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The Dirty Media War: The Fall Of Corporate Media In India

By Prabhat Sharan

27 February, 2011
The Verdict Weekly

The western media - unlike the Indian establishment media which till
eighties and mid nineties had a quivering semblance of some sanity and
impartiality with a faint flickering light of honesty - had no such
qualms of selling itself to highest bidder and using the platform to
disseminate disinformation and keep the dissent under wraps..

The Sunday Times of London recently carried a story of the sway of
pelf in the Indian news world. The last few months have seen the
Indian media touching nadir in its functioning as a watchdog of the
people. After much criticism appearing in various small magazines
focussing on alternative journalism and later picked by a handful of
selected newspapers, of the way money is paid for clothing an
advertisement as a news report, the Press Council of India, instituted
an enquiry into the matter.

Even as the newspaper and television news channels were fuming and
studying ways to find out new means of extortion and chalking out
ideas on how to sell news space and time, the December-May romance
between corporate journalist wearing white coats and PR agencies broke
out.

The corporate interest and the monetary interest behind the entire
reportage being carried out in the name of journalism was one big
expose which pulled the rug from under the feet of the news barons,
politicians and corporate dictators masquerading as benevolent
patriots and philanthropists.

Thus it was not startling or shocking to read about the expose carried
by Sunday Times; it just reiterated the happenings which now are an
open secret in the news world.

There is nothing new as to what Sunday Times brought to fore by
carrying out a sting operation on Medianet, a company floated by the
Bennet Coleman and Co. Ltd which brings out so-called newspapers like
The Times of India, The Economic Times and other high-profile
publications.

To get carried away by the underlying fact that the sting operation
carried out by Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times was meticulously planned
out so as to gain entry into India which sooner or later is planning
to open its floodgates for the western corporate media, is nothing to
be surprised about. It only reinforces the simmering untold fact that
the corporate establishment media goes for the jugular by zeroing in
on a scam, sting or scandal only when corporate monetary interests are
involved.

The cancer or the cause of sickness that has engulfed the media in
this kind of over-amplification and simplification, however, gets
glossed over; and a tacit acceptance of corporate turf wars,
take-overs and mergers is transformed into a socio-economic reality in
the minds of the masses.

No doubt, there is more than a grain of truth that the right-wing
corporate press in west is desperately seeking a full-fledged entry
into Indian shores. After all it is through the press that political
and cultural hegemony is achieved in a given region.

Not that the Indian corporate media is behind in any way in this
insidious race to scorch out democracy, freedom, dissent and honesty
in any way; but then the media from imperialist western nations also
want a share in the spoils doled out by the State in India.
And like the Indian establishment media which freely wallows in what
is being termed as “Paid News,” a euphemism for distortion,
disinformation and fabrication of social realities, the western media
also wants to swim in this swimming pool which is still bubbling with
minerals and wealth.

With the advent of Thatcheristic conservative economic policies the
Indian establishment media enthusiastically ripped of its mask to don
the corporate face. And with much pomp and show it celebrated its
cynical silence, selfish compromise, unthinking conformity and its
power to quell and cover up critical consciousness, honest dissent,
socio-political absurdities, in a wrapper glittering with bland but
purported civilised consensus.

The snuffing out of honesty in the media world since mid-nineties has
been so awesome that even ‘radicals,’ have started cooperating with
the powerful watchmen to avoid getting alienated. They still retain an
implicit trust and hope that their own values and perspective may
through cooperation undermine media watchmen’s corrupt values,
interests and positions.

The values and interests of today so-called news world managers are
akin to fundamentalism. Oxford Concise Dictionary defines
‘fundamentalism’ as “strict maintenance of ancient or fundamental
doctrines,” and the term usually denotes belief systems which are
fanatical, intolerant, irrational and brutal.

