When Mukesh Ambani writes the media’s cheques

The fears over what happens when a big business house with deep pockets and political influence across parties funds a big media house to legitimise its hitherto-hidden media interests are coming true even before the controversial Reliance Industries -Network18/TV18-Eenadu Television deal can be inked.

Obviously, the political class is silent. Obviously, TV18’s competitors won’t touch the story for reasons not difficult to imagine. Obviously, The Hindu won’t even publish a media column for reasons not difficult to fantasise.

But there has been no serious discussion of the implications of the deal on the media or on democracy in the mainstream media. Not on any of Network18’s usually high-decibel shows since the tie-up was announced on 3 January 2012. Not even on Karan Thapar‘s media show on CNN-IBNThe Last Word.

Print media coverage too has at best been sketchy. Even the newspapers and newsmagazines which have attempted to probe the complexities of the menage-a-troisThe Economic Times and The Indian ExpressOutlookand India Today, have barely managed to go beyond the numbers into the nuance.

Rajya Sabha TV, the newly launched television channel of the upper house of Parliament, has filled the breach somewhat with a no-holds barred discussion on the subject.

Anchored by Girish Nikam, a former Eenadu reporter who wrote five years ago on Ramoji Rao‘s travails, the RSTV debate flags all the important issues raised by the deal and underlines the role public service television can play in the service of the public when the corporate media gives up—or gives in.

Some of the comments made by three of the four participants on The Big Picture:

S. Nihal Singh, former editor of The Statesman: “My first reaction [on reading of the deal] was that it was time for India to have a really good anti-monopoly law for media, which is the norm in all democratic countries in the world, including the most advanced….

“The press council of India is totally dysfunctional because of the new chairman Justice Markandey Katju, who is baiting the media, who doesn’t believe in conversing with the media, or exchanging views with the media.”

***

Madhu Trehan, founder-editor of India Today and director, content, of the soon-to-be-launched media site, News Laundry: “It need not have happened if the government and corporates were more alert. One person owns much too much….

“Already every policy is decided by corporates as the 2G tapes (of Niira Radia) show. Not only is it dangerous that Mukesh Ambani will be deciding what policy will be decided, as you know has happened in the past, but he will also decide whether we can talk about it, or criticise it or expose it….

“Why is Reliance interested in media? It is not for money; it is obviously for influence. Rupert Murdoch was endorsing PMs and Presidents in three continents. Now we have the richest man in the country owning the largest network. Yes, there is an independent trust, but I don’t believe that. The purpose is to control the media. You are influencing policy, you are influencing how the government decides, and now you are going to decide how the people will hear about about you and the government….

“When a politician or a government spokesman speaks, we don’t believe them, but when somebody like Rajdeep Sardesai or Sagarika Ghose speaks, or anyone at IBN7 or TV18 comes on, we presume we should believe them. Now there is a big question mark [when RIL has indirect control over CNN-IBN]….

“In a deal of this size we are looking at very subtle plants of stories, subtle angles, subtly putting things in a certain way so that people think along in a certain way for a particular way. I don’t know if anyone can shut the door. It’s too late.”

***

Dilip Cherian, former editor Business India, head Perfect Relations: “Globally we have seen when big capital enters media, that is exactly what we are about to replicate for ourselves.

“Oligopolistic tendencies are visible in global media today, whether it is Silvio Berlusconi or Rupert Murdoch, the fact is they exercise humongous influence not on media but politics. Are we headed down the same road? At this time, the answer seems to be yes. Is it good? The universal answer from the question is that it isn’t,  not just because it affects the quality of news but because it affects the quality of politics….

“The entry of big capital is not new or news. What has happened in this case is a big distinction between foreign investment and domestic. Because of 4G, because the same business house owns the pipe, owns the content, there could also be another issue of monopoly. If I were the owner, I would say there needs to be a publicly visible ombudsmanship [to dispel the doubts]….

“There is room for concern, there is room for elements of self-rgulation. As a country we are not able to legislate for two reasons. One because of the influence business houses have on policy making. And two, when you bring in legislation (on regulation) up, the other group that is affected are politicians who own media houses of their own. You are talking about now a coalition of forces which the public is incapable of handling. You won’t see Parliament doing the kind of regulation they should, in an open manner, because there are interests on all sides.”

* Disclosures apply

Also readWill RIL-TV18-ETV deal win SEBI, CCI approval?

