Subscribe to MRZine
THE ENDLESS CRISIS: How Monopoly-Finance Capital Produces Stagnation and Upheaval from the USA to China
by John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney
THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF MEDIA:
Enduring Issues, Emerging Dilemmas
by Robert W. McChesney
THE PROBLEM OF THE MEDIA: U.S. Communication Politics in the Twenty-First Century
by Robert W. McChesney
CENSORSHIP, INC.: The Corporate Threat to Free Speech in the United States by Lawrence Soley
CAPITALISM AND THE INFORMATION AGE
edited by Ellen Meiksins Wood, John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney
MAKING SENSE OF THE MEDIA: A Handbook of Popular Education Techniques
by Eleonora Castano Ferreira and Joao Castano Ferreira
AMERICA'S EDUCATION DEFICIT AND THE WAR ON YOUTH
by Henry A. Giroux
CLASS DISMISSED: Why We Cannot Teach or Learn Our Way Out of Inequality
by John Marsh
DIGITAL DIPLOMA MILLS: The Automation of Higher Education
by David F. Noble
NOBODY CALLED ME CHARLIE: The Story of a Radical White Journalist Writing for a Black Newspaper in the Civil Rights Era
by Charles Preston
THE RISE OF THE TEA PARTY: Political Discontent and Corporate Media in the Age of Obama
by Anthony DiMaggio
WHEN MEDIA GOES TO WAR: Hegemonic Discourse, Public Opinion, and the Limits of Dissent
by Anthony DiMaggio
GLOBAL NATO AND THE CATASTROPHIC FAILURE IN LIBYA
by Horace Campbell
CAPITALIST GLOBALIZATION: Consequences, Resistance, and Alternatives
by Martin Hart-Landsberg
TIONS OF "REAL SOCIALISM": The Conductor and the Conducted by Michael A. Lebowitz
THE SOCIALIST ALTERNATIVE by Michael A. Lebowitz
BUILD IT NOW: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century by Michael A. Lebowitz
THE WORK OF SARTRE: Search for Freedom and the Challenge of History by István Mészáros
SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND FORMS OF CONSCIOUS-
NESS by István Mészáros
BEYOND CAPITAL: Toward a Theory of Transition by István Mészáros
|The Reality of Media in India
by Analytical Monthly Review
In the by now tedious cliché, India, with a population of 1.22 billion (122 crores) and with an elected parliament, is supposed to be the largest democracy in the world. The relation between democracy and size is problematic. In small communities, voters can be presumed to have some personal knowledge of both candidates and issues arising from their life experience. But democracy in such communities in India is, to put it very mildly, slight. The various Panchayat systems set up to implement the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments are deprived of either significant jurisdiction or even minimal resources, and in most cases both. The sole exception is in West Bengal, where the Panchayat system was created fifteen years before the 73rd Amendment, and developed into real -- if flawed -- organs of local self-government. In consequence panchayat elections in West Bengal alone in all of India are truly serious matters and, as we are at the time of writing painfully aware, reflect a democracy increasingly overshadowed by gangsterism and force. But, for the rest, "democracy" amounts to periodical electoral exercises where the electors choose among candidates and programmes not on the basis of their personal knowledge or life experience but on information received from the media. If such democracy is to be meaningful, the first condition is that reasonably accurate information must be available.
But the ground realities show that the ingredients of meaningful democracy are in very poor shape. To be sure, official documents do not admit this. For example, in the case of literacy -- a relevant element if is to be assumed that electors are making informed choices based on print sources -- the Census figure for literacy is 65.4 per cent of the population aged seven and above. However, this figure merely reflects the replies given by households to the question "How many persons in the household are literate?" It does not reflect whether they actually are able to read. A study by the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, carried out in four Hindi-speaking states (Rajasthan, U.P., M.P., and Bihar) compared the responses to queries using the Census approach with the results of a reading test. By the Census approach literacy of the 20,000 sample was 68.7 per cent; but by the reading test only 26 per cent could read properly. Another 27 per cent could read only parts of the test material, or took recourse to sounding syllables before putting together words. The remaining 47 per cent could not read at all. This qualifies the importance of the raw number of publications, which is indeed by world standards substantial. As per the Registrar of Newspapers for India, the total number of registered publications as on 31st March 2011 was 82,222, which includes 14,508 newspapers. From a geographical perspective, the largest number of publications -- 13,065 -- were registered in the state of Uttar Pradesh followed by 10,606 in Delhi.
