India's Free Press Problem: Politics and Corporate Interests Invade Journalism

Wednesday, June 22, 2016
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Man_Reading_Newspaper_in_India_Mike_Prince.jpg

PHOTO: Mike Prince.

By Ravi S. Jha

The media in South Asian countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh has never been more obedient to corporate and political forces as it is today. As these countries are scrutinized for human rights violations and atrocities committed against minority groups, the freedom of journalists to objectively report is ceasing to exist, with governments and legal systems failing to protect or rescue them. Every day, journalists battle for autonomy, fight for their rights to speak out freely, protect media pluralism and counter the ills of monopolies.

While Pakistan and Bangladesh have been well-known press freedom battlefields in recent years, with many journalists and bloggers killed, wounded or sued for speaking the truth, the surprising entry to this list is India. This is a country of 1.2 billion people where the media was until recently deemed “free [and] fair with equal access”—a Fourth Estate to the world’s largest democracy.

Today, prominent Indian politicians and corporate entities are making increasingly underhanded investments in news media, and the press is failing to serve as a potent, unbiased tool to inform public perception. In this way, it is also increasingly unable to provide an arena for public debates where issues of shared interest can be represented and discussed.

Unlike many democracies, where political and corporate entities are ostensibly supposed to be prohibited from holding news media broadcasting and publishing rights, media outlets in India are openly owned and controlled by political and business conglomerates, which are using the media to undermine the relevance of their opponents with scant regard for overall national interest.

The main casualty has been the ability of the citizen to find out the objective truth, as different media outlets divide into camps on any major issue, polarizing the reporting and their readerships. This has become so evident that in a report to the government, India’s regulatory body, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), recommended legislation to empower journalists for free and fair expression.

“Instances of irresponsible reporting and sensationalization are common these days when controversial news stories are bandied in the public domain through media outlets,” the report reads. It suggests Indian journalism, with its lack of freedom and self-regulation, cannot be trusted now—it is currently known for manipulation and bias.

Subir Ghosh, co-author of Sue The Messenger, a book about how corporate ownership and legal harassment by powerful business houses are shackling reportage and undermining democracy, states, “If writing and reportage are shackled, it is democracy which gets undermined. It is the people who lose their unfettered right to know.” Ghosh said the reality on the ground is that the editorial policies of most media outlets are affected by corporate entities, either through influence or by the heft commanded by advertising and revenue generation. Leading Indian newspapers like the Times of India are increasingly market-driven, and have long diluted editorial authority.

India’s biggest TV network, CNN-IBN and the Eenadu group of regional language channels, is directly controlled by one of the world’s richest business tycoons, Mukesh Ambani. Ambani is the chairman, managing director and largest shareholder of Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), a US $100 billion asset and Fortune Global 500 company with interests in energy, petrochemicals, textiles, natural resources, retail and telecommunications. RIL, which owns businesses across India, also has stakes in several other media entities. Ambani’s brother Anil runs Reliance Big Broadcasting and has stakes in numerous publications and TV channels, including American film production label DreamWorks. Other prominent media houses—New Delhi Television (NDTV) and India Today, for instance—also have corporate investments, which are significantly influenced by political preferences.

TRAI points out that the primary motivation for a media company to have a presence in multiple media segments, i.e. to have cross media holdings, is to maximize its reach to consumers in different demographics with varying media consumption patterns. This translates into higher economic gains for these media owners. “Media pluralism is getting restricted with entities having cross media holdings occupying dominant positions in different media sectors,” said journalist Naveen Upadhyay, a political editor with a Delhi-based Indian English language daily.

Ghosh also writes that readers need to understand that persecution is fast becoming the norm for Indian journalists. “What was earlier intermittent is now increasingly taking the shape of a distinct trend in the targeting of journalists. While more journalists want to expose corporate corruption and crony capitalism, it is increasingly being seen that corporations are openly intimidating writers and journalists.”

In this environment, how can journalists not be forced—or feel compelled for the sake of job security—to report in ways that reflect the political opinions and corporate interests of shareholders?

This trend of interference also extends to political actors having close ties to news media. For example, News 24 is owned by Annuradha Prasad, the wife of opposition Congress Party leader Rajeev Shukla, whose name surfaced in corruption and spot-fixing scandals in the Indian Premier League. As journalists are intimidated for attempting to expose corruption, it is extremely worrisome when politicians accused of corruption have such close and personal ties to those in charge of the media.

TRAI, in addition to recommending the need for regulations of media ownership, has stated that “media influences ideas and therefore can swing opinions. It is, therefore, important that an arm’s length distance is ensured between the media and organs of governance, political institutions and other entities which have a profound sway over public opinion. It is, thus, essential in the public interest, as a guarantee of the plurality and diversity of opinion.”

Such alarming observations about corporate and political interference are made when several top Indian journalists are themselves becoming politically active, queuing up to become Members of Parliament in the Upper House and lobbying for political parties that often make compromises to serve their own interests.

