack of readership persists.

The advent of the digital technology has made it easier to print Urdu. Gone are the days when ‘qatibs’ (calligraphers) diligently traced out the script on to transparencies and then the letters were inverted before printing them on a lithographic machine. Now it is done through desktop composing and printing, just like with other languages.

Financial constraints are also easing.

According to Aziz Burney, group editor of the Roznama Rashtriya Sahara daily, big corporate houses are now keen on entering the market and are investing in the Urdu media – something which was unimaginable about a decade ago.

“There is a lot more job opportunities in the Urdu media today than what the position was in yesteryears,” Burney told IANS, painting a contrast to the times when the media was facing a lack of good content.

The Roznama Rashtriya Sahara publishes 16 editions from 10 places across the country and claims a readership of over three million. It also publishes the Aalmi Sahara, a weekly newsmagazine, and the Bazm-e-Sahara, a literary and culture monthly.

In a sign of the resurging popularity of the Urdu media, the Dainik Jagran group started Daily Inquilab newspaper with New Delhi, Lucknow, Allahabad, Gorakhpur and Varanasi editions. The United News Of India’s (UNI) Urdu service, which was launched in 1992 with six subscribers, now is said to have 84 subscribers in different parts of India.

According to the Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI), Urdu stands third in terms of number of periodical publications after Hindi and English.

However, the biggest problem is of the declining number of people able to read Urdu. Munir Adil, editor of the Daily Salar in Bangalore, thinks the biggest problem that the Urdu media faces today is that of readership.

“The Urdu language is commonly used in Bollywood, but falling number of readership of Urdu newspapers is the biggest challenge,” Adil told IANS. “The elite class is obsessed with the English language.”

Others in the field seek a greater stress on content.

Noting that there has been “new colour, new life and new courage in Urdu journalism in India”, Adeel Akhtar, president of journalists union Journalism for Justice, told IANS: “The Urdu media needs to focus on investigative journalism and the trend of depending on news agencies should be changed now.”

The view is shared by Ehtesham Ahmed Khan, associate professor at the School of Mass Communication and Journalism in Maulana Azad National Urdu University at Hyderabad.

“The Urdu media needs to focus on its content because content is king,” he said.

Journalists however raise several problems with regard to working conditions. “There is no job security in the Urdu media, nor do we have a strong union backing us,” Mohammed Mubashiruddin Khurram of The Daily Siasat said.

And gathering news is not the sole preoccupation. “We have to gather news as well as advertisements for revenue,” Alamuallah Islahi of the Daily Sahafat newspaper told IANS.

According to Srinagar-based journalist Sareer Khalid, Urdu journalists need to be better trained.

Going one step ahead, Rehana Bastiwala of BBC Urdu said: “For a better Urdu media, the standard of Urdu schools should be improved”.

However, the situation in the electronic media is better. According to Rashtriya Sahara more than 90 million people speak Urdu in India, of whom 40 million are television viewers. There are at least five Urdu news channels, including Doordarshan Urdu, ETV Urdu, Aalmi Sahara and Munsif TV, apart from some others dedicated to religious content.

“The reach of Urdu news channels is massive. A person who knows Hindi can easily understand Urdu,” Burney said.

As far as radio services is concerned, BBC Urdu, which was started in 1940, has a big impact in India. Apart from BBC, Voice of America, Radio Deutsche Welle and All India Radio’s Urdu services are also popular in Urdu speaking belts.

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