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13 Responses to “When Mukesh Ambani writes the media’s cheques”

  1. Indian Says:

    The Ambanis have no ethics. They have made money by hook or crook and you cannot expect anything good from them.

  2. Objectivist Mantra Says:

    The truth is that vast majority of the media outlets in India are owned by politicians. The politicians don’t have any money, their declarations of income show that they are not worth more than few lakhs. So how come they are controlling media companies worth billions.

    It is very easy to point finger at Mukesh Ambani. He is a successful man and hence every one is jealous of him. But the thing is that he has every right to invest his hard earned money in any business venture. What do the readers of this blog want – Should TV 18 sell its stake to a political family?

    Come on guys, wake up! It is not your grandfather’s money that Shri Mukesh Ambani is investing. Mukesh Ambani is an Indian he has every right to invest his money. You and I are have no right to whine about it.

    I don’t say anything when I see senior journalists spending their monthly salary in beer bars. At least Mukesh Ambani is making a sensible investment. Good luck to him. I am his big fan. The journalists are going after Mukesh Ambani only because they are jealous of him.

  3. Emptymind Says:

    @OM
    Shut up man. Why spare business man and target only politician for all of our ills. Politicians owns the administrative power and business man owns economic power and both power will lure corrupt media to dance to their tune. It is the same economic power which influence the administrative power to do all undemocratic activities which ended up in major scams like 2G, Bofors, Illegal land acquisition, mining scam etc etc.
    We are not interested in your iconic figure investing in corrupt media or in IPL . We only bother about his money power should not influence the economic policies of the Government.

  4. the colonel Says:

    Two Things Emptymind.

    Bofors: A Damn Good Gun. Nothing Better. We Got it, it was put out and we are back to Square ONE. oH LORD!!! oH MORALITY!!!!!

    2G: Could Someone please trace what 2G has Done for all of us and esp the poor. Wherever I go nowadays i find the poor organised for better services. My wife has to regularly call for ambulances causing my long silences; and 2G has enabled some of the best ambulances run by some of the poorest. The POOR DELIVER.

    I am Now ready to take on anyone and EVERYONE for these two facets never enumerated or portrayed.

    oH LORD!!! oH MORALITY!!!!!

  5. policyneed Says:

    Most channels are owned by people who want to influence media for their own agendas and propagandas. Rajdeep and Sagarika are no better. However the more serious problem where everyone needs to unite and address is the online version of TOI, Yahoo…Take a look at the womens and entertainment sections – topics and pictures that may shame the p*rn industry are being flashed unabashedly by TOI. Govt wants to censor Facebook, Google, etc – what about censorship on mainstream publication TOI? TOI has become literally a TOIlet paper

  6. Objectivist Mantra Says:

    “Politicians owns the administrative power and business man owns economic power and both power will lure corrupt media to dance to their tune.”
    —-

    If someone does not understand the difference between the power of the money(which is soft & creative power), and the power of the “whip, gun, torture chambers, slave camps” (which is what the governments weild), then he deserves to learn the difference on his own hide.

    I think he will. The world is moving towards totalitarianism, where businessmen are banned from making investments, while demagogues and dictators corner economic, political and cultural power.

  7. pdk Says:

    Mr S Nihal Singh takes the cake with this: “The press council of India is totally dysfunctional because of the new chairman Justice Markandey Katju”.

    The Press Council suddenly became dysfunctional because of Mr Katju? The same which buried an important report on the paid news phenomenon which hits at the very basis of true journalism?

    Let’s hear what P Sainath had to say about it: The Empire strikes back — and how!

    Acting promptly at the time, the Press Council of India suo moto set up a sub-committee to probe the phenomenon of paid news. The two-member sub-committee of Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and K. Sreenivas Reddy produced a devastating report (see The Hindu April 22, 2010).

    But what did the Press Council do with their report?

    …a “full” drafting committee got to work on a “final” report. Over the months since the scandal hit the fan, some members of the PCI — mainly those representing media owners — worked to scuttle the explosive original report. They had two basic issues with it. First: Why name names? Why get into the ugliness of that? Fascinating, at a time when the media are baying for names and blood on the corruption in the Commonwealth Games scam. So firstly, we now have a double standard: exposure for corruption in the Games, privacy for it within the media.

