By Ruma Dubey
The first rule of quality journalism – never mix editorial with advertorial. But what happens to the integrity of the news when huge corporate start owning a slew of media companies? Can integrity be preserved or will ‘some news’ about the company or its group be logically skipped or compromised.
These are the questions which come to mind when we read the news of Reliance taking over Network18 and TV18. This means that by paying Rs.4000 crore, Reliance Industries got control over all the control which will go into IBNlive.com, Moneycontrol.com, Firstpost.com, Cricketnext.in, Homeshop18, Bookmyshow.com and broadcast channels like Colors, CNBC TV18, CNN-IBN, IBN7 and CNBC Awaaz.
When companies start owning so much of content being put out, it is not very healthy for the freedom of speech. Once huge corporations start owning the content, there is little or no objectivity in news reporting and the purpose, from being a watchdog of the country turns into becoming money making machines. We all know that media can be manipulated and there is tremendous amount of paid news only which we see. Remember, when huge companies start owning content, they will do nothing, or rather report nothing which will sour their relationship with the Govt and those in authority. Also when the main motive of news is to make money only, can they afford to ruffle the feathers of advertisers? There is no doubt that owners ideological viewpoint is what the channels, news will all reflect – and that is dangerous.
Kumar Mangalam Birla owns stake of 27.5%, not controlling, in Living Media or better known as India Today group. KK Birla group runs Hindustan Times and last year, Abhey Oswal, father-in-law of Naveen Jindal through his company Oswal Green Tech owns a 14.17% stake in NDTV. Sanjeev Goenka owns Open Magazine and then the deal between Biyani and Deccan Chronicle group. In such a scenario, how can one believe that conflict of interest will not creep in?
This is not a new thing, happening only in India. In fact 90% of whatever America reads, watches and listens to is owned by 6 companies – GE, News Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS. Though this is also not a good thing, here, apart from GE, all are essentially media houses only. Even with these six, despite being media houses, according to a poll recently conducted by Gallup, the number of Americans that have little to no trust in the mainstream media (57%) is at an all-time high.
Advertisers and not the readers have become the primary customers. Shockingly, Vineet Jain of Bennett, Coleman & Company Ltd (BCCL) was quoted saying, “We are not in the newspaper business, we are in the advertising business.” In an article in Newyorker, Ken Auletta writes, “B.C.C.L. insists on one-third cash as a down payment and accepts real-estate ownership in lieu of equity; the resulting ads appear throughout the paper. The company has a stake in more than three hundred and fifty companies, and this accounts for up to fifteen per cent of its ad revenues.”
We all have been direct victims of these ‘paid’ news one time or the other; like ‘five star’ review for a movie which is actually a dud. Weren’t we misguided to part with our money for the tickets to a lousy movie because the director/producer had a deal with the media?
One cannot help but wonder if a particular news clip is positive because it is ‘paid’ or if negative, because it is not yet paid? And if it is advertorials which are moudling our thought processes, then what kind of opinions are we really forming? When truth gets so murky, surely there is bound to be darkness around us. And mind you, not just the corporates, these are the kind of deals which surely politicians also strike. There are so many times when you have wondered why the media has completely forgotten a particular news which it went on and on about it for days together? See, how Vadra is not talked at all about or DLF was never questioned or hounded the way they should have been?
The media is responsible for reporting correct information but today have become mouthpieces of politicians, industry houses and power lobbies. We all are being misguided and misdirected, in the name of ‘breaking news’ and all for the benefit of a few.
In America, many are starting to wake up from this ‘controlled’ news regime, realizing that mainstream media should not be trusted and looking elsewhere for reliable news. This also explains why blogs and other alternate media experiences have grown rapidly in USA.
Maybe that is what we in India also need – the rise of real journalism, where bringing truth to light is more important than only money. Real journalism comes from those who choose to self-fund for the greater good, and those journalists are few and far between. yes we do have quite a few blogs and sites where 'unadulterated' news does come in but lack of funds eventually forces it to either shut down or seek corporate funding, which is the beginning of the end.