On The Question Of Media Ownership: Why It Matters Today More Than Ever

Valery Legasov, the chemist who investigated the Chernobyl disaster, and the protagonist in the show ‘Chernobyl’, eloquently said, “Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, that debt is paid.”

The power of truth is intricately linked to the welfare and progress of humanity. Truth is necessary to know what we are, to know what we want and to know what are our priorities. Truth is inadvertently connected to the media– referred to as the fourth pillar of democracy. Free, independent and unbiased media helps give voice to the people, acts as a bridge between the people and those in power, promotes deliberation on diverse ideas and makes people in power realise the power of people. Media thus has power to make democracy resilient, vibrant.

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On the flip side, the media has the power to shape people’s perspectives, set agendas of debate, determine priorities and manipulate the opinions of people. This makes it necessary that the media should not be controlled by any individual or a group of individuals. Worst still, when media ownership is connected to business or political affiliations, the outcome is debilitating for both media freedom and democracy. This makes it crucial to have legislative mechanisms to regulate and monitor media ownership.

India is one of the largest media markets in the world, with more than 1 lakh registered publications, over 550 FM radio stations, over 880 satellite TV channels. However, despite this vast amount of media outlets and the inherent diversity of India, according to research by Reporters Without Borders, there is a concentration of ownership of media and a handful of people own and control Indian media.

The data of 58 leading media outlets with the largest audience shares in India indicate that there is media audience concentration and most of the leading media companies are owned by large conglomerates that are still controlled by the founding families and that invest in a vast array of industries other than media.

Take for instance following statistics as reported in The Caravan. Data from the registrar of companies in the ministry of corporate affairs shows that five Indian news media companies—NDTV, News Nation, India TV, News24 and Network18—are either indebted to Mukesh Ambani, the richest Indian and the owner of Reliance Industries, or to Mahendra Nahata, an industrialist and associate of Ambani’s, who is also on the board of Reliance’s new telecom venture, Reliance Jio.

Through loans and investments, Ambani, Nahata, and industrialist Abhey Oswal have given the five media companies funds that range from tens to hundreds of crores of rupees, the report says. As a result, the control that the three businessmen wield over these media networks varies from 20 to over 70%. Republic TV, accounting for 50% viewership for English news at prime -time, is owned by Asianet news which is owned by BJP MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar.

This is an inevitable recipe for crony capitalism. In this context, Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRAI) highlighted that the ownership of media companies by a handful of entities would increase the “possibility of misuse of the rights of the media for interests that are not in the larger public good.”

TRAI has released a recommendation paper giving guidelines on media ownership that includes, among other things, control of ownership at 20% shareholding, or over 50% voting rights or half the members in a media company’s board. TRAI also suggested, if a media firm was dominant in a market both in print and television, its owner should be made to bring down its equity holding to 20% over time. It recommended regulations on cross-media ownership be reviewed every three years after rules were framed. However, no action has been taken on TRAI’s recommendations, as the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has continued to sidestep this issue for more than five years now.

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Media played a crucial role in the freedom struggle as it was a tool for educating and mobilizing people. Our Constitution makers recognised the need for free, fierce, and independent media as an ultimate safeguard of public opinion and democratic rights. Now, it is time to reimagine their vision. This calls for a renewed look at the state of media ownership and comprehensive legislation to ensure the credibility of the press and sanctity of democracy.

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Is there imminent need to bring law on media ownership?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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