What politicians think of big biz in news media

25 May,2012


By Karuna Madan


Even as Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni recently said that the Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) did not hold any direct stake in any news media company in the country, politicians across the party lines feel that the statement does not hold water. Rather, they lament the sorry state of affairs caused due to the unholy and unnatural nexus of business and news in India .


Vice president of the main opposition, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Karuna Shukla regrets the fact that the mighty corporate and business houses are investing in news media only for the purpose of “twisting” public opinion or government policies in their favour.


She feels that the news media must, essentially, be free and neutral at all times and circumstances: “You see, the news media is supposed to be free, neutral and free from biases. So much so that even the advertisements shown or published by the media groups defeat the very concept of neutrality. The case of 2G spectrum can be taken as a valid example. These business groups are now moving to all possible avenues of money-making. But news is sacred, it should not be touched. It cannot be sacrificed at the altar of big bucks.”


“The people we are talking about are smart. They are not only buying stakes in media but have now started their own newspapers. Today it is ‘their money’ which is controlling news media in India . Their money decides how much truth must be revealed and how much be kept hidden. What are they trying to prove by buying stakes in existing media houses or starting their own news businesses? Investment by industrialists in media is no social service. They have no social responsibility. They invest only with the intention to influence public opinion; creating favorable opinion for them and disapproving opinion for their competitors,” Ms Shukla emphasised.


Ambeth Rajan, Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha), from Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) said that the news organisations these days are not only taking money from big business houses of the country, they are also shamelessly taking directions from them and blindly following the diktats.


“These corporates decide what news must be flashed and what not, and which news item can be used for blackmailing a certain politician or a rival business group. You see a certain kind of news flashing on a particular channel only because it has the potential to harm the interests of the rivals or support the interests of a particular segment of society or a particular political party. All this is orchestrated and staged. Is this what we know and understand as ‘sacred business of news’,” Mr Rajan averred.


A powerful Congress leader at the Centre, who does not want to be named, told MxM India that “nobody is a saint here. Yahan doodh ka dhula koi nahin hai.”


Meanwhile, Nilotpal Basu, Member of the Central Secretariat of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), describes it as “very disturbing trend.” “Corporate investment in news media is nothing but marketing, rather aggressive, shameless marketing. The big business houses do not really bother about what repercussions it will have on the state of affairs in the next ten years or so. These big business houses are aware of the power of media and are abusing that. The industrialists in the country exploit the news business, particularly during elections at the state and national level,” said Mr Basu.


“The corporates are investing and owning media to influence media space and policy directions. We are opposed to unregulated investment of corporate in media. These investments undermine the concept of free media, and media as an avenue for information. This is extremely sad that this trend is going completely unchecked and the government seems just not bothered to rectify the malady,” he added.


Likewise, Prabhodh Panda, Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha), Communist Party of India (Marxist), feels that the news media was controlled by the corporate sector even earlier by way of paid news, which came to be openly discussed only recently: “We know that the corporate sector is trying to influence public opinion by investing in news media. Even otherwise, the media is mostly publishing or telecasting paid news. It is an unethical practice by media groups, which must be curbed. It can be curbed only if the governments at the state and national level display the political will to do so. Media must maintain high stands of morality and ethics. The government, particularly at the Centre, must initiate steps to ensure that the media is not abused by the industrialists for their petty benefits, sometimes even at the cost of national security. Also the Press Council of India should come out with guidelines on the entry of corporates in the news media business and adopt a firm stand in this regard. What else the Press Council of India , or for that matter Prasar Bharti, are for,” said Mr Panda.


Interestingly, Debabrata Biswas, General Secretary, All India Forward Bloc, stated that the motive behind corporate investments in news media is an open secret: “It is a well known fact that the multinational companies are completely controlling print and electronic media in India and even outside the country, thus trying to influence international government policies and the state of world economy. Earlier, the character of news media was altogether different. It was more of a catalyst to bring about positive change in the society. It played a major part during the freedom struggle of the country. News essentially meant positive and developmental reportage, free of all kinds of biases and prejudices. It was aptly described as the powerful fourth pillar of democracy. When one talked of media, one talked of an independent and neutral news providing machinery, not of the handmaid of industrialists. These industrialists have now completely taken over the business of news, directly and indirectly. Everyone knows that Birlas, Tatas and Ambanis are now controlling the newspapers and news channels in the country,” said Mr Biswas.


Amarjit Kaur, National Secretary, Communist Party of India (CPI), feels that the investments by big business houses into the news media is most certainly “not innocent investment.” “The purpose of investments made by the big business barons of India into our news media is only profit, profit and more profit. Industrialists know that they can get their projects cleared within no time if they have a direct or indirect influence or say in any popular newspaper or new channel having a good subscriber base. These news outfits then act as agents of the corporates. But unfortunately, nothing much can be done about this new trend of corporate interest in media, the reason being that the government is pro-corporates and it shows. If the Information and Broadcasting Ministry is turning a blind eye to this malaise, do you think, the common man has any choice. We can only lament the situation which is turning worse by the day due to utter failure and inaction on the part of the government in this regard,” said Ms Kaur.


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