Monday, September 16, 2013

New ambassadors will greet Manmohan on his last visit to US and China

By Neeraj Mahajan

Ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s back to back visits to the US and China later this year - perhaps the last before Singh’s second term as Prime Minister ends in May 2014– New Delhi seems inclined for a white wash operation-- replacing both its envoys in Washington and Beijing.

S Jaishankar, presently India’s envoy in Beijing will succeed Nirupama Rao as India’s ambassador in US while Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Ashok Kantha will replace Jaishankar as India’s new ambassador to China soon.

Both Jaishankar and Kantha are 1977-batch IFS officers.

Manmohan Singh’s will be on a bilateral visit to US is slated to meet President Obama later this month as well as attend the United Nations General Assembly. He would thereafter be visiting China in end October. Both the visits are seen as crucial for New Delhi’s relations with US and China.

Jaishankar, who is son of strategic affairs analyst late K. Subrahmanyam  joined Indian Foreign Service (IFS) in 1977, has been New Delhi’s envoy to Beijing since August 2009. Prior to that, he was Indian High Commissioner in Singapore and ambassador to Czechoslovakia. Earlier as the head of Americas Division in MEA he actively took part in the civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the US and played a key role in smoothing tensions between India and China after incursion by Chinese troops in Ladakh in April this year.

Earlier there were speculations that Jaishankar was going to replace Ranjan Mathai as Foreign Secretary with the blessings of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). This raised quite a stink in the MEA. However when several senior diplomats senior reportedly threatened to resign the government decided in favour of Sujatha Singh who happened to be the senior most contender.

 Likewise Ashok Kantha who served as Indian high Commissioner to Sri Lanka is the son-in-law of former external affairs minister and senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha.

Meanwhile S.Raghavan, Special Secretary in the external affairs ministry is likely to be India's new ambassador to Russia and in all likelihood former foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai may take over as India's next High Commissioner to Britain.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Inside Story: Who Controls the Media -- Part V

Ownership of Media: No Gains without pains

By Neeraj Mahajan

Media is a business of idealism, passion, commitment and involvement. In the early phase newspapers in India were largely owned by middle class or upper middle class intellectuals. They did not start the newspaper primarily to earn profits like businessmen. They were inspired by the spirit of social reforms and struggle for independence. The circulation of their newspapers was quite moderate and hardly any advertising, yet the news and articles were far from trivial or sensational like today. Even iconic media barons like Birlas (HT Delhi, Searchlight, Patna); Dalmia-Sahu Jains (Times of India, Economic Times); Tatas (Statesman, Calcutta) and Ramnath Goenka (Indian Express) were men of vision and left their mark on the profession. Those who followed them -- Ramnath Goenka, Aroon Purie, Indu Jain, Ronnie Screwvala, Prannoy and Radhika Roy, Samir Jain, Vineet Jain, Raghav Bahl, Aveek Sarkar, Shobhana Bhartia, Subhash Chandra and Rajat Sharma—atleast had the media as their main line of business.

The late 80’s and early 90s saw many media startups and takeovers by big business houses like Ambanis (Observer Group), Vijaypat Singhania (Indian Post), L.M. Thapar (Pioneer), Sanjay Dalmia (Sunday Mail), Lalit Suri (Delhi Midday). They were all successful in their own business domain but failed badly because media was not their primary business. They also lacked the patience and commitment. They were primarily dependent on a few advisors who were good journalists, managers or advertising professionals but had never done business themselves. As a result, after sinking in tons of money down the drain; the promoters decided that they had enough of losses. What this simply means is that you can’t deliver without labour pains.

The early 80s saw the emergence of a new generation of editors like—Arun Shourie, M.J. Akbar, Aroon Purie, Vinod Mehta and S.P. Singh. They were all heroes who laid the foundation of an investigative and a new brand of attractively packaged journalism. Akbar launched the Telegraph, Vinod Mehta’s magic was seen as the hand behind the success of Sunday Observer and later Outlook. Thanks to such stalwarts India today has more newspapers and TV news channels than any country in the world.

