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The Indian media system today

The sustained growth of print and broadcast media has not necessarily ensured or promoted healthy practices in journalism. The post-liberalization media is accused of neglecting the deprived sections of India’s population. Critics call it the hidden hand of media censorship, referring to the absence in the news of farmers’ distress, growing unemployment and inequity (Gupta, 2005). The overwhelming lament pertains to the position and role ofjournalists in the media as their working conditions are increasingly precarious with contractual rather than full-time employment. Because the editor responsible for news content needs to be more responsive to the advertising and marketing needs of news organization, there is a trust deficit about ownership dynamics and the so-called corporatization of Indian media. The circulation and price wars referred to by Samir Jain, the owner of the Times of India Group, one of India’s leading media organizations, in the dictum that newspapers are a commodity bought and sold in the marketplace, has considerably affected both content and editorial practices (Auletta, 2012). Large sections of dominant media in India are increasingly veering towards entertainment-driven content (Chadha, 2017), a trend visible elsewhere in the world (Thussu, 2007).

The credibility of newspapers has been further substantially eroded by the phenomenon of‘paid news’, which has become more acute during elections. A detailed report outlined practices that deny candidates even basic media coverage if they do not or cannot pay, and recommended that the Election Commission issue specific guidelines (Guha-Thakurta,2013). Despite prevalent aberrations in media practices, there is resistance across all sections of the media towards any regulation by the government. The need for self-regulation is stressed, but print media content continues to be innocuously regulated by the Press Council of India. In the context of changes in the media scene and the spread of social media, the Council wants an expanded Media Council of India (PTI.2017).

In the state legislature elections leading up to the general elections of2019, even more than paid news, the issue of fake news and its spread through social media was predominant (IFJ, 2019: 40). However, at least a few mainstream newspapers adhere to basic journalistic practices and principles. The Hindu, for example, has institutionalized the role and functions of a Readers’ Editor - the first newspaper in India to do so. One of India’s most serious newspapers, it has taken a definitive stand against paid news, sting operations and other practices, including recognition of the fast changes in technology and concerns such convergence brings to the profession (Panneerselvan, 2019).

In the case of television news, the News Broadcasting Standards Authority looks into violations of the code of ethics laid out by the News Broadcasters Association. However, membership of this self-regulatory body is voluntary. Only about 60 news channels out of the over 400 channels are members, leaving the majority of news channels outside the ambit of any regulatory mechanism (Prateek, 2017). News on the radio, however, is still confined to the state-owned All India Radio and not yet allowed in the private sector FM stations or community radio, despite considerable pressure by the stations (Rajagopal, 2017).

Media ownership in India and implications for journalists

The news-gathering operation of many newspapers, including many significant Indian-language newspapers, is dependent on freelance contributors, including citizens and part time journalists (stringers), often paid according to the length of stories sent or accepted. In many situations, the journalists are also local agents for procuring media advertisements. Such practices have implications for coverage in areas where livelihoods are affected by corporate presence and activities. The journalists’ dependence on seeking advertisements and accepting low salaries has eroded their editorial priorities (Seshu, 2016). The media are also increasingly dependent on government support from advertising. For example, the Narendra Modi government, currently in its second successive term, has spent three times more on government advertisements than its predecessors. Critics feel that the funds could have been better used to support social sector spending (Raman, 2018).The Press Council of India has noted in its comprehensive review of Indian news media the impact of corporatization on democracy (Ray, 2009).The National Alliance for Journalists has stated in its appeal to parliamentarians, that ‘conditions in the print, the digital and in the electronic media are deteriorating. Media workers today have no protection whatsoever and are caught in a wave of layoffs with little remedy’ (National Alliance of Journalists, 2019),

In the present Indian ecosystem, more than 800 television channels offer a range of content in a wide variety of genres, including news channels, movies, music, youth, sports, kids, infotainment, lifestyle, devotional, teleshopping and general entertainment (BARC, 2018). Observers often query as to whether all the channels are viable regarding their economics. More than profits, political parties and economic interests own media in order to gain political influence. A recent analysis has noted that the actual number of television channels has increased but does not mean that all the channels are profitable: the motivation for owning a channel is for the political and economic access it provides (Ajith, 2019).

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