Journalism and media-
Journalism is the production and distribution of reports on various events taking place in a country. Media is the means of mass communication which includes print, television, radio, internet, and, newspapers. India is the largest democracy with a spirited media space and there exists a complex relationship between Indian media and the Indian political system. Also, the production and distribution of media are now concentrated in the hands of only a few.
Earlier, when globalization was introduced in India, it had a major impact on professional journalism here. Over the years, the media and journalists have made significant efforts in bringing out the inefficiencies of the government, mismanagement and corruption.[i] But as far as the idea of ownership of media was concerned, there has always been a debate as to whether it is beneficial or not. After all, media and journalism act pillars of democracies that hold it together in place.
Journalism and media are vital elements of society as these elements when not under any external pressure, not only inform the citizens about the various events and social issues that keep mushrooming in a particular country but also they paint a true image of the society as it is and also as it ought to be. The media mustn’t be fully controlled by profit-maximizing firms as it will only result in the collapse of media and journalism, in their real spirits, in a country.
Monopolization and its effect on Indian Journalism-
Monopolization is basically when an individual or a firm, exercises exclusive control over the supply of a commodity or a service. It gives them the power to regulate the market, in the hands of only a group of limited, powerful and big firms or just an individual.
In India, media is centralized in the hands of few and these people are politically powerful. There are many media organizations in India that are owned and regulated by a wide variety of institutions including corporate bodies, societies and trusts, and even individuals. Information about such organisations and people is disintegrated, incomplete, and very out-dated, which makes it difficult to gather and analyse such information. The media market is more oligopolistic as there are only a few players dominating their control over specific market segments. There are very minimal restrictions on cross-media which implies that particular companies or groups dominate markets vertically and horizontally. Besides that, political parties and people associated with these parties are politically strong and therefore, exercise their control over political sections of Indian media. The controllers and promoters of these media groups used to hold their interests in many other businesses and they continued with the same, which ultimately helped them to promote these businesses. There have been a few cases where promoters have used profits coming from media operations to expand these businesses. Also, now media producers and distributors are coming together.
The Indian media market is different from those of developed countries on many levels. India being a developing country, is still making reforms in all its segments of the media industry even if we talk about print and radio. The media market in India remains diversified, as it has a variety of languages and cultural diversification. The size of the country also plays an important role in expanding the media market.
This trend of monopoly and oligopoly may result in the loss of options and a plurality of sources of information in media for people and they might not be provided with an opportunity to know the full picture of the issues going on in the society. Also, they might not have a choice in selecting such a source of information.
The Supreme Court of the United States of America, in a landmark case of Red Lion v. FCC[ii] made this unquestionable assertion that defined a broader range of constitutional protections that are enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The United States of America’sSupremeCourt ruled that the public’s right to receive information is an essential part of the First Amendment under its free speech clause. Safeguarding the public’s right to “an uninhibited marketplace of ideas” requires diversity among those who own and control media outlets, to ensure that Americans remain free to choose among many sources of information, viewpoints, and ideas.[iii]
Media Ownership Monitor-
The Media Ownership Monitor (MOM) project is a research and advocacy effort to promote transparency and media pluralism at an international level. It was an initiative by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). In India, it was conducted along with a Delhi based digital media company called DataLEADS. The project was financed by the government of Germany. Their studies have so far been published in Albania, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cambodia, Egypt, Ghana, Lebanon, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, Peru, and the Philippines.[iv]
As discussed above, we all know India is bigger and has a rich cultural and ethnic diversification. However, this large number of media outlets and the country’s cultural and ethnic richness does not automatically result in a variety in supply. The Media Ownership Monitor indicates just the opposite of it, meaning, the existence of a significant trend towards concentration, which would eventually control the flow of content and public opinion.
Problems with the laws regulating Media Monopoly in India-
The problems if listed go as follows:
- There is no law regulating horizontal monopolies exclusively concerning the media industry.
- There is no law regulating cross-media ownership and vertical integration in the media.
- There are laws that prevent widespread community ownership and use of the media.
- There is no specific framework of disclosure norms for media ownership.
- The lack of media monopolies is not typically linked with issues of freedom of speech and access to media.
Competition law has hardly proved to be efficient in preventing the escalation of media monopolies in India. Media plays a pivotal role in framing/shaping public opinion. Competition in media markets then, while necessary, is just not a sufficient enough condition to ensure diversity of media ownership. We need more media-specific regulatory mechanisms that can prevent horizontal media monopolies across languages, states and varying kinds of content. Most media firms are also under the control of private companies which manipulate the data and information on their own accord. There is a very little chance of reliable data being shared on their part.
The existence of monopolies, oligopolies and the lack of diversity in media ownership or content are issues that are directly linked to questions of freedom of speech and right to information, which are guaranteed as basic Fundamental Rights by the Indian Constitution. Our courts have often failed to make a fair connection in this regard. As far as the Sakal Newspapers case of 1961 is concerned, the government proposed to bring a regulation to curtail newspaper monopolies, the court declared that such a regulation was in violation of the fundamental right of freedom of speech as it intervened with the right to speech of newspapers. The Supreme Court thus visualized a form of freedom of speech that was segregated from the presence of media diversity and the right to access the media. Later on, in the year 1995, the Cricket Association case came up wherein, the Supreme Court reviewed its stance and acknowledged that media diversity and pluralism were an important part of the right to freedom of speech and expression.[v]
The fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression is inclusive of freedom from interference, right to access and right to access diverse choices and all these three rights included in it is indispensably related with each other. These rights can solve the issues that the media creates for the common people, in a country like India. The monopoly over the media is a threat to media freedom and it will continue to prevail if it is not given the appropriate attention. The real challenge that lies before the Indian media is to ensure that the increasing convergence of ownership in an oligopolistic market does not result in the loss of plurality and heterogeneity of media. The commodification of media will do no good to the citizens of India as they will not receive what they are supposed to. The information would be filtered, manipulated and altered in the firms’ best interests. “Public good” is the priority of media and it must remain to be so but privatization and monopolization of Journalism and media will only act as barriers against this.
Q1. What is cross-media ownership?
Ans. Cross-ownership of media occurs when a person or company owns outlets in more than one medium i.e., newspapers, radio, and television in the same geographical market.
Q2. What is the vertical integration of media?
Ans. Vertical Integration is when a Media Company owns different businesses in the same chain of production and distribution.
Q3.What is horizontal integration of media?
Ans. Horizontal Integration is a Media Company’s Ownership of several businesses of the same value.
Q4. What is an Oligopolistic Market?
Ans. An oligopolistic market is a market form wherein a market or industry is dominated by a small group of large sellers.
Q5. Who controls media in India?
Ans. Many of the media are controlled by large, for-profit corporations, which reap revenue from advertising, subscriptions, and sale of the copyrighted material.
[ii]395 U.S. 367 (1969)