Going by this definition and usage than corporate systems including
corporate establishment media can wear the sweat shirt comfortably.
Corporate analyst Robert Hinkley who spent 23 years as a corporate
securities attorney advising large corporations on securities
offerings and mergers and acquisitions, in his article ‘How Corporate
Law Inhibits Social Responsibility’, describes how corporates and
their hundreds of corporate laws throughout the world are nearly
identical even though wording of provisions in some of the laws may
differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, its essence is not.
For e.g.: “...the directors and officers of a corporation shall
exercise their powers and discharge their duties with a view to the
interests of the corporation and of the shareholders:
“People who run corporations have a legal duty to shareholders, and
that duty is to make money. Failing this duty can leave directors and
officers open to being sued by shareholders.

“Corporate law thus casts ethical and social concerns as irrelevant,
or as stumbling blocks to the corporation’s fundamental mandate.
That’s the effect the law has inside the corporation. Outside the
corporation the effect is more devastating. It is the law that leads
corporations to actively disregard harm to all interests other than
those of shareholders.

"When toxic chemicals are spilled, forests destroyed, employees left
in poverty, or communities devastated through plant shutdowns,
corporations view these as unimportant side effects outside their area
of concern. But when the company’s stock price dips, that's a
disaster. The reason is that, in our legal framework, a low stock
price leaves a company vulnerable to takeover or means the CEO’s job
could be at risk. In the end, the natural result is that corporate
bottom line goes up, and the state of the public good goes down. This
is called privatising the gain and externalising the cost.”

Corporate establishment media is no different from the workings of a
normal corporate system. And it is precisely for this reason that the
corporate media nowadays hire hacks and not journalists.
They are businesses and are run by managers who “shall exercise their
powers and discharge their duties with a view to the interests of the
corporation and of the shareholders”.

And corporate establishment media are also companies dependent on
other companies which are also run by managers who “shall exercise
their powers and discharge their duties" in manner agreed. Edward
Herman and Noam Chomsky explain in their classic work on the subject,
Manufacturing Consent state, “In essence, the private media are major
corporations selling a product (readers and audiences) to other
businesses (advertisers). The national media typically target and
serve elite opinion, groups that, on the one hand, provide an optimal
‘profile’ for advertising purposes, and, on the other hand, play a
role in decision-making in the private and public spheres. The
national media would be failing to meet their elite audiences’ needs
if they did not present a tolerably realistic portrayal of the world.
But their ‘societal purpose’ also requires that the media's
interpretation of the world reflect the interests and concerns of the
sellers, buyers, and the governmental and private institutions
dominated by these groups.” (Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky,
Manufacturing Consent - The Political Economy of the Mass Media,
Pantheon, 1988, p.303)

For the corporate establishment media to keep the flag of the myth
‘free press,’ flying high is important as it serves, “the interests of
the corporation and of the shareholders.”

Since if the mask of ‘free press,’ is declared a lie, then the very
credibility of the media corporation would get eroded; in other words
it would damage its profit margins.

It also threatens the possible loosening of corporate hold over the
society by filtering out facts and crimes of corporate and revealing
only selectively depending on which side of the turf the corporate
media is sitting.

For the corporate media to tell the truth about itself involves, not
just undermining its own position as an individual corporation but
also as a part of a corporate system which is eulogised
round-the-clock. The ugly truth about the media, then, is in a sense
subject to a de facto legal ban in a corporate media system legally
obliged to serve the “interests of the corporation and of the
shareholders”.

And thus this brings back to the sting operation and ‘paid news’
issue. The issues plaguing the media world are like the story of
Mullah Nasruddin who one night went around crawling on hands and knees
searching for something under a lamp-post. When asked, he replied that
he was searching for his keys. All his friends joined him and when one
of them asked him as to spot where he lost his keys, Nasruddin
answered: In the house. “Then why are you searching here? Nasruddin
replied: Because there is more light here.

Prabhat Sharan is a Senior Journalist with interest in social, working
class, wild-life conservation, media, environment, philosophical and
literary studies. He can be contacted at sharanprabhat@gmail.com or
theverdict@sify.com

 


 




 


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