Tag Archives: Economic & Political Weekly

RIL, Network18 & the loss of media heterogeneity

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Even as the takeover of Network18 by India’s biggest corporate house, Reliance Industries Limited, receives scant scrutiny in the mainstream media on what it portends in the long term, the journalist and educator Paranjoy Guha Thakurta weighs in, in the Economic & Political Weekly:

“The consequence of RIL strengthening its association with Network18 is a clear loss of heterogeneity in the dissemination of information and opinions. Media plurality in a multicultural country like India will diminish.

“In particular, the space for providing factual information as well as expressing views that are not in favour of (or even against the interests of) India’s biggest corporate conglomerate will shrink, not just in the traditional mainstream media (print, television and radio) but in the new media (internet and mobile telephony).

“There is growing concentration of ownership in the country’s already-oligopolistic media markets. In the absence of restrictions on cross-media ownership, these trends will inexorably lead to the continuing privatisation and “commodification” of information instead of making it more of a “public good” that could benefit larger sections of society, in particular the underprivileged.”

For the record, RIL sent Thakurta a legal notice for his book Gas Wars: crony Capitalism and the Ambanis.

Read the full article: What future for the media in India?

File photograph: RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani holds a jar containing the first crude oil produced from the KG-D6 block in 2009 (Punit Paranjpe/Reuters)

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Also read: Has media blacked out RIL takeover of Network 18?

‘Media freedom bleaker with Ambani domination’

Will RIL-TV18-ETV deal win CCI approval?

The sudden rise of Mukesh Ambani, media mogul

Why the Indian media doesn’t take on the Ambanis

Rajya Sabha TV tears into Reliance-TV18 deal

EPW on the Reliance-ETV-RIL deal within a deal

WaPo, Amazon, HT and the Reliance-TV18 deal

When a mainstream newspaper debates ‘caste’

prajavani-jati-samvada-week-1-copy

Do caste experiences and untouchability really exist in India, particularly in urban and middle-class India?

The answer depends on who you ask although the usual newsroom tendency is to turn the nose away.

So, how do we find out beyond what we think we know?

In the first half of 2013, the mass-circulated Kannada newspaper Praja Vani, from the Bangalore-based Deccan Herald group, devoted its op-ed page to address the issue.

Christened Jathi Samvada, every Monday the op-ed page was anchored by two scholars: Prof Gopal Guru of the centre for political studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, and Prof Sundar Sarukkai of the Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities.

Every week, for 24 weeks, the professors wrote and edited articles on caste and posed questions on various themes for public responses. The two scholars report their findings in the latest issue of Economic & Political Weekly (EPW) and why they took up the project:

“One, we felt that there was a continued disconnect between academic writing on caste and society, and popular narratives around it.

“Reading news reports on caste or watching the news reportage on issues related to caste might make one believe that there has really been no serious intellectual reflection on the dynamics of caste.

“The public discourse on caste in these mediums ignores the rich sociological literature on this topic.

“An objective was to bring this sociological literature to the attention of the readers, thereby doing two things: one, expose the readers to these theories and empirical results which might then have some impact on the naïve beliefs about caste and, two, make the readers challenge these theories about caste from the perspective of their own caste experiences.”

For the record, on the birthday of the Constitution maker B.R. Ambedkar in April 2012, the entire issue of Praja Vani was guest-edited by the noted Dalit poet Devanoor Mahadeva.

Read the full article: Publicly talking about caste

Visit the Praja Vani archives: Jathi Samvada

Image: courtesy Barefoot Philosophers

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Also read: Loksatta‘s ad without SRK, MSD or AB

Anybody here who’s Dalit and speaks English?

6 pages for Ambedkar; 393 pages for the family

‘Our media only bothers about elite, middle-class’

Do we need quotas in the media?

Is Vijaya Karnataka ready for a Dalit editor?

Sen-Bhagwati row in media silly season: EPW

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Editorial in the Economic and Political Weekly:

“July and August are the months of the “silly season” for the newspapers in the United Kingdom; with everyone on a summer holiday the papers are compelled to look for silly stories to fill the pages. The Indian media – especially the financial press – seems to be in the midst of its own silly season.