In one instance, Zee News editor Sudhir Chaudhary was arrested in 2012 for allegedly trying to extort US $15 million from former Congress MP and industrialist Naveen Jindal. And not long ago, NDTV’s top editor Barkha Dutt, along with many other journalists like former Hindustan Times editor Vir Sanghvi, were caught “political lobbying” in the infamous Nira Radia tapes controversy, when conversations allegedly between Radia, an influence peddler and journalists were recorded, revealing their intention of promoting money laundering and tax evasion.

Writing about the controversy, TV commentator Rajdeep Sardesai said, “The robust Indian tradition of adversarial journalism has been mortgaged at the altar of cozy networks.” This scandal revealed that these journalists served as power brokers for a deal considered to be among India’s biggest ever political scams.

Where else has the line between journalism and politics been blurred?

  • Jaya TV in southern India is controlled by Tamil Nadu State Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram.
  • Sun TV is led by former TeleCommunications Minister Dayanidhi Maran.
  • Shobhna Bhartia, Chairperson and Editorial Director of the Hindustan Times, was a Congress Party Parliamentary member.
  • A popular national TV news channel is owned by editor Rajat Sharma, who is open about his lobbying interests and support for the ruling political party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
  • Chandan Mitra, the editor of Pioneer newspaper in Delhi, and veteran Indian journalist and author M. J. Akbar, are members of BJP.
  • Arun Shourie, former editor of the Indian Express newspaper, is a public BJP sympathizer.

Journalists are free to pursue political careers and actions, but the potential for conflicts of interest are high, with no regulations to prevent them from using their positions in the media to promote personal political agendas. For a truly free press, they must ensure that political aspirations do not affect their objective news reporting in the meantime.


Ravi Jha is a Toronto-based senior Public Policy & Governance Administrator, journalist and member of a free press advocacy group.

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  • samir sardana
    commented 2021-06-06 08:09:54 -0400
    ETHICS does NOT Exist in India or In the India Media (thereby,by deconstruction and deduction).It is NOT the DNA of Indians.

    Take a sample of Zee – owned by a Bania – who also has,a manufacturing industry.He is English illiterate,and so,has a Hindi channel. His news acnhors – female are middle aged,divorced and with frigid vaginas – who vent their hate on the Muslims and the hapless Indian Men.They wait for some DISASTER – like a rape,bomb blast,love jehad,beef eater,so-called terror attack ….. and then,they POUNCE,on the hapless news guests.

    It is the vent of frustrated middle aged,divorced women who can get no satisfaction – and that connects with 500 million Indian Women. It is salvation for Indian women,who see a frustrated Indian Hag,doing what they cannot,and will not.

    The Male Anchors are limpet impotenticas, Brahmins (invariably) and Banias,who have studied in a conservative environ, and have no knowledge of history or philosophy,and also,have no domain of expertise,in any field.That QUALIFIES THEM,AS NEWS ANCHORS ! What is the problem that these anchors have with corruption ? It is that they DO NOT MAKE THAT MUCH – and that is the TRUTH !

    The Indian Media CANNOT talk about Corruption ! They thrive on Corruption – as that is their Business Model ! Zee is accused of a Rs 100 crore bribe from the Jindals for a Mine.Any miner,steel plant,paper plant (with a plantation or a linkage to a forest),infra or real estate developer,licensee business (like banks),liquor licensee etc., in India – has to BRIBE THE POLITICIAN (to START THE ENTERPRISE) AND THE MEDIA (to SHUT UP THE MEDIA).The Indian Media has a LIEN,on all BRIBES PAID,BY INDIAN INDUSTRY – which comes as CASH PAYMENTS,or just VANILLA ADVERTISEMENTS,to the Media House.

    Every Indian TV Media House is owned by a Business Tycoon – who is busy draining the country and DEFLECTING the attention of supine,nitwit Indians to petty politics,race and religion.In COVID the price of food and POL has DOUBLED – and it is the FAULT OF PRC – and DIVERSION is THE INEPTITUDE OF POLITICIANS AND GOVTT ………… AND THE ADVERT REVENUES KEEP FLOWING IN !

    In essence,the Media is the INTERSECTION of DISSEMINATION AND ABSORPTION CHANNELS OF FRUSTRATIONS of FRUSTRATED AND DEPRESSED INDIANS ! IT PROVIDES SATISFACTION TO THE INDIANS TO SEE AND HEAR INDIAN MISERYAND REVEL IN THETRUTHTHAT THERE ARE PEOPLE WORSE OFFTHAN THEM !

    The Indian Media has a METHODOLOGY of fraud in their lies,perfidy and incendiary reportage on race,religion and hate mongering. This is a CONSCIOUS STRATEGY,motivated by the LURE OF THE FACE OF GANDHI,on a Rs 2000 note – with the planning of NARENDRA MODI,to carry out the Nazi Propoganda of the Hindoo State

    This is HOW the Indian Media Operates (and we talk Of ETHICS !?)

