The most challenging time for the UK publishing industry in more than 50 years is a small barrier to some wannabe British Asian publishers, witness the launch of new nationals Asian Express and Maya News.
BizAsia.co.uk’s Hamant Verma is a former editor of Eastern Eye. He spoke with Ravi Jain, the editor of Maya and mayanewspaper.com, to discover why he launched a mid-market title when so many established publications, such as The Independent and the Guardian are struggling.
Tell BizAsia about yourself…
I have been a community activist for most of my working life, to fight racism and develop long-term policies to deal with it at national level.
It was during this period that my passion for media and journalism, and its role in influencing policy making, emerged. From early 1970s, I used the power of organisation to build a network that assisted young journalists to become full-time members of National Union of Journalists.
I subsequently produced two weekly papers: Sher-e-Punjab and Shakti.
In the early 1980s, I got involved in the set up of the first Asian radio station, Sunrise Radio. It was an innovative venture that brought many firsts in media circles. It was refreshing and its innovation was laudable in ways that are unthinkable today with such limited support and resources.
What is with the name Maya News?
Maya is a name that reflects the aspiration and scope of the paper. It is an independent-thinking newspaper without depending on one or the groups either for financial or news coverage.
It is aimed at the British Asian community; particularly the second generations and is about issues to do with living here and now. After all, we have links with our roots but we are British Asians, without any dogma rooted with orthodoxy of religion, culture or tradition.
Why keep names that restrict its readership? After all we are aiming for a much larger readership that what we have got today.
Even Alastair Campbell [former Labour party spin doctor] has used the same name for a book.
It strikes me as a brave move to launch a newspaper in this market. What gives you the confidence that your newspaper will buck the trend in Britain for falling advertising revenues and falling sales?
All ventures are risky in the current climate but we at Maya believe that we shall be able to buck the trend through our hard work and dedication. Moreover, in a world shaken by recession, we shall bring to our readership ways to discover opportunities and improve business and thus help economic recovery.
It has made an impact in the area that we are covering and feedback has been tremendous. Although it is a free paper, we receive daily requests for its postal delivery.
We have managed to maintain a good balance between 50 per cent news and 50 per cent advertising – and that is not bad going. It is going to be an uphill struggle for some time to come but we shall overcome.
Of course we have competition, but we feel that ethnic media is changing and in the long-term, a paper like Maya shall hold the future pattern.
We want to break the mould.
BBC’s chief operating officer Caroline Thomson said the Asian Network was finding it difficult to try and cater for many disparate groups simultaneously. Thomson was referring to age groups as well as religious/faith communities. How do you tackle the problem of satisfying an ‘Asian’ audience with Maya News?
We can never be all things for all people. The BBC�۪s problem is, as a public service broadcaster; it has to meet its remit. We as a commercial set up do not have to comply or operate in such a straight jacket.
We have defined our readership and are ensuring that we cover that area adequately. A balance is achieved by covering other news in the paper because it is directed at the whole family.
The advent of massive changes in broadcasting media has opened up enormous challenges for both the BBC Asian Network and other commercial media. There shall be costs and who survives shall reap the rewards.
It is not going to be a market for short-term gains or the timid.
Should we care if British Asian media has had its day? Is that such a bad thing for Britain’s aspirations for a harmonious multicultural community?
No, the best is yet to come. The world is changing and so is media. Cross media platforms and traditional media shall come together.
And the role of Indian sub-continent is changing; UK/EU is a big market for investment.
The question of multiculturalism is mired in internal Labour party discussions. A debate never really took place before the demise of the Commission for Racial Equality was imposed on us without discussion or consultation.
It is unfortunate there is no independent forum to take up the issue and challenge the notion of whether multiculturalism is dead or not.
It is interesting to discuss whether the Equality and Human Rights Commission is relevant to the struggles of the community today.