Media freedom in age of convergence
With Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) announcing formal takeover of Network18 and increase in its share in TV18, at the expense of a whopping Rs 4,000 crore, questions of independence of media (broadcast, print and online) in the age of vertical and horizontal integration and cross-platform ownership become more pertinent than ever. While the long story of difficulties in media ownership as well as maintaining a semblance of good and ethical journalism in this era of collective belligerence and telegenic histrionics has been told many a time, what remains to be asked if this concentration of managerial power in the hands of one corporate behemoth, as against having it spread out amongst several smaller stakeholders, would have a dramatic effect on the editorial line and the freedom of expression reflective of all sides and suggestive of all the voices within the nation. Since media convergence, a global phenomenon now, has been driven by the ‘three C’s’ – content, computing and communication – which work stupendously well in the context of digitised media shared simultaneously on multiple platforms, losses and profits are amplified many times over, thereby causing unprecedented fall in the standard of programming in favour of eyeball-grabbing theatrics passing off as reportage, news and analysis. The technological, industrial, social, textual and political convergence of media therefore ensures either a complete blackout of crucial but unfavourable issues or endless play of selective charades that distract instead of promoting intelligent debates. Evidently, the latest case of acquisition by the richest man in India of a massive media conglomerate signals a definitive shift in the method and manner of media operations, which is increasingly turning into a bloated balloon of information overload without letting out actual knowledge of the behind-the-scene situations.
It can be said in hindsight that the former owner of Network18 had been too naïve and simplistic to defend the help that he had sought two years back from RIL chief when the company incurred heavy losses and was unable to profit from its highly visible web portals. Given the weight those websites and even the channels had thrown behind its then beneficiary, it was obvious that their editorial policy was an absolute reflection of the market economics espoused by this section of media-corporate entente. However, the sharp edge of this brand of cut-throat philosophy also entailed that more ruthless and absolute control would soon be on its way since there is no free lunch in this universe of give and take. Network18’s takeover is a clear sign of the emerging trend of cross-platform ownership, in the line of the Rupert Murdoch-owned media empire, and the extreme metamorphosis of the fourth estate into yet another profit-making enterprise without sufficient prominence given to impartiality of news gathering and news making.