Indrani Sen: Who should own Indian media?

14 May,2018

 

By Indrani Sen

 

Last week, after the Flipkart deal was signed and sealed, we saw an interesting article in ET Brand Equity on 11th May, 2018 pointing out the apparent scepticism with which large Indian Business Houses viewed the scope of investing in the internet ecosystem and home grown digital business –https://brandequity.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/business-of-brands/hello-ambanis-and-tatas-how-did-you-not-see-the-elephant-in-the-room/64123862 .

The above article pointed out the opportunities which have been lost by Indian corporate giants in investing in the country’s e-commerce boom. Perhaps the crash of the first dot.com bubble in India (1997-2001) coloured the judgement of our corporate giants, perhaps they did not see adequate value in the digital media business formats which their foreign counter parts did, and perhaps they could not foresee the speed at which digital media will be growing in India, a developing country. Whatever were the reasons for their apathy, the outcome has not been good for India as our digital ecosystem is largely owned by American companies rather than being a standalone system like China, who does not seem to have any qualm about investing in India digital companies.

It might not have been possible for Indian corporate sector to finance a totally stand alone system like China, but their participation in the financing of internet ecosystem in India would have seen a more balanced digital infrastructure. It is surely a lost opportunity for India Inc. and poses a threat to Indian economy and society through cultural imperialism in the digital age. Times Group MD, Vineet Jain raised this issue in his recent speech delivered at the recently held 15th Asia Media Summit in New Delhi during last week (May 10-12) – https://www.exchange4media.com/marketing/india-is-the-most-exciting-media-market-in-the-world-says-vineet-jain-_89900.html.

This naturally brings up the question – who owns Indian media? The rules and regulation related to this ownership issue are quite vague with many regional newspapers owing their origin to the politics of the Indian freedom struggle.The proprietors of many such newspapers got actively or passively involved with different political parties after independence. Subsequently, we have seen examples of seemingly apolitical editors getting nominated to Rajya Sabha as MPs by the ruling political parties in different states followed by tactical changes in news reporting policies of their newspaper.

Nalin Mehta, an educator, journalist and writerfound through his extensive researchthat three types of people/ organisations have invested large funds in news television in India – politicians, real estate proprietors and big chit fund and money marketing companies. Both the real estate and chit fund businesses are heavily dependent on the local government and the political parties in power for a profitable running of their business which is expected to colour the news reporting in the channels owned by them. Mehta wrote in an article in Outlook in 2015 (https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/who-owns-the-news-and-why/294350)“My research shows that between them such companies make up over 80% of news TV business in Andhra, Karnataka and Odisha and around 60%- 70% in Punjab, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and the north-east.”

On the other hand, relaxation of rules related to FDI in different media after globalisation has opened up a Pandora’s Box regarding ownership of Indian media which our government is not able to control. It is high time that our government review the rules and regulations related to media ownership across traditional and new media formats in India and draw up a standard format regarding who should own Indian media.

 

 

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