Thursday, July 03, 2014

Should we worry about business houses owning media?

Reliance Industries' acquisition of control over Network 18 has generated some comment, albeit mostly on the Net, not the print media. There is concern over the implications of business houses or corporates owning or controlling the media, whether print or visual media. The Aditya Birla group  has a substantial stake in the India Today group and the Tata house controls Tata Sky. As Vanita Kohli Khandekar notes in a perceptive piece in BS, there is little people getting worked up over business groups entering, well, another business. Many of the large newspapers in the country are controlled by those who came from a corporate background.

The point is that as long as there is diversity in ownership, we need not worry unduly. Some business house will support the Congress, another will support the BJP and a third group may root for some regional party. What we need to ensure is nobody dominates, that is, there is plurality and diversity and that all conduct the media businesses in accordance with norms, in others, a regulator that keeps an eye on the media as a whole. Khandekar has valuable suggestions to make:
One, an independent-of-the-government media regulator with powers a la Federal Communications Commission (US) or Ofcom (UK). They set the business rules, keep a check on ownership, prevent the formation of monopolies, stop bad practices and create a healthy environment for free media.
Two, a law that forces any organisation in the news business to publish its accounts and every detail of who owns it, how it is funded, its revenues, and so on at fixed periods, online. This forced transparency will deter the "unsavoury" entrants, reduce hyper-competition and, therefore, the plummeting of standards.

Three, a high-quality, independent, taxpayer-funded broadcaster. If Doordarshan was a world-class news channel, it would force the private ones to aim for better quality like the presence of BBC has done in the UK.
The last point cannot be over-emphasised. I have noted in my blogs that DD has improved quite a bit. (Rajya Sabha TV's Samvidan on Sunday, which is about the making of the Indian constitution, is a model of quality programming). One hopes that under the new government, DD gets the support it needs in order to provide the lead to private players. 

1 comment:

Dishank Gandhi said...

Very well written article...