Media Release: India
March 13, 2013
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) welcomes
the submission made by the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ), to an empowered
official inquiry into media ownership norms. In two submissions made between
March 8 and 11, the DUJ, a constituent unit of the IFJ-affiliate, the Indian
Journalists’ Union (IJU) has addressed a broad range of concerns about
ownership issues in the rapidly growing Indian media industry.
Public consultations on the issue were opened by the
Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on a mandate from India’s Ministry
of Information and Broadcasting. An initial position paper was released by the
TRAI on February 15 and consultations will continue until April 15.
In its submission, the DUJ has focused on the growing
dependence of media revenues on advertising spending. India’s print media is
estimated to receive over 66 percent of its total revenue and the television
sector, over 35 percent of total revenue from advertising. In a context of
economic downturn, with advertising expenses stagnant and the share of the
print media possibly shrinking, there could be serious implications for job
security and for the continuing well-being of small and medium newspapers.
The DUJ has highlighted a trend of growing
concentration within the print industry. India’s three top largest
English-language publishers, it estimates, account for about 6 percent of total
newspaper readership, but 39 percent of total industry revenue and 44 percent
of advertising spending in the print sector.
Many large publishing groups have diversified into the
television, radio, online and outdoor advertising sectors. Repeated recent efforts
to legislate a set of norms to preserve media diversity and plurality have stopped
short of producing results.
The DUJ has in its submission, pointed out that media
growth in India “has been averaging about 15 percent since 2003: more than
overall economic growth rate”. “Increasing competition for advertising revenue
has damaged media standards and led to a loss of public credibility. Public skepticism
about the media is now at an unprecedented high. Recent revelations about news
content that is directly paid for – the ‘paid news’ or ‘cash for coverage’
scandal – have added to the crisis of credibility”.
On the proposal of a “negative list” that TRAI has put
forward, restricting particular kinds of entities such as political parties and
religious bodies from owning media assets, the DUJ has counseled caution. The
right to free political speech should not be abridged, it argues, but at the
same time, religious bodies that feed sectarian prejudices and foster
obscurantist beliefs could conceivably be restrained from media ownership.
The DUJ has also sounded a caution on the growth of
monopoly tendencies within the media, which could have the impact of shutting
out certain kinds of voices and opinions from the national political dialogue,
and allowing corporate business interests a free run.
The IFJ welcomes this initiative by the DUJ and calls
for a stronger voice for India’s journalism unions in this consultative process
leading to credible norms on media ownership that will serve the broad public interest.
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