WHO OWNS the media in India? One supposes that the Government is fully aware of who does. But when a man of the stature of N Vittal, raises doubts, those have to be taken into consideration. Who is Vitttal? He belongs to the Indian Administrative Service. (IAS). On retirement, he served as Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) from September 1998 to September 2002, for a period of four years. He was the first CVC to be appointed to the prestigious post, following an ordinance passed by the Government, and if he says anything, it becomes worthy of attention.
His book Ending Corruption? How To Clean Up India just released is must reading because he speaks with experience. There is one chapter on the Media which is, to say the least, intriguing. It is on Media Ownership. He quotes from Media Watch India World Report (March 19, 2011) which says: “There is one area of business activity that is open to foreign investors and there is practically no government control or oversight. The foreign investors have taken full advantage of this situation.” Vittal says that he “once came across a report explaining how each of the English media publications in India is owned or controlled directly or indirectly by foreign sources, some with links to religious organisations.” Vittal does not mention the source of his information, but the very fact that he refers to it indicates that he has some belief in its veracity.
The Media Watch India World Report says further: “Foreign controlled and foreign owned media also attract foreign investment in India and it promotes economic activity while its owners use the media as a weapon in the cultural war of subversion ….” After quoting the India World Report substantially, Vittal then asks: “Is this true? Why is there silence on the issue? Does it not have a bearing on national security in these days of global terrorism?…. If the media is controlled by foreign sources they may not be unduly concerned about national security aspects as their prime focus would be on short-term profit maximisation”… “In India we do not know fully who controls our media… The harsh reality is that the media now is mainly a business enterprise. Increasing commercilisation of the news itself is a natural development….” Vittal wants to know why there is silence on this issue. As a former CVC, shouldn’t it have been his duty to find out which foreign resource controls which paper or papers, or, for that matter, TV channels? The job can still be undertaken by the Press Council of India whose chairman, Markandey Katju said, speaking at a recent seminar held in Bengaluru and organised by the All India Small and Medium Newspapers Federation that there was plenty to say about the media. Thus, he slammed TV channels for “excessive coverage” of film stars, cricket and astrology, referring to “hyper media” coverage by sections of the channels of a film star who got pregnant, of another (Rajesh Khanna) who passed away and of Rahul Dravid who announced his retirement. May be Katju has a point. But instead of calling the media over the coal, can’t he concentrate on who, really, controls the media, from where the money comes and from whom, and how that has influenced media coverage? That would be more to the point than constantly hammering at the media for its alleged sins of omission and commission. Would that be asking too much? The media is changing and more and more the focus is on the GenNext and its alleged needs – and forget the GenPast.
Thus Hindustan Times (August 19) carried an article by a young engineer Palash Krishna Mehrotra that is highly revealing of the changes going on in the minds of the younger generation. According to him, “India is Changing”. To quote him at some length: “Young Indians armed with qualifications are pouring into our cities to exploit the opportunities in the new economy. They are the drivers of our growth story. We’ve embraced western-style capitalism but we aren’t ready to accept the changes of life-style that this brings. Young people rent apartments now, stay single for longer, have multiple sexual partners. They drink and do soft drugs.” Luckily he does not seem to have heard of Home Stays. He is only angry that having multiple sexual partners and taking soft drugs is not acceptable behavior to an older generation. Now think of The Hindu which is considered a “very proper” conservative paper. This, too, seems to be on the change mode. True, it does not publish pictures of semi-nudes which seems to be the current fashion among our national dailies. But its Sunday issue (August 26) had a long article on “The Vagina Monologue” that asked: “In a society where self-worth is increasingly equated with sexual attractiveness, there are plenty of products that target both men and women. So why whine about the 18 Again ad?”. The article deals with an advertisement for a vagina tightening gel called 18 Again and angry reader reaction to it. According to the author, “a complex conspiracy of cultural forces, rapid scientific advances and economic prosperity in putting an ever-impossible sexual and aesthetic image just within tantalising reach” is on. As he puts it, discussion about “a sagging chin lifted, a wart zapping away, a penis perfected and a pelvic muscle tightened” cannot be wished away. Obviously, discussion of vaginas and penises, normally confined to medical journals, can now be openly carried out in both the print and TV media.
Justice Katju will probably be damned as belonging to a generation that has become irrelevant with the passing of time. The learned judge is invited to read some of the city supplements brought out by some of our leading national newspapers that give extensive coverage to society get-togethers and the people who attend them. He would also do well to read some columnists who use the language the GenNext is comfortable with. India is changing, sir and you had better accept it as a fact of life. Reports of farmer suicides, grinding poverty, lack of medical help, etc are passé. The focus is on film stars, GenNext cricketers, and fashion parades, and sexual behaviour. And, as the GenNext argues, what’s wrong with that?