Thursday, 9 March 2017

The media industry influenced by the political scenario of a country

Political economy was the original term used for studying economic phenomena like production, buying, and selling of products and services, and their relations with law, custom, and government, as well as with the distribution of national income and wealth. Political economy originated in moral philosophy. It was developed in the 18th century as the study of the economies of states, or polities, hence the term political economy. 

Theory of Karl Marx

Today, theories of political economy focus on the politics and economics of media institutions and the texts they produce. Some traditions of political economy also consider how capitalist politics and economics exert themselves on media audiences. While viewing the relationship between media and political economy, it is important to see the latter’s association with classical Marxist theory and Marx’s statement (back in 1859) that social consciousness is determined not by the collective will of individuals but by the ruling classes who own the means of capitalist production. Thus, the form and content of our media and the socio-political consciousness which nurtures the media, is affected less by the opinions of the majority and more by the political motives of the few who control our media.

The media and the legislature (or the political system) are known to be two important pillars of the democracy. Neither of the two works in isolation with the other pillars. They are dependent on each other and make sure that the check and balance of power is maintained in the civil society. In such a scenario, keeping Marx’s above-mentioned idea in mind, we can fairly conclude that the way our media works and the content it produces is greatly influenced by the political system of the country and ‘not-so-greatly’ by consumers of the media content. The equation is fairly simple – The political set-up defines the corporate and ethical rules of the game that the media industry is obligated to follow. If the political system gives leverage, the media industry can circumvent these rules. Of course, in such a case the media is also compelled to further particular political causes at the cost of some others. We see this happening often around us. Certain sectors of the media are often seen getting away scot-free from major journalistic wrong-doings because the state refuses to act against such organizations. And, as a part of the symbiotic relationship we come across instances of paid, planted and manipulated news.

Another very important aspect of the political system which influences media industry is the structure of this system. The media industry is greatly impacted by a country’s form of governance (democratic, autocratic, monarchy, communist, etc.); it’s political stand on world issues and relations with rest of the World and laws, rights, regulations and duties. One of the best examples to study how political structure affects media is the example of Chinese media. The Communist regime in China is infamous for overt control on media like newspapers and TV. Media like the CCTV (China Central Television Station), the People’s Daily, the Guang Ming Daily, etc. are the main channels of the Communist Party and the government. As a result, they have been reduced to being the tools of the government and the governing party to arouse public awareness. Journalistic rights like criticizing the government and highlighting opposing points of view and voices of dissent have been snatched away from the Chinese government. This strict control over the media somewhere has its roots in the Chinese Communist school of thought which sees media as an entity that needs to be controlled in order to avoid the rise of Bourgeoisie. Subsequently, Chinese government carefully chalks out what the media can/should and cannot/should not print or broadcast. 

The strong link between media industry and the state can be understood by seeing the debates that have surrounded media because of the Andhra Pradesh-Telangana split. One of the growth industries triggered by the impending reality of a separate Telangana state, is media owned by people from the Telangana region. Suddenly it is no longer enough that Andhra Pradesh has far more news channels than any other state in the country, some 15, not counting impending and new entrants. What matters is whether the owner belongs to Andhra, or Rayalseema or Telangana. And, whose aspirations the media outlet is striving to represent. 
Andhra Pradesh’s media landscape has become a checkerboard of political affiliations. With the impending division of the state any discussion on media’s role has journalists here taking one through a newspaper and channel listing of who supports which regional formation. Match that with each channel or newspaper’s caste and political affiliation and one has a clear picture of the political economy of media here. 
So, the question that arises is: Do these political affiliations of media make the editorial line follow ownership? Potturi Venkateshwar Rao, a former chairman of the Andhra Press Academy and editor in his time of many publications, says that happens because managements now drive the editorial line. They are divided in their regional affiliations and news coverage is influenced by them. 
To quote Allam Narayana, the editor of the ‘passion-driven’ Namaste Telangana, “Managements have been aggressive in deciding media’s policy. There are no editors. They are not prevailing.” 

