By Lata Jha:
It’s like the heartless step-parent’s whip that can make the child do anything. Media patterns and functions are today largely controlled and dictated by the politics of the boardroom. Because that is where, literally, the buck stops.
In July and August last year, Deccan Chronicle, reportedly the largest-selling English daily published out of Hyderabad, was making news for all its rival publications for all the wrong reasons. The newspaper’s publisher Deccan Chronicle Holdings Limited (DCHL) and its chairman T. Venkattram Reddy were going through their worst-ever financial crisis.
Like Ramoji Rao, Raghav Bahl, Aroon Purie, Prannoy Roy and other veterans, Venkattram Reddy sought his knight in shining armour in Kishore Biyani of the Future group. But unlike the media entrepreneurs mentioned, he sought to diversify his group’s business interests away from the media into cricket (DCHL owns the “Deccan Chargers” team in the Indian Premier League), retailing books, stationery, and gifts (through the Odyssey chain of stores) and civil aviation (through Aviotech), besides racing horses. Many have argued that Venkattram Reddy’s problems began when he diversified into areas that were unrelated to his core business, that is, media.
The significance of this corporate alliance lies in the sole argument made, namely, that corporatization institutionalizes third party interests, which, under the guise of the need for financial viability, results in certain conflicts of interest. A large section of the mass media in India, today, stands at a junction of stakeholder benefits, their interests and goals divided between their corporate stakeholders and their mass audiences. It is highly improbable that the interests of both sets of stakeholders will ever converge or be complementary.
The last few years have been some of the worst for media in India and around the world. The Great Recession in the West and the economic slowdown in India have resulted in many advertisers curtailing their advertising expenditure. The deceleration has contributed to the ongoing phase of consolidation in the media. Large media corporations are today clearly playing a major role in the political economy. The dominance of Italy’s media by Silvio Berlusconi, the country’s longest serving head of government, is an apt example.
Media conglomerates today comprise many different companies which allow them to have controlling stakes both in broadcasting and distribution by acquiring licences under one parent brand, thus totally bypassing any restrictions and defeating the purpose of the diversity of existence in the first place. Restrictions therefore no longer need to be placed on “companies” but on “entities” or groups, which would include large groups and conglomerates. Both horizontal and vertical monopolies are a reality today. We wake up to read one particular news, drive to work listening to the same perspective on the radio and come back in the evening to watch a “debate” with the same bend.
Media around the world is facing its hugest ever threat today. It’s very clearly about the sabse bada rupaiya phenomenon.