Media and Communications Policy – Narrative .

NARRATIVE:

The media is integral to the functioning of modern society. In democratic societies, the media is said and meant to be free. Free to report on the happenstance in the country, free to ask tough and leading questions of its leadership, free to dig into wrong doing where so ever there is one, free to discuss issues of any kind with anyone and so on, even as it is a medium of entertainment. That is the utopian story; reality as it has evolved in the world, including in the “free” democratic world where media is projected and said to be “free”, is very different.

That media in China, Russia and other dictatorial regimes is State controlled and unfree is a known fact, but the story of media in democratic societies is also rather convoluted. In the West, a handful of families, largely own all major media resulting in levels of control not seen in the 19th and 20th centuries. Political parties have turned a blind eye to this “consolidation” of media through mergers and acquisitions because they have benefited from concentrated ownership given that they are supported and promoted by these media. Thus, largely, media independence and freedom is a smokescreen about which much has been written.

The financial model of media survival is built around readership-viewership reach and advertising revenue. Both these factors create and work to dynamics that are not in the wider public interest. Owners exercise behind-the-scene influence based on their own political leanings. They back political parties or candidates they like and who push their agendas and interests. In the process, they exert huge influence on large population segments, in the way they think and act. Mass-mind influencing is now a refined art and science. Large advertisers gain huge influence as the money they spend with media organizations drives their survival and profit; and so, the story goes.

While the advent of the all-pervasive social media has changed the media paradigm significantly, it has also brought in its own dynamic of fake-news, motivated stories that are being pushed by governments and large organizations leaving the average citizen all over the world in a state of haze and bewilderment. All these phenomena have led to the Public interest not being served.

Thomas Jefferson, a founding father of the US nation famously and prophetically stated that "The only security of all is in a free press”. The media is meant to be diverse in ownership, free of unnecessary controls and primarily responsible to the wider Public Interest which it informs and influences and from which it draws its power and sustenance.

While the original impulse and thought as modern media came into being and developed, was right in its projection that the media would be a great tool to inform the public, to serve as a watchdog for the public across all sectors, including of governance, be a bulwark against abuse of power by governments, corporates or other bodies, be a tool for progress, for free and open discussions across all types of opinions; thus, leading to healthy, strong democracies functioning within the frame of strong ethics and integrity of governance, and in the public interest, that is not quite what has come to pass.

In India too, for the most part, main line media is owned and operated not by neutral institutions responsible to the public but by corporate houses and political parties that serve the interests of their owners rather than those of the public from whose readership or viewership it derives its power. There has been much talk about “media is all bought” (media toh bika hua hai) in India resulting in general loss of public confidence on what and who to believe. It is truly a sad and dangerous story for the country, and one that is causing more destruction to the idea of democracy than helping it grow in a healthy manner.

For the country to be safe from abuse of power, to be well informed, truthfully, for it to progress, its media policy must be rooted in rational thought, and be in the best interest of the Indian public while allowing robust operations and freedom to its practitioners. Restrictions, if any, should only be based upon national interest, and these circumstances should be clearly demarcated and be in the public domain.

At present, Indian media is divided into two spheres; State owned TV and Radio under the umbrella of Prasar Bharti, notionally an autonomous body set up by the government, but controlled by it nevertheless through budgets and board appointments; and the private media, largely owned by business houses and political parties. Both display a wrapped function which does not serve the nation well.

The laws and rules governing media ownership and function need to be reset to the new national narrative such that the principles of democracy are upheld, wider public interest is served and it contributes to national development in its operational frame.

The Rising India Party suggests and proposes the following core principles on which the Media Policy would be built for the Indian public to consider and approve:

(Bhai Sahib, this is your domain and your inputs and suggestions are particularly required here for the nation’s benefit)
 

  1. The Rising India Party takes the position that the nations media function to the national interest transparently, impartially and free of narrow individual or group agendas, even as it represents or projects the interests and concerns of various groups and sub-groups that form our great heterogeneous, diverse society and civilization.
  2. Furthermore, it must put in place and develop systems of public oversight and self-censorship to include eschewing of any narrow sectarian hate inputs and aim to protect national unity and security.
  3. The Rising India Party takes the position that ownership of media must be defused.
  4.  It must function to and have public oversight.
  5. It must not be owned by political parties unless majority stake of the media organization rests with the public; and political views other than those of the owning entity are equally aired.
  6. The State-owned media run and managed under the banner of Prasar Bharti would be reorganized such that genuine public ownership is brought to the fore and must incorporate Public oversight in its functioning.
  7. This can be brought about by floating Prasar Bharati as a public corporation where 75% of the stock is owned by the small retail shareholder and 25% rests with the government.
  8. The Board of Prasar Bharati would be constituted of professionals and individuals of diverse experience who may apply for the positons and be confirmed through voting of the shareholders, and not by appointment at the pleasure of the President or government as is the case now.
  9. Given the core importance of media in the nations life and polity, and given its potential for misuse of its power that is already being witnessed not only in India but across the world, ownership of media by private corporations or institutions such as private institutions must be limited to no more than 40% of shares.
  10. The Boards of such entities must comprise not less than 50% of members of appropriately qualified members of the public, in terms of experience of achievement.
  11. By law, all media must be required to carry at least 30% of its space or time in positive stories happening throughout the nation.
  12. Sensationalism of content and demonizing of people and issues must be eschewed, but not banned, in the interest of freedom of the press.
  13. News channels should be permitted to also carry entertainment content for the interest of financial health of the concerned media to garner advertising revenue.
  14. Subscription models should be permitted
  15. Paid news or paid discussions must be notified on the masthead of the news or discussion panel.
  16. Local events or issues, unless they have a national impact, should not be carried on the national stage. For instance, if there is a rape or murder in one part of the country, the whole population need not be involved in thinking of it unless there is a wider story of a politician or prominent citizen involvement.
  17. The frames or points of reference of such scenarios would need to be discussed and written in a rules frame.

More to be added


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