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

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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 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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