“We are referring here to the screaming headlines surrounding the supposedly opposite perspectives on economic policy for India offered by the economists Jagdish Bhagwati and Amartya Sen. The context is the publication recently of An Uncertain Glory: India and Its Contradictions by Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen and that last year of India’s Tryst with Destiny by Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya.

“The media has successfully managed to portray the two works as representative of a clash between an economic policy that emphasises growth versus that which emphasises redistribution.

“Far from representing two diametrically opposite schools of thought, Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati are both mainstream economists, the one a philosopher-economist who made his mark in social choice and the other a trade theory economist. Where they differ is in the relative emphasis they place within economic policy.

“To use the language of sound bytes, Bhagwati believes that India must remove all barriers to market-driven growth and that a rising tide would lift all boats. Sen would call for attention to be paid to the spread of the benefits of growth and to the need for public interventions in specific areas where the market cannot play a positive role.

“Going by the headlines and pontification by columnists though, one would not realise that at the core this is the difference – of emphasis rather than of diametrical opposites. But then the prospect of a public battle between a Nobel Prize winner and a Nobel Prize winner-in-waiting is too tempting for our print, TV and social media to miss; rather they would even manufacture a clash.”

Image: courtesy The Telegraph

Read the full editorial: Silly season of policy debates

‘TV is manufacturing news & consent for State’

Former NDTV and Headlines Today reporter Sandeep Bhushan, now an academic at the Jamia Millia Islamia, in the Economic & Political Weekly:

“The news studio has become the site for “manufacturing” news and consent on behalf of the beleaguered state. This is largely the product of an unprecedented financial crisis which has threatened media’s advertisement-based revenue model, forcing it to cut costs and increase dependence on the state, the financial market, and other cash-rich promoters who are jostling to move into, arguably, India’s most powerful medium.

“Taken together, these have ended up making the owners/promoters, rather than editors, the prime drivers of television news content….

“Post the economic meltdown, the most grievous blow has been suffered by two key institutions that are lynchpins of news systems anywhere in the world, the editor and the reporter. Increasingly, the locus of power in news operations has shifted to the studios – the promoters and their hand-picked editors. This has resulted in a near complete centralisation of news-gathering operations….

“Studios have increasingly become a metaphor for “state”. A studio is the site where “consent” is manufactured on behalf of the existing power relations. Herman and Chomsky term this the “propaganda model”, though their context is different. The model has inbuilt filters that ensure marginalisation of “dissent” and allows the “government and dominant private interests to get their messages across to the public”. They enumerate five filters, the most relevant for us include wealth and profit orientation of the dominant media, advertising revenues as their incomes, and reliance on government, corporate sector and sundry “experts” for information.”

Read the full article: Manufacturing news

Also read: How promoters killed the TV news reporter

EPW tears into TV’s ‘hawks, hotheads, hysteria’

The Economic & Political Weekly has an editorial in its January 26 issue on the dangerous role played by Indian TV channels when the news of the beheading of an Indian soldier on the border came in two weeks ago.

“Television news,” says EPW, “is fast becoming the most dangerous extremist in India’s civil society.

“It has not just been the reporting of news but rather the sustained and well-planned build-up of a mass hysteria over the issue. It is not just one, or a few, channels which are guilty of this. With a few, and notable exceptions, television news channels and anchors have competed with each other to get people angry and hysterical.

“Stilted news, half-truths, outright falsehoods, a careful selection of “opinion makers” and “experts” who push hawkish positions and a shrill intemperate language have all been deployed each evening in a calculated move to ratchet up anger in the drawing rooms (and by extension, the “street”) and thus enhance viewership.

“In this particular context, the television channels have single-handedly built up a serious, yet minor, issue into a national hysteria. The parties and politicians of the right – from the Shiv Sena who collected a bunch of stragglers to attack Pakistani hockey players to leader of the opposition, Sushma Swaraj who demanded 10 Pakistani heads for the one soldier who was beheaded – merely took up the issue which was built up from scratch by these television channels.

“There are various reasons given for this behaviour of television news channels. These include the overcrowding of the television news space with more channels than are sustainable with the concomitant pressure on finances requiring increased advertisement revenues through higher viewership, which lead to the need to constantly create sensational news to lock in viewers.

“Television news channels are not only competing with each other for viewers but with general entertainment channels, sports channels and even non-television events as they try to get more eyeballs. Many of these pressures on television news are not unique to India and different media cultures have found solutions to this in ways that address their specific contexts. However, the Indian television media seems to have decided to use shrill chauvinism as a way out of this.

