DOI: 10.5176/2251-3809_LRPP14.30

Authors: Manoj Kumar

Abstract: The continuing integration of media platforms and the expansion of social media have led to a situation in which any person may be both a producer and consumer of news. Is it time to address the question of whether the current regulatory mechanisms are still effective.

A key challenge is that of weakened editorial control, leading to news coverage controlled by corporate interests. Editors appear unwilling to support reporters’ pursuit of stories which may threaten the "cosy nexus" between businesses and their media holdings. If there were strong editors in the industry, the government wouldn’t need to regulate, and the media would put its own house in order.

The importance of insulating editorial management from ownership was emphasised. The issue of regulation is also muddied by 30{6e6090cdd558c53a8bc18225ef4499fead9160abd3419ad4f137e902b483c465} of ownership interests (both in distributors and broadcasters) being held by those in government.

In the era after Independence, the media was a vehicle for social change. However as India experienced capitalist growth, the media is increasingly being used to further business. Similar growth in the United States led to increased regulation and the emergence of media entrepreneurs.

In India, however, the media barons are entering real estate and other businesses and there is an intermingling of interests. Professional journalists used to criticise owners and publishers for any interference, actual or threatened. Increasingly, however, editors are becoming publishers and owners, affecting the balance in editorial and corporate responsibility. As this presents a grave threat to credibility, it may be necessary for the government to look at regulations preventing owners from being involved in the news in an editorial capacity.

There is often confusion regarding the classification of the news media i.e whether it a 'business' being carried on by media companies under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India, or is it an activity covered protection under Article 19(1)(a) as a right to freedom of speech and expression?
This question is critical in determining the standards applicable to the conduct of the many news-providing outlets in India today and the necessity for oversight, where required.
The right to express opinions freely is critical in a democracy and intellectuals have long championed it as a gateway to other liberties, positing that curtailment of free expression inevitably leads to restrictions on other rights such as the right to be informed. This right, however, is often confused and equated with the necessity to always overlook the media being a business (falling under Article 19(1) (g)). This is fundamentally flawed.
The rights of a citizen (under Art.19 (1) (a) and the rights of a media business owner (under 19(1)(g) fall under different baskets and contours, and cannot be considered the same.
This flaw of equating Article 19(1) (a) and (g) as being the same has led to a consequential flaw that even the oversight and restrictions in the interest of the 'general public' contemplated under Article 19(6) are to be ignored.
The current model of self regulation is not seen to be working, with the Press Council of India described as a "toothless tiger that can’t even growl". Whether it is because of the voluntary nature of the regulation, or the reluctance of editors to speak out against one another, the consequences of violating current codes do not serve as a deterrent to the rogue elements in journalism. There is little regard for the social impact of what is aired.

Does the way forward answer lie in the formation of an independent constitutional authority, separate from both the government and the media - akin to the Election Commission or the Comptroller and Auditor General ?

Or do we continue to be sitting ducks and maintain status quo ?

Keywords: Media Regulation, India, Self Regulation, Media, Corporate Governance, Status Quo

Price: $4.99

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