    The sub-committee finds passing mention in the “final” report. Its outstanding effort stands reduced to a footnote (yes, a footnote) in that report. The footnote says the sub-committee’s report “may remain on the record of the Council as a reference document.” That’s right. It goes to the archive. There is no sign of this “reference document” on the website of the Press Council. This is the standard the PCI sets for the Indian media?

    This is the Press Council which suddenly became dysfunctional after Mr Katju became its Chairman? Ludicrous claim, but understandable. No one wants to hear unpalatable truths told about themselves.

    ***

    If someone does not understand the difference between the power of the money(which is soft & creative power) …

    It is creative alright : $128 billion siphoned out of India in a decade

    It is soft too : No public, just hearings for mega projects. The operative sentence to demonstrate the softness is this:

    …officials in Chhattisgarh treat the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification of 2007and the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act (PESA) of 1996 as mere formalities and routinely overrule gram sabhas to acquire lands on behalf of industry

    ***

    Another demonstration of creativity of “money” relates to the 3G auction. We all know how big a success it was and how much money it garnered. The 2G loss estimates were also based on that auction.

    But where did the Telecom companies get the money to make such high bids? The public sector banks. Banks nervous about telecom exposure.

    Now if that is not creative, I would love to know what is.

  8. Angry Young Man Says:

    Mukhesh Ambani will strike a deal with the Congress, or will be forced to.

    The Congress will tell him: “We will go after your shady dealings, past and present, but will let you escape in exchange for favourable coverage of our party, and in particular, Maino-Gandhi Enterprises Private Limited. And while we’re at it, do you still desire to control the petroleum extraction business in the Krishna Godavari basin? And, by the way, that ugly monster of a home you have built in Mumbai – the clearances do not exactly look squeaky clean. We can have those files reopened…”

    Mukhesh Ambani is much easier to control than Prannoy Roy or Rajdeep Sardesai, who still sometimes have their very rare moments of journalistic honesty. But with Ambani at the helm, expect the 2Gs and CWGs of the future to be made to look like heaven-sent gifts to the people of India.

  9. Emptymind Says:

    @OM
    Dear OM I have found out the difference between those two powers. It is big EMPY. Just same as scientist could not separate electric and magnetic field absolutely and ended up calling it electromagnetic field telling both field ( power) are same, looks different wrt different referential frames.
    The problem with ur thinking is you are trying to segregate politician and business man. Demonize one character and glorifies the other. same as old masala bollywood flicks. Sorry to say u cannot apply filmy ideas to reality.

  10. Emptymind Says:

    Coming to our Politicians, business tycoons, Media how they make our democratic system. I could remember a Kannada article from UR Anantamurty where he given an analogy to our screwed system to Yakshagaana or Bayalu Naataka(street play) where the actors wears colorful dress, costumes etc fight each other dancing to the tune which is played at background. Here the 2 characters the dancers or dialog groups and background musical groups, The Dancers entertains the public, fighting each other using mace and swords with dancing to the background musical song. The same actors leaves the center stage away from the public, shares the same beedi each other!.

    Here the actors are our Politician (ruling and opposition) and business tycoons. Media are the background musical groups. They blame each other in front of the the camera just to fool us oh sorry to entertain us and after completion of high drama they attend private party greet each other.
    Mr OM you may be big fan or spoon to your business tycoons. But don’t confuse the public with your divisional tactics.

  11. andrew mohan charles Says:

    Someone said here says – Come on Guys Ambani is not investing your fathers money. Well whose money is it?
    Think that be the name of the greatest Indian?
    Well, I think it belongs to something that crawled out of the gutters.
    To each his own, I suppose?

  12. Mahishasura Says:

    Ok. lets say ambani can have no morals/ need not have ethics because that’s how business goes and swarga gets created with jealousy and greed – which roughly translates to bombay prostitution and delhi greed currently.

    I am Mahishasura and naturally I destroy things which I don’t like, until chamundi comes and destroys me.

    I hope that’s fine with people.

  13. twistleton Says:

    Big business rules the world, baby. That may be soft power, but it doesn’t mean we have to like it.

    It’s the same old good cop-bad cop story. Why blame the politicos, they’re just playing the role of a bad cop (mighty generous of them, actually, as they also double up as the fall guys).

    It’s a well-oiled machinery that feeds us with a daily dose of propoganda and other lies. Everyone can be a billionaire, they say, all you need is enterprise and ingenuity, to make away with competitors and conscience.

    So much for a free market…

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