The other day, one of my very good friends was telling me that if you do not go through more than one newspaper you will not be able to find out the actual news. The reason is now-a-days almost every news starts with comment, develops with comment and concludes with comment. Hence this difficulty. In yester-years, we used to listen to one adage saying: ?Facts are sacred, comments are free?. Now we have deviated from that cardinal rule. Why? Many arguments can be put forward. But the fact remains that the business interest is playing a major role in this matter or in other words now-a-days business interest is prevailing over everything. Journalistic ethics and other moral values have taken a back seat.
This kind of degradation has its roots in the ?cross media ownership? pattern. Now the question comes: what is this cross media ownership? If any one branch of media holds stake in other media e.g. broadcast or television, it will be in a position to control the opinions of larger section of people which will ultimately injure the very root of pluralism in democracy. Suppose, there is, on the one hand, a newspaper is publishing as many as seventeen editions from different cities of the country and on the other; one print media company has full or major control over a broadcast company or a television company. In both the cases, the free flow of information meant for the public in a democratic society will be definitely obstructed, if not totally killed. This is called ?cross media ownership?.
The media authorities are now in a mood to deny and defy anything and everything legally, morally or socially important. Can one imagine that a very renowned daily newspaper of the country coming out everyday without the name of a proper editor? There is editor (marketing), brand editor, executive editor, managing editor, but there is no ?EDITOR? although law of the land requires this and without fulfilling this provision it cannot be called a newspaper. But they do not care. Journalists have become contract-labourers under them. There is nothing ?noble? in this ?profession? now. Proprietors have become all-powerful. There is an unholy alliance between the media-proprietors and administrative heads. Having passed this extreme comments I must admit that there are exceptions and it is because of these exceptions there is a semblance of morality in the field of journalism although in a reduced form. Perhaps, for this reason, a good sense is prevailing in the minds of some people who have come forward to check the onslaught of cross-media ownership.
It has been proposed in the form of a bill to be introduced in the Lok Sabha. The name of the bill is ?Broadcast Services Regulation Bill?. Through this bill government want to control so many unwanted developments which have negated the basic motto of journalism i.e. free flow of news among the citizen. Through this new bill they want to control the monopolistic trend of cross media ownership. There is no dearth of other laws enacted by the Government of India. But what happened to them? In the media field people sitting at the helm of affairs dismissed them just by money, power and muscle power. Even the institution like Press Council of India has become laughing stock as their judgments is frequently ignored by many media owners, although this body was created by them. If you yourself is determined to kill your own creation, then who, on earth, can save it?
May be this can be termed as ?world phenomenon? as the scenario in Western Media, in this regard, is not at all different than that of ours. Most newspapers, television and radio stations are owned by large and powerful multi-national companies. In the USA, NBC and CBS (two television companies) are owned by corporations involved in arms manufacture and nuclear power (General Electric and Westinghouse). Several oil companies (Exxon, Texaco and Mobil) have seats on the boards of these news organisations. Time-Warner and CNN merged in the late 1990s to form one of the largest news and media monopolies in the world. Rupert Murdoch is the largest owner of television stations in the USA. Originally an Australian citizen, his American citizenship was ?fast-tracked? by the Reagan administration to allow him to own television stations in the country.
Stories that highlight problems with nuclear power or waste, stories about oil companies involved with governments that violate human rights and stories about conflicts armed by Western companies are unlikely to be given much coverage. Stories that help the interests of the media owners are given prominence
One man, John Malone, 23 per cent of the world'scable stations. His Discovery Channel commissions programmes after ?market approval? and avoid ?controversial subjects?. The phrase ?dumping down? has entered the language as television concentrates on gossip and celebrity stories rather than serious issues. In Australia Rupert Murdoch owns 7 out the 12 national daily newspapers and 7 out of 10 Sunday newspapers. In one city, Adelaide, Murdoch owns all the newspapers. This cannot be good for pluralism. In 1975, one of Murdoch'snewspapers, The Australian, ran a campaign that helped remove the country'sdemocratically elected government by the UK appointed Governor General.
In the UK, News International (a company mostly owned by Rupert Murdoch) owns several newspapers (including The Times and The Sun), Sky Television (a major European satellite operator), Star Television (covering Asia) publishers like Harper-Collins.
In1998, Rupert Murdoch owned 34 per cent of the daily newspapers and 37 per cent of the Sunday newspapers in the UK. He often uses the large resources of his multinational companies to lower the price of his newspapers in an attempt to put rival newspapers out of business. Successive UK governments have allowed his empire to grow in return for his media'ssupport. 53 per cent of UK newspaper and magazine distribution is controlled by just two companies, W. H. Smith and John Menzies. Smaller magazines (like the political or satirical Private Eye) can have (and have had) their distribution curtailed at the whim of these companies.
If media is controlled by few personalities or companies whose dispassionate gesture is hardly noticed then the future of democracy is bound to be reduced to ?demon-cracy?.
(The author can be contacted at 13/B, S.N. Chatterjee Road, Kolkata-700 038.)