One would have seen so much of hoopla during the last couple of days when Mukesh Ambani led Reliance Industries announced to invest in TV18 group. In a first of its kind deal RIL will invest over 2000 crores in Raghav Bahal’s Media house to help it buy regional channels of Enadu TV.
This is a clear sign of consolidation in Media which is of my opinion dangerous for the journalists, independent media and the news itself. One should not be happy the way Mukesh Ambani led RIL has invested in TV18. One may say in a free economy this move only indicates capitalism in journalism but really is it that way. Answer is no as this sector is not fully opened up for foreign investors.
And even if it happens one cannot allow a single or couple of selected Industrial house taking control over whole media. Though this is my distant fear but trend suggests so. I really don’t know how can it be done but it again pushes for having a strong Media regulator in place. While I am saying so one should not confuse with controller and regulator.
If this kind of acquisition continues in media, I afraid small regional players would be eliminated. At present we have around 150 news channels out which 100 channels are vernacular regional news channels. Even in the list of around 50 channels who claim to be national channels, one can easily find 35 odd channels are really very small players but still providing bread and butter to thousands of journalists and other staffs.
If a big player like RIL will be on the prowl most of these houses will be wiped off. This may result in large scale layoffs as the buyer would obviously focus on integration instead of keeping parallel set ups intact.
It will create another kind of problem that is monopoly over content. Big barons will reduce the spread of vibrant regional media resulting in monopoly over content which is not a good prospect. These channels cater to the needs of people in different ways. This is why at least three to four regional news channels in almost every state are thriving of.
If they are reduced under a select category of industrial houses vibrant nature of news will die. Even if a company like Reliance does not aggressively push for merger and acquisition a slightly different strategy, equally dangerous, is already showing its sign. As you are aware a few private companies who top the list in Sensex have strategically bought stakes in some big media houses. This trend too needs to be examined as even less than 50 percent stake will not stop them interfering in editorial decisions. And then the possibility of the most dangerous phenomena will come in fore. Possible nexus of these few selected players with the Political Power centers will prove dangerous for free and fair media.
Consolidation in Media, particularly in electronic media which is in transition phase, will result in fewer voices and viewpoints, less diversity in ownership and programming, less coverage of local issues that matter to communities and less of the unbiased, independent and critical journalism we need to prevent abuses of power. If we allow this consolidation to happen it will erode the fourth pillar of democracy.
I afraid, though one may say premature, concentration of powers in the hands of few will completely convert the run down as paid items. That is why India needs not a Rupert Murdoch in the form of say Ambani who cares only about their bottom line.