    • The Editors of the Newspaper and TV Channelson “EVERY occasion”, use a base level of analytics, which appears to be “providentially designed”, to “bask in the caveats and exemptions”, allowed to the Indian Media, in Chapter 21 of the IPC , as the
    Indian Defamation Law is outlined
    • There is not One caveat in a single news item, indicating that it is a preliminary ENQUIRY, and also, by not stating the RANK of the Police Officer – the news portal has deprived the reader of the ability and the right to make suitable inferences and conclusions.
    • The Newspapers and TV Channels have a methodology of printing a different subject,context, photos,title, graphics and content on the same news item, in different geographies and languages.Not only that the same newspaper news has a different tone and tenor,in the print edition and the newsportals.In many cases what appears in PRINT does NOT appear ONLINE and vice versa.The adverts that the newspaper will NOT carry in the paper is lavishly displayed on the newsportal (wherein the adverts change by time,geography,language and clicks) .
    • The Newspapers and TV Channels are owned by partnership firms, trusts, or other legal structures – but the online newsportals of the Newspapers and TV Channels are owned by private limited companies.Now Y is that ? The Newsportals are in the domain of social media and cyber laws and o/s the ambit of the state regulations for newspapers and TV Channels ! In addition, the liability of the Pvt.Ltd Companies is limited by Capital and Guarantee,to a pittance.
    • The news titles of the online portals,are designed to attract eyeballs and navigate web traffic to their portals and migrate the opinion of the viewers, to the opinion reflected in the news url and titles, irrespective of the news content – which is obvious, as the news content is full of nonsense, lies, false facts and illegal and unauthorized leaks
    • Readers of news url,,brief news content and photos on the Google/Yahoo etc. search engines,after scrolling a few search pages – click on some specific news content – but by that time,the url and news title, has already conditioned the mind of the reader, to the conclusion and preconceived opinion.The news url and titles are carefully chosen, to cater to the prevailing stereotypes and popular perceptions and biases, in diferent races,faiths,classes and strata of society.
    • The actual news content does not change the opinion of the reader – whose mind is conditioned by the plethora of news url, news titles and news briefs on the search engines.Multiplicity of urls with the same title and url terminology makes the reader believe that the majority view, is the Truth.In many cases, the actual news content does not relate to the news title or the news url – which then, would naturally navigate the reader, to the opinion of the news title and url and photos – as the reader would lean on the exalted opinion, of the media house.
    • It is also a truth, that in 2016 and to date,several media houses have an agenda and a bias/interest in the news on matters related to terror,security and economics – and proudly wear their proclivities on their sleeves.In these news portals,the readers are navigated to the opinion of the media house, as expressed in the news title and the news url.
    • Indians have absolute faith on the TV and print media – ON MATTERS OF SECURITY AND TERROR.On matters of politics, Indians believe that each Indian is a natural expert, with a natural gift of supernatural lumination and intuition. ]This absolute faith (like the absolution of catholic resurrection and crucifixion) makes the news urland news titles and summaries,a lethal tool in the hands of NARENDRA MODI.

    Then come stage 2 – wherein the news CREATED by the India Media,Based on A MANUFACTURED EVENT (LIES BY THE NIA/RAW/IB ..) is then COMMENTED upon in the Social Media (Twitter …..),and then the Twitter armies take over.That,in turn,provides the PERMANANCE OF INCESSANT REPETITION.The Social Media rankings and the Media TRP – then steers the Media,to the NEXT ANGULATURE OF THOUGHT, on that News event.

    Y does the SOCIAL MEDIA POOL OF THE INDIAN MEDIA EXIST ? Like that of Zee etc ! It is simple ! The INDIAN MEDIA USES THE SOCIAL MEDIA TO SAY BY DEDUCTION AND 3 RD PARTY COMMENTSWHAT THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA CANNOT STATE OR INFER OR DEDUCE – BY LAW !

    The Indian Media takes great pains to lend authenticity to this farcical charade.They Invite Pakistanis and Chinese,and abuse them on their shows (reflecting the will of the Indians),do not allow these guests to speak and MUTE THEM AT VITAL JUNCTURES (2 Way Mute) – which indicates the INDUCED AND CONNIVED DECIMATION,of the MORTAL ENEMIES of the Indians (and the dumb Indians Love it !) dindooohindoo

    Basically,the Indian Media provides a platform of 2-3 hours a day – wherein Indians can VENT the pent up sexual,professional,health,intellectual,spiritual and other frustrations of their lives.The Media is the Online SHRINK SHOW – Problem is that in Modi’s India – all the shrinks are saying the same thing – every day – and the Indians are STILL seeing the SAME SJRINK !
  • indian currents
    commented 2021-05-05 09:00:46 -0400
    great article
    <a>indian magazines online</a>