“The Kargil war of 1999 first illustrated the potential for such a business strategy but it was the terrorist attack on Mumbai in 2008 that finally seems to have convinced India’s television journalists of the profitability of rabid demagoguery. There is nothing inevitable about this business strategy and those who have initiated it and been its willing purveyors have to assume responsibility.

“As various people have already noted, by getting coerced by television news’ manufactured hysteria and sending back the Pakistani hockey players and postponing the agreement on visa-on-arrival for the elderly, the Government of India has allowed its foreign policy to be held hostage by Indian television media’s dangerous chauvinism.

“There is no easy way out of this dead end that we appear to have reached. Government regulation of media is dangerous and unacceptable, but equally so is a media that often outdoes India’s virulent right-wing in stoking xenophobia.

“Can we think of creative methods of oversight on the media which do not involve government or corporate influence? Or perhaps, should we reclassify television news channels as general entertainment (of the “Big Boss” reality television variety) and deal with it accordingly?”

Read the full editorial: Frothing at the mouth

Also read: Is news TV becoming a national security hazard?

EPW on the RIL-ETV-TV18 deal-within-a-deal

In the latest issue of the Economic & Political Weekly, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Subi Chaturvedi weigh in on the nearly forgotten RIL-ETV-TV18 deal, which gives India’s biggest business house control over India’s biggest business news channel, a clutch of news channels, online properties and magazines:

“If international best practices are to be followed, cross-media restrictions should be put in place to prevent large groups from owning stakes across several media, such as print, newspapers, television, radio and the internet. In the US, restrictions place a limit on the market-share available to one entity and that prevents newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership in the same market.

“In France and Canada, a “two out of three” law prevails, whereby companies can only own two of three of the following: terrestrial television services, radio services and daily newspapers. In the UK, the ownership of both newspapers and radio stations, and of both television channels and newspapers in the same area, is prohibited….

“The uniqueness of India’s “mediascape” suggests that while restrictions may be desirable, the safeguards deemed appropriate may not precisely be those that apply in other countries. The TRAI has suggested that a detailed market analysis be conducted by the I&B Ministry in order to ascertain which safeguards would be most appropriate in the Indian context.

“Restrictions on cross-media ownership and control will certainly be resisted staunchly by the big conglomerates in India which own properties across media types and segments. These groups would be vociferous in their criticism of any step to move towards regulation of corporate “groups” or “conglomerates” as opposed to specific “entities” – they would resist such moves tooth and nail.

“Any attempt to impose cross-media restrictions on ownership and control would be dubbed as ‘heavy-handed government censorship’, ‘a return to the bad days of the Emergency’, and a ‘reversion to the infamous licence control raj. The government will invarialy be accused of trying to constrain the media because the media is critical of those in positions of power and authority.

“The argument that since cross-media restrictions exist in advanced capitalist countries with developed media markets, such restrictions should also exist in India, will be countered by claims that since India is a developing country, any restrictions on ownership and control would stifle the media’s growth potential.”

Read the full article: Corporatisation of the media

Also read: Mint says SEBI looking into RIL-Network18/TV18-ETV deal

Rajya Sabha TV tears into RIL-Network18-ETV deal

Will RIL-TV18-ETV deal win SEBI, CCI approval?

The sudden rise of Mukesh Ambani, media mogul

The Indian Express, Reliance & Shekhar Gupta

Niira Radia, Mukesh Ambani, Prannoy Roy & NDTV

ET joins Mint, has questions on RIL-ETV-TV18 deal

Anchors, editors, motormouths & other nuisances

It’s that time of year once again, when columnists crawl out of their quilts, double-dip their quills in vitriol and go for kill (yes, it’s a punny time of year, too).

The veteran journalist Jawid Laiq—with Indian Express, New Delhi, Economic & Political Weekly on his resume—does the needful in Mail Today, with a list of politicians and “other public nuisances” he would like to see less of in the year of the lord 2012.

In his firing line: two news television anchors—Barkha Dutt of NDTV 24×7 and Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN-IBN—and a newspaper editor, Chandan Mitra of The Pioneer.

Images: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today

Also read: When Rajdeep Sardesai got it left, right and centre