India’s Political Parties, Media Ownership And The Monopoly Of News

It is not uncommon for political parties to have their own media mouthpieces. We have seen how different political leaders have used different newspapers for different purposes, including our independence. Today for all our political contenders, television is an important means of reaching out to the large audiences.

Media ownership is a process where fewer participants or organisations buy the shares of the mass media. There are five main characteristics of the proprietorship of mass tabloids. Chain, cross-media, conglomerate and vertical integration. Chain ownership ensures that the same press organisation owns numerous outlets in one variable, a newspaper chain, a television terminal sequence, and a broadcast terminal string. Print or broadcast media are usually owned by individuals, government, people’s groups, etc. Media ownership of a media’s paternity or ownership.

Over the last few years, news has had to reinvent itself completely. It now rests on a totally new aspect – online traction.

Ownership has a huge impact on the nature of the election coverage of a media outlet or any political coverage for that matter. State-owned and government-owned media are directly controlled by the state or the ruling party and may, therefore, tend to favour incumbent parties and candidates. The media houses which are owned by the political parties avoid publishing any controversial statements which may exhibit anti-party ideals to maintain a harmonious relationship between the two.

Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) acts independently of any political body but often receives state financial support. Private-owned (corporate or otherwise) media may be independent, but may also serve their owner’s political interests. These owners may be political parties and candidates themselves.

Party and politician-owned media cover the range of different types of mass media created by parties, from small party propaganda sheets to media owned by rich political businesspeople. For example, NDTV is allegedly run by the left. News 24 is owned by Congress MP Rajiv Shukla. Zee News is run by Subhash Chandra who is a Rajya Sabha member. CNN-IBN is owned by Mukesh Ambani.

The nexus between media and politicians have been quite convenient in the contemporary media scenario to promote their respective interests. This alliance has its roots in the objective of ‘public service’ which both claim to serve. It is this pretence of public service that politicians are now using to acquire stakes in the media business such as the Times Group is on good terms with BJP so it rarely gives out any information which is anti-BJP.

Media professionals also took advantage of their reputation for entering the political arena. Continuing the vicious circle, we see politicians taking on media stakes to benefit from it. For example, Hindustan Times is biased towards Congress as its owner, Shobhana Bhatia, is a Rajya Sabha MP, nominated by the government led by UPA back in 2006. It is easy to justify pro-Congress alignment by getting into their holding structure and various people sitting on higher positions.

But really, what does this signify about our democracy, where both the politicians and media play different, yet dominant roles?

Political leadership ownership in a transparent, accountable and enabling media environment would not have been a problem. It wouldn’t have been that embarrassing whether it’s the government or a public body or a business or a non-governmental or even a media-owned political party.

However, in the current week’s media policy framework, this is a matter of concern and lack of restraint. Of course, audiences are no longer so naïve and can switch channels quickly (at least in a few mature segments). They can opt for channels of information whether on different channels or different visions. But, in general, political affiliations and misinformation are not so obvious. Most of us don’t know our popular media’s learnings and political stakeholders.

To ensure unbiased information sharing, many countries have even prohibited media ownership of certain organisations such as political and religious groups. Similarly, India’s Telecom Regulatory Authority also recommended restricting the ownership of media channels and distribution platforms by certain entities such as religious, political bodies and individuals.

Alternately, we can at least make it compulsory for all media to disclose their stakeholder’s names and openly establish their leanings, allowing citizens to make their own informed choices.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Al Jazeera English/Flickr.

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