Today’s social media come under a few big global names - the Alphabet (Google), Facebook, Twitter and the Microsoft. The slightly ‘older’ media – the television and cinema – also fall under a few global names – Disney, NewsCorp (Star), Viacom, Time Warner and Bertelsmann. Almost all the smaller ones come under these big umbrellas – just as our consumer products would fall under the big names like P&G, Unilever, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Nestle. This is the global trend – and how can the Indian media be far behind?
Sources say the controlling shares of NDTV are now with Reliance, though there was a rumour that the owner of Spicejet was in the race. Reliance has already taken over ETV, CNBC-CNN, TV18, and NewsX. The takeover and acquisition of companies started in India in Mrs. Gandhi’s times when Swaraj Paul tried to take over Escorts. But the game was turned into an art by RPG. The Indian corporate scene changed totally with these M&As. Now perhaps it’s time to see the change in the media.
Plurality, which is essential for a healthy democracy, is now clearly under threat. The multiple voices of the media may become one voice – voice of the powerful, voice of the people in power. This inspite of our initial euphoria over the social media which we thought has empowered the common man. President Trump’s election strategist admitted in a recent interview that Facebook ‘helped’ them in their campaign. At the ground level the social media might have opened up avenues for greater interaction among the common people; but the ‘owners’ of the social media (though they publicly claim they don’t ‘own’ the social media) have their business ambitions. And business is no social work.
Technology will evolve; and along with it, the media. In fact, starting with the printing press and then later with the telegraph, radio, satellite and now digitisation media has changed its character over the ages. The question how the technology behind the media will be used – for the good or bad of society – is as old as the technology itself. The printing press was initially controlled by the ruling power - the church – to propagate the Bible. But it did not remain confined to propagation of religion only. In fact the voice of dissent against the clergy came with the clandestine pamphlets printed in the spare time. Similarly, the radio, the satellite and the internet were discovered and initially used by the powerful ruling class for the army. But we all know they are now used differently for different purposes.
One might argue that these technologies were invented by scientists and technologist who are all common men. But they were all usurped by the high and the mighty. That’s history; and somebody who is aware of this is not surprised in the way the media is going – becoming a weapon of the powerful. If Reliance takes over all the media and turns it into one voice, it’s all the better for the ruling class.
There are arguments and counter arguments as to how to make the media useful for the people. China has blocked the social media like Google and Facebook and made ‘social media’ of their own. They all speak in a single voice. And the country has progressed remarkably. There are people in India who think India is not fit for democracy and a free media.
Time will tell what the fate of the media in India will be. Of course, the kind of politics in the country will decide what it will be. Emergency was not a good thing for the country. Global history says that whatever may be the plan of the powerful to use media for, it finally comes back to the common man. After all credibility of the media comes from how much the common man relies on it.