Increasingly critical are radio and television. Radio blankets the nation. In case of TV channels, MIB has, as of 20.12.2012, permitted 848 TV channels. As per an industry report, total TV households in India were estimated to be 15.5 Crore at the end of year 2012. Assuming that each household consists of 4 adult members, the reach of television is around 62 Crore. Thus, the reach of the television media in the total population of the country -- in view of the literacy figures set out above -- now exceeds print. Digital media as a source of information is still limited to a relatively privileged minority, and primarily reflects information generated by print and television.
The crude total number of publications, radio stations and television channels might give an impression that the mass media do fulfill the preliminary conditions for democracy. But in fact it is reasonable to say that the mass media is dominated by less than a hundred large groups or conglomerates, which exercise considerable influence on what is read, heard, and watched. The propaganda power of media barons is the crucial fact that confronts all justifications of our political reality on grounds of "democracy". In addition, a large section of people believe that journalists can not only highlight their problems, but can also redress them. In the struggle for social justice, we must therefore face the problem of the media right from the start.
Robert W. McChesney has rightly said:
This central problem of the media, especially after adoption of neo-liberal policies by the ruling clique, cannot be understood if delinked from political economy.
In this context, of importance is the report submitted by the Standing Committee on Information Technology to the Parliament in May 2013 on "Paid News". The introduction sets out that "[t]he trend of presenting the advertising content, that is paid for, as 'News' is a serious and damaging fraud on the innocent audiences/readers/viewers/public. It not only undermines/threatens the democratic process but also affects financial/stock/real estate market[s], health, industry and is also a tax fraud. However, according to the News Broadcasters Association it is just a question of ethics." Quoting from the Press Council of India (PCI) Sub-Committee Report outlining the genesis of "Medianet" and "Private Treaties" phenomena:
The Sub-Committee Report said:
The PCI is a quasi-judicial body with no punitive powers.
TRAI's "Consultation Paper on Issues relating to Media Ownership" noted that "a number of corporate sector entities are entering the media sector. Corporates can use media to bias views and influence policy making in a manner so as to promote their vested interests while generating business revenues for themselves. This has led to emergence of large media conglomerates where single entities/groups have strong presence across different media segments." The groups listed are Sun TV, Essel Group, Star India, Ushodaya (Eenadu), India Today, The Times Group, HT Media, ABP Group, Bhaskar Group, Jagran Prakashan, Sakkal Media, Malayala, Manorama Group, D.B. Corporation Group, Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group and Asianet Communications.
Some recent deals documented by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta merit attention:
Regarding content, separate study is needed but a few points may be noted. In the case of India, media empires have had to adjust their strategies to suit the Indian context. The Murdoch STAR TV realized that its mainly American oriented programming was only reaching a tiny, although wealthy, urban audience. It therefore started adding Hindi subtitles to Hollywood films broadcast on its 24-hour channel and dubbing popular U.S. soaps into Hindi. In October 1996, STAR Plus began telecasting programs in English and Hindi. In 1999, it claimed 19 million viewers in India and it has grown greatly since then. United States multinationals McDonalds, Domino's, Pizza Hut, KFC, Coca Cola and the like have extensively used the information and communication technologies to promote their junk food culture, using popular personalities in India. Most of the Indian television space is now occupied by U.S. soap operas, reality shows and cartoons.
This grim reality of control of all but marginal media by a small group of corporate plutocrats, combined with programming in which the superiority of U.S. cultural imperialism is an ever present tacit assumption, is presented as freedom of press. We also want freedom of press but in a totally opposite and higher sense. To quote Marx:
As McChesney observes,
News media markets have invariably tended toward concentration in the hands of the largest owners of capital as is the present trend in India, have afforded the owners tremendous political power, and tended to marginalize the voices and interests of the poor and working class. The life and death struggle of the poorest, of tribals, of desperate indebted small owners, of brave but propertyless community activists against the imperialist corporate rape of the environment in which they live such as the POSCO struggle, are near absent. What is most relevant to the lives of the majority does not appear. Under these circumstances the claim to be the "largest democracy" amounts to fraud.
To curb the corruption in Indian media, the Parliamentary report has recommended a number of steps but the question of free press has not been addressed. This is a vital question which needs to be immediately debated and discussed. McChesney in the concluding paragraph of his paper "A Real Media Utopia", presented at the 2012 Annual Conference of the American Sociological Association usefully sets out:
Both for those who believe that Indian democracy can yet be brought back from terminal decay, and those who believe the struggle must move on to new and higher forms of democracy, understanding, confronting, and changing the reality of media in India is an immediate necessity.