Or is it time to restrict ownership across news media?

30 May,2017

 

 

By Pradyuman Maheshwari

 

If your sibling is upset with an entity it perceives as competition, what do you do? Especially if all of what the competition does could be harmful to your sibling’s business interests?You try to outwit this competitor in every possible way. For, if siblings, friends, relatives don’t come to the aid of each other, who will?

All of this may be fine in real-life up to a point of course, but when it concerns the news media, there’s a problem. It’s a question of cross-media ownership, and although the Indian media and entertainment laws frown only some types of multiple media ownership, the government has been silent about horizontal ownership of newspapers, news channels, websites and radio.

It may be recalled that it’s these very fears of how cross-media ownership of TAM and media agency network GroupM wasn’t healthy that led to the eventual exit of TAM from the television audience measurement business. TAM did not quit because of the cross-media rules, but did not get any of the legs of the BARC business because it’s 50%-owned by a media agency owner.

But does all of this give the Times of India group licence to negatively portray ArnabGoswami and his Republic TV channel? Defame may be a strong word and have legal connotations, so one will desist from using that. Look at the slideshow below. What the clippings do not capture is the status given to all these news items in the Mumbai and Delhi editions of The Times of India and Economic Times. Some of these on top of early right-hand-side pages.

It may be argued that carrying of the news items was at the discretion of the editor and stories like that of Shashi Tharoor taking Republic to court featured in some other media as well. But the prominence and missionary zeal with which TOI and ET have carried the news over the last few weeks point to more than just merit of the news carried.

Now it’s not that ArnabGoswami and Republic TV haven’t done their bit to provoke Times Now and the group and a key functionary. But should these entities have got so provoked?

I am not a lawyer to know the legal merits about the Shashi Tharoor-Sunanda Pushkar Man Friday tapes case, but ethically and morally, it was an incorrect act (by Republic TV). I highlighted this in a tweet minutes after it was first aired on May 8.

By publishing the news on the legal facets twice or thrice over in its bestselling siblings, Times Now seems to have lost an opportunity to win back the ‘sympathy’ and ‘loyalty’ of a large number of people who’ve been backing Goswami to win the battle. Look at the handle Times has given Republic by using the columns of its papers to fight the battle. Given this, Goswami has reason to go to town screaming that a large corporate media group is out to destroy him.

In fact, with all of this space in the papers, Republic TV can easily do away with its creative agency Ogilvy and media agency Mindshare as TOI and ET have been giving it all the publicity it would like.

More than the fight in print, television and the Courts, there is a larger issue of cross-media ownership that the government I hear is considering once again.

Although reversing things may be tough now (as in it will be impossible to ask Times of India group to reduce its equity in Times Network), but there may be some tighter rules. Although there has been no representation to the government yet, there is a growing fear in some quarters of how interests in multiple media genres can be abused by owners.

Is Times of India’s act of carrying negative news on Republic an act of abuse? Not exactly abuse, but it needs to be careful about an ever-vigilant social media and a judiciary which doesn’t mind taking on the mighty.

If Times Now wants to win the battle against Republic TV, it should not give it any attention, and let its content do the talking. Highlighting Times Now content in the paper if the editors are fine with carrying it is a way to do this. While this again indicates to a cross-media ownership conflict, it can always be passed on as a special arrangement between the two media entities. Just as there can be between the Times of India, and, say, the New York Times or Al Jazeera.

Meanwhile, expect some action on the cross-media ownership front over the next few weeks or months.

 

Pradyuman Maheshwari is Editor-in-Chief of MxMIndia. The views expressed here are his own.

 

 

 

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