Asian Media as Big Business


The dissemination of accurate Information is pivotal for a democratic, free society. The Mass Media have a superior role in creating such society. But, the intense corporatization of mass media is an anathema to the empowerment of people. The democratic and knowledgeable society will never emerge if political grip of the corporate media power is growing uncontrollably. Both these trends, i.e., corporatized media and its growing political clout, are precisely developing in India and in the Asian region. Neoliberal regime has promoted the system of communications and information as a means to amass corporate wealth.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led alliance under the leadership of Narendra Modi got a thumping majority in the national parliamentary elections in India this past spring. Modi and his party, BJP, have systematically propagated the policies of so-called “Vibrant Gujarat,” and ”Gujarat model” as the future model for India. Orchestrated media shows, Facebook and Twitter campaigns, mobilized crowds, breathless spokespersons of the BJP projecting Modi as the only savior have all contributed for the BJP’s victory. The corporate media performed this massive public relations exercises so well that the voters uncritically come to the conclusion the the best alternative to replace two decades of discredited rule of the Congress party-led coalition. In this exercise, the facts about the failures of the Gujarat provincial government under Modi’s chief ministership, in providing adequate employment, health and education for the poor were thrown into obscurity thanks to tireless propaganda in the mass media about the “Gujarat Mode.”

During elections, some corporate houses with media holdings formed separate “cells” to advance the Modi campaign. According to a study by the New Delhi-based CMS Media Lab, Modi hogged over a third of the prime time news telecast on five major channels and as the polling day advanced, Modi’s time crossed the 50% mark.

Modi’s cult was nurtured with media’s supportive role. The vast expansion of Indian media in the past two decades was very helpful for the success of Modi campaign. India is the world’s third-largest television market. The transnational business news industry has grown at enormous speed.

However, the media’s blackout on the economic struggles of the various sections of working people is continuing in India and in all Asian countries. The growing ratio of Indian billionaires globally and their combined net worth of assets is depicted in media as the great achievement of India’s neoliberal policies

During the beginning of the era of economic liberalization, media houses began venturing into non-media businesses. India’s industrial giants such as the Tatas and Birlas made huge investments in telecommunications, the Internet, and mobile telephony. The Indian journalist P. Sainath, citing the report of the Second Press Commission (2009), described that the leading media houses having extensive non-media business interests, including “cement, jute, steel, shipping, aluminum, chemicals, real estate, agro-chemicals, textiles, fabrics, sugar, rubber, tea, coffee, tyres, automobiles, plantations, transport, hotels, electronics, films, trading, excise contracts, finance, machinery, paper, processed foods, gypsum mining and cola.”

Another worst trend is what is popularly called “private treaties”. Private treaties are agreements between media house and the corporate company. The media house is given an equity stake in the company and in return media firm would provide advertisements, news reports, or advertorials in print or TV. Hence, Sainath, in his recent speech in Mumbai, summed up the current status of the media: “The media are no longer a bunch of pro-corporate newspapers. They are the corporates. They are the big business.” 

Modi phenomenon in India showed the current trend in Asia’s corporate media world. One seventh of the world’s population is living in Asia and developed countries. But, two-thirds of the total information flow is coming from these countries. So the highly competitive atmosphere is prevailing in the field of mass media. Like in the West and the US, media power in politics is getting stronger in Asia. The vast expansion of business and financial news media across Asia is tremendous. CNBC is said to the global industry leader, but almost half of its 14 channels are in Asia, in Singapore, Japan, India, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East.

Big powerful corporations and the firms that produce major newspapers and news broadcasts are consolidating their role as the political trendsetters. The owners of these corporations are becoming very wealthy.

The perspectives of news reporting in the mass media run by very large corporations have been reoriented according to the business interests of corporates and political elites. The hostile news about corporate groups and the ruling elites have been given very least space. The power to control the content of the media naturally lies in the hands of the the owners of mass media companies including the power to hire and fire of the media professionals. Journalists, editors and professionals working in corporate media have to internalize the values of the political establishment which is closely linked with the profit-driven corporate media barons.

To meet these media challenges, the Progressives in Asia are stressing the need to strengthen state-owned public service broadcasters and many of them are trying for the setting up of non-corporate alternative media.

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

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2014

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