Alternative Media Must Challenge Corporate Media

By N. Gunasekaran

It’s quite common in India that media companies pick up equity stakes in other companies in return for media coverage through advertisements, news reports, or “advertorials” in print or TV. Bennett, Coleman & Co, the largest Indian media group with interests in print, TV, radio, online and outdoor advertising and the publisher of The Times of India and The Economic Times, reportedly has the largest base of such agreements.

India’s market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), has recently ordered media companies to make complete disclosure of their stakes in other corporations. According to the SEBI, the agreements with corporate executives induce the media to compromise with “the nature, quality and content of the news/editorials relating to such companies.” The SEBI was more concerned only with the interest of the securities market. However, more and more corporatisation of the media industry was diluting the independence of media and they became the mouthpiece of corporate capital and proponents of neo-liberal ideology among the people. They constantly spread the ideas and opinions, justifying either explicitly or inexplicitly, the ongoing cruel exploitation of working people by the global corporate capital.

In many Asian countries, the struggle against colonial domination had helped to evolve the free media environment. Anti-colonial journalists and writers were inspired by the principle of “Fourth Estate.” Now, the space for such free independent media activism is rapidly shrinking in Asia, as in the US and Europe. Most of the global media giants have tied up with media owners in Asia. For instance, Calcutta-based ABP Pvt Ltd, the publisher of the Ananda Bazar Patrika, a Bengali-language daily newspaper, has an Indian edition of US business magazine, Fortune, in association with its publisher, Time Inc. This was happening in a large number of both the English and regional language media.

Estimated to be in the range of $10 to $12 billion and enjoying the patronage of the state power, the Indian media and entertainment industry has now extended its reach to all corners of the country. They have become so powerful that they could easily depoliticize large sections of the people. The high-tech digital age has actually created a conducive atmosphere for the corporate media to make distortions, lies, misrepresentations and half-truths obscure reality. The general apathy of the media on the peoples’ issues was evident during the period when the poor were severely suffering from ever-escalating inflation. The Indian reporter and writer well-known for his coverage of rural drought and poverty, P. Sainath, found that the story of rising food prices remained “one of the worst reported — no matter how much space it has been given.” Spreading the right-wing, neoliberal perspective in the public domain is the actual political mission of the corporate media.

The mainstream media’s flow of information comes out mostly from press releases by the police, state agencies and public relations companies. The occasional reporting of people’s movements and basic livelihood issues in the mainstream media is due to the proliferation of alternative media sources and the strength of the peoples’ movements. So, the Left cannot carry out its tasks of people empowerment, development and education by relying upon the corporate media.

The technological advances in the media industry have also provided ample scope for dissenting voices. Many thinkers, grass-roots activists, human-rights leaders and ordinary citizens could find numerous innovative ways to disseminate information on real issues of the people, voice criticisms and build up resistance movements.

Creating community-based media, not driven by profits and not subservient to the governments have opened the greater possibilities for the Left. Activists in the alternative media sometimes call it as “fifth power” replacing the futile fourth estate or fourth power. In Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand, activists are using a variety of alternative media covering print, radio, television, video, audio towers, theatre, song, Internet-based news sites, blogs, online newsletters, wall papers and posters to get the voices of the downtrodden people be heard.

The social movements, networks, NGOs and other civil society organizations who are opposed to neo-liberalism and a world dominated by capital, are active in the World Social Forum ( They are effectively using all possible alternative media resources. Many activists are proficient in community radio broadcasts and web journalism. A host of other alternative media practitioners are reporting the voices and activities of the world’s social activists and peoples’ movements.

The Left’s choice of alternative media must, however, not be based on desperation. Mobilizing the working people for the cause of abolition of corporate monopoly in all production sectors and for the establishment of social control in the corporate media apparatus is more important. Instead of either striving for a space in the corporate media or relying solely upon the alternative media and treating it as panacea for all evils of corporate media, the Left movements have to make use of their energy for the grass-roots mobilization. They have to engage in radicalization of working people through widening the scope for direct access and having dialogue with them.

N. Gunasekaran is a political activist and writer based in Chennai, India.

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2010

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