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What Is Cross Media Ownership And How Is It Responsible For Corruption In Indian Media?

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(Note: I had written this article almost a year ago for Young Bhartiya (Mumbai-based think tank). Observing the current media trends, this article remains relevant even today and gives an understanding of why we see what we see in various news channels today). 

Media is called the fourth pillar of Indian democracy. It plays a crucial role as a medium of communication between the government and the people. In today’s world, thanks to technology, news is available to everybody at anytime at their fingertips, and it moulds public opinion of almost everything.

Thus, it becomes important to know the source and intent of the news one reads. Different media groups provide us with diverse opinions. Media pluralism reflects an essential tenet of democracy i.e. freedom of speech. It plays a vital role in sustaining a democracy and therefore, it is essential that media itself functions in a democratic manner.

Hence, in order to serve its inherent purpose, it is vital that media channels provide to its readers true content without any biases or motives. Media is a powerful institution and under wrong influences, it can act as a threat to democracy. This article discusses the biggest challenge that the media industry is facing today: Media Ownership. 

Oligarchy in any business is considered unhealthy. However, unfortunately, the current trends in media market point towards cross media ownership. Cross media ownership is a situation in which a single media producer owns different channels of communication, which include print, digital, television, radio etc. India is a lingually diverse nation, then one might wonder, how is media dominance possible?

We, however, see it spreading unregulated in the Indian scenario. One of the best-selling English newspapers in India, The Times of India, owns 40 other new media businesses. Similarly, other major groups such as Essel group (owner of Zee media) and Hindustan Times have influence over more than one media platforms.

It’s not surprising that the majority of the news channels today are either owned or controlled by political parties or corporate houses. Moreover, political parties and corporate entities have a symbiotic relationship. Corporates provide parties with funds and, in return, political parties help them grow their business. An ideal media would expose this unfair nexus, but today, it has also become one of them.

Democracy, often called as rule of majority, is designed in such a way that the ruling party can never turn itself into an autocratic power. The opposition party and the media have a huge role in ensuring that. But in reality, the Indian media, instead of being the watchdog, acts as the right hand of the ruling party.

Cobrapost, a non-profit news website, once conducted a sting operation to uncover relations between the current ruling party and certain prominent media houses. Few of these media houses are India Today, Zee News, the Times of India, Network 18, Radio One and Dainik Jagran. ‘Operation 136 ‘, as it has been termed, exposed the ill practices that these media houses engage in to favour the party by manipulating public opinion.

Political parties use media outlets for lobbying purposes as a medium to achieve their vested interests, and especially as an instrument to promote their party during elections. They own the channels either directly in their own name, through their relatives or through corporate companies. For instance, the Sun group is indirectly owned by the DMK party. The group not only owns TV channels, but also radio stations, three daily newspapers and magazines in Tamil.

All over the world today, corporate entities own most of the media platforms. For them, it is not just a source to reap profits and expand their business, but also a way towards influence and power. By investing in media groups, they pursue their economic interests. Rupert Murdoch is a well known name in the media empire. He not only owns media platforms in Australia, but also has influence over foreign media platforms including India.

In India, the Reliance group, run by the Ambani family, has major control over media channels. Media group Network 18 is owned by them; Network 18 in turn owns several television news channels. Ownership of corporate firms restricts the ease and credibility of media. In the year 2013, Akash Ambani of Reliance Industries was involved in a car crash. However, very few media houses actually reported this incident to its full length, and out of those who reported it, some had to delete their report later. Clearly, the corporate influence over media did not allow facts regarding the case to be put out in public sphere.

Such media ownership is dangerous for a democracy. It has completely altered the way media should function. The institution of media, ideally, should remain independent from any kind of fear, pressure or external interference in their affairs. Sadly, media groups today are dependent on political parties and corporate entities for investment and thus, fear to report anything against them.

news anchors india

All this has led to rise in commercialisation of news, paid news, sensational news stories and propaganda news. Thus, what the readers or viewers get is filtered and manipulative information. The rampant use of internet adds more to this misery. Traditional media outlets have websites in their name and own many other news websites as well. Due to common ownership, the content present is not new, thus affecting media plurality. The new media has also become a platform to spread fake news.

Another pressing issue in the media industry is of commercialisation and the growing number of advertisements in both print and new media. More than news content, newspaper columns are filled with advertisements. Instead of important news articles, advertisements occupy front pages of leading newspaper dailies. This again decreases the readers’ access to important information.

The Indian media, during its beginning in the independence days, emerged as the voice of the people and the nation. It had a mission and a purpose to serve the nation. It represented a collective voice of the people against the British oppression. Media was then strong and independent. But post independence, the sanctity and integrity of this institution started declining. Today, media is witnessing dark times where it has surrendered its powers to those with money.

This issue has not received due attention. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting referred this issue to TRAI twice, in 2008 and 2014. The TRAI, in its consultation paper, recommended measures to regulate media ownership. Apart from India, cross media ownership exists in many other countries. The US, the UK, Australia and Canada have formulated laws to limit media ownerships in their countries.

Australia and Canada have a blanket restriction on the entry of a media entity into more than one or two media segments. After studying the laws in these countries, TRAI recommended that political bodies, religious bodies, government institutions and other publicly funded bodies should not be allowed to own media groups as media plurality is necessary in building public opinion.

Except for the formulation of Press Council of India in 1978, no other action has been taken to check media ownership. No strict action has been taken on the recommendation given by the TRAI. In the current scenario, media should no more function as a self-regulated body. Regulations in media is the need of the hour.

Despite living in a democracy, citizens find it hard to get to the truth. Their rights are being violated by those who are meant to protect them. And thus they ask, ‘Can the media be trusted?’ 

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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.

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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.

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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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