It is one thing for a newspaper or a magazine to have a political or economic point of view. It is quite another for a media organ that does publicly admit to no affiliation to publicize a point of view to the unsuspecting reader or a viewer. Politically affiliated or owned publications occupy a very important and expanding space in the media business, with inroads into radio and television as well. There are various examples of such media houses: The CPI (M)’s People’s Democracy in English and the Lok Lehar in Hindi; Shiv Sena’s Saamna; the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s Organiser; BJP’s Chandan Mintra owns the company which publishes The Pioneer; T. Venkataram (Ram) Reddy, nephew of Congress MP, T. Subbirami Reddy, has a substantial media empire comprising Andhra Bhoomi, Deccan Chronicle, Asian Age,and Financial Chronicle that are held under Deccan Chronicle Holdings Ltd.

Political lines are not always well delineated; it is often all in the family. Thus, Rajeev Shukla, the Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and secretary of the All India Congress Committee, controls the News 24 television channel with his wife Anuradha Prasad, who happens to be the sister of the BJP leader, Ravi Shankar Prasad. Between the two, they own not just News 24 but Aapno 24 and E24, held by News24 Broadcast India Ltd in the television space and Dhamaal 24 in the radio space. Besides, they own a production house, Studio 24, and a media institute, International School of Media and Entertainment. Both the radio company and the production house are held by B.A.G. Films & Media Ltd.

The Government of India’s monopoly over radio news is an excellent example of how political will can influence media industry. Soon after independence the GOI was conscious to make sure that it handled the radio with an iron fist so that the national sentiments could be controlled. The government was sceptical of allowing private players to enter the airwaves as it feared commercialization of news. However, in 1995 Supreme Court came out with an iconic judgement which declared that ‘the airwaves are public property’ and therefore could not be the monopoly of either government or business. The GOI interpreted this as an imperative to privatize the airwaves and this led to auctioning of airwaves and the rise of FM Radio. However, despite this judgment government’s broadcasting policy does not allow private channels to carry news or current affairs programmes or air live sports commentaries. Justice PB Sawant, the man who wrote the historic 1995 judgement, has pointed out – ‘It’ll just take one PIL to blow away this government monopoly.’ Yet, interestingly private players have never taken any action against government’s decision to hog news broadcasts on the radio. This lack of action on part of the private broadcasters has lowered the quality of radio content and has turned it into the commercial clutter FM Radio is infamous for. 

Any discussion on political influence on the media is incomplete without the mention of the Indian Emergency of 1975. During this internal emergency under Mrs Indira Gandhi’s regime pre-censorship was imposed in a draconian manner. This censorship was total and unparalleled. The government suppressed transmission of news by imposing censorship on newspapers, journals, radio, TV, telex, telegrams, news agencies and even tele-printer. News agencies had to get all their material censored in Delhi prior to transmission. Further, newspapers had to submit already censored news for re-censorship in their respective headquarters. What is more, even advertisements, cartoons and comic strips were subjected to pre-censorship. Foreign papers and journals were confiscated if they carried criticism of the emergency; some issues of Time and Newsweek were banned outright.
The underground press was, however, very active. More than 34 printing press were seized and over 7000 people arrested in connection with the publication and circulation of underground literature. Among the few over-ground publications that opposed the emergency despite stringent censorship regulations were: Sadhana (Gujarati), Himmat (edited by Rajmohan Gandhi), Freedom First (owned by M.R. Masani), The Statesman, The Indian Express, Daily Morosoli (Tamil), Tughlak (Tamil) and Radical Humanist. Most other national dailies like The Times of India, The Free Press, the Hindustan Standard and the National Herald “crawled when they were asked to bend”. 

The Indian Express very famously displayed the courage to defy the censorship orders, like no other publication did. When the Delhi edition appeared on June 28, The Indian Express carried a blank first editorial and The Financial Express reproduced in large type Rabindranth Tagore’s poem “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high” concluding with the prayer “Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.” 

Such instances of media content during the emergency period clearly show how the political scenario can influence what the media writes or displays. Media industry can be compelled to change the rules of its trade because of various characteristics of the prevailing political environment. The structure of the government, political will, economic conditions, etc. all are important factors which influence the media industry.