Media conglomeration in India: Privatizing the Public Sphere?
Prof Daya Thussu, University of Westminster
The US-inspired commercial model of broadcasting has been globalized, a phenomenon that Hallin and Mancini have characterised as the ‘triumph of the liberal model’. Internationally, this has meant a dynamic media, challenging state censorship and widening the public sphere, while at the same time also leading to the concentration of media power among private corporations.
As elsewhere in the world, the rapid liberalization, deregulation and privatization of media industries in India, coupled with the increasing availability of digital delivery and distribution mechanisms, has created a new market for 24/7 news. Television news has demonstrated exponential growth in the past decade: from Doordarshan – a notoriously monotonous state monopoly until 1991 – to 188 dedicated news channels in 2014, making India home to the world’s most competitive news arena.
This paper suggests that while TV news outlets have proliferated in such a liberalized and privatized new economy, the growing competition for audiences and, crucially, advertising revenue, has intensified. Not dissimilar to trends in the US, the growing commercialization of TV news, it argues, has forced broadcast journalists and television producers in India to recognise the need to make news entertaining.
Like the US where such moves have been reinforced by the take-over of news networks by huge media corporations, whose primary interest is in the entertainment business, in India too media conglomerates, who make profit in entertainment industry have investments in news networks. As cross-media ownership rules are relaxed, there is greater trend towards concentration of media power. Increasingly large companies are present across various segments of the media and entertainment world: new ‘media conglomerates’, drawing their inspiration from the US model, are in the making.
Focusing on one prominent example, Reliance, one of India’s largest conglomerates which since 2013 owns Network 18, the company that operates one of India’s leading English language news networks CNN/IBN, this paper will examine the political implications of such concentration of media power. Is corporatization and commodification of television news eroding the public sphere in the world’s largest democracy? And are there any counter policy movements, attempting to tackle this apparently relentless conglomerisation and arguing either for measures to reduce media concentration or for more public-centred initiatives aimed at increasing media plurality?