Most of the national media groups are owned by corporate houses who want them to run as profits centers. This is not withstanding the fact that when newspapers start covertly lobbing or tailoring news to suit corporate interests, the problems, concerns and interests of the weaker segment of society get swept under the carpet. It is one thing for a newspaper or magazine to have a political or economic point of view but quite another to overtly or covertly align with a political party, ideology or business interest. Every reader or viewer has a right to get unbiased, undiluted and unadulterated version of news or views and not what suits the political or business interest of the newspaper or TV channel promoter. Journalists are expected to stand up for the truth and democracy. But how is that possible where owners control the editors, who in turn influence the writers and content. This means media moguls ‘make politics’ not just profits

A basic nuance of the newspaper industry that most corporate owners fail to comprehend is that ‘news’ is not a commodity or product that sells directly bringing immediate return on investment. This is one reason why in many organizations advertising and sales personnel who bring in the money are treated as blue-eyed boys while the editorial staff who provide the content which drives everything from – visibility, readership, circulation, advertising, credibility and goodwill in the market are seen as unnecessary burden. This explains the reason for the vanishing tribe of sub-editors—who used to play a very useful role in the editorial team – were the first to be axed in the cost cutting measures as they did not bring a penny to the organization.

Fallout of this trend has been the devaluation of the position of Editor. Earlier, an editor used to control the whole newspaper, including advertisements. He used to decide what goes where on which page, if at all. Today, the post of editor has been marginalized and the advertising and sales teams first decide where to place the advertisement and the complimentary write-ups desired by the advertisers and the space left is left for the editor to display the news.

Inside Story : Who Controls the Media -IV

Journalism in India: No Rules Apply

By Neeraj Mahajan

In India, the general perception is that Journalists are powerful people who enjoy many privileges and rules are for the common – not for media persons. No wonder Sanjay Suri- a property dealer who has everything a man can dream of – a decent house, bank balance and a car—still wants to have a Press Card. Every time he comes across a journalist he unashamedly requests him for a Press Card and a PRESS sticker for his car. He seriously believes that the press card will give him immunity from being challaned for rash driving or other such traffic violations.

Why should people not think that way when many of those in the profession of journalism are allowing themselves to be used as fixers to protect the interests of their owner, advertisers, official and non official sources of news as well as personal or political agenda? All this eventually reflects on what makes news, how and the display it gets. 

In such a situation, you can’t blame the business men, politicians and underworld dons who want to invest in media business. They are obviously not doing so for any public good but for a variety of reasons like getting a backdoor entry in the parliament through Rajya Sabha as a media owner, fixing business rivals or cultivating ministers and bureaucrats for promoting their regular businesses. India is the only country where anyone with a bag full of money can start a newspaper or news channel and use the media for social recognition, political patronage or protection from the police and regulators.

The game plan of the new investors is to consolidate and control all power—political, muscle power, money power, media and manpower. In an age of arm-chair politics where key to survival lies in strategic calculations and manipulations inside air-conditioned rooms, the politicians need money at every stage to contest elections and survive rival attacks. The money comes from businessmen, real estate or underworld. The businessmen need political patronage and clout to get bigger deals. The underworld needs respectability. They require serving and retired people in the bureaucracy and judiciary to act as facilitators. They all need a ‘captive’ media, to influence public opinion as well as to keep silent on uncomfortable issues. This is the new rule of the game.  

This is the age of crony journalism with almost every one of the 800 private satellite channels and media houses being aligned to one or the other political party or directed owned by a politician or corporate entity. In their anxiety to get more readers, more advertisers and corporate clients, the print media is turning to be a commercial enterprise and the newspaper as a commodity.

Another big trend is corporatization of the media landscape and the ways of doing things. The pressures of 24/7 broadcasting and the concept of breaking news has changed the outlook towards what makes news in a news channel. Sensationalism and stretching things a bit too far -- seems to be the order of the day. News is being sold, not told. The whole concept of content is undergoing a chance. B2B publications and reality shows are a new reality. Different mediums and delivery platforms- like mobile, internet, radio, TV, newspapers and magazines are competing with each other to deliver different shades of same news and views. While the newspapers and magazine will still continue to be in demand they may have to reinvent themselves in order to stay relevant in the digital and online generation. Many of the newspapers and magazines are beginning to see this as a challenge and reorient their distribution and packaging strategies. The days of black and white and pale newsprint are out – instead publications have to be glossy magazines with pretty pictures. Also instead of general interest magazines – niche publications are the order of the day. With companies like Google, Yahoo, facebook and linkedin dominating the Internet they cannot afford to be lax.

Major media mergers and consolidation world is shrinking.  All these have changed the way news is gathered, processed and delivered. Most media organizations are have started experimenting with different platforms to deliver news and earn advertising revenue lest they get left behind. Spurring this trend is the fact that media organizations all across the world have been witnessing steep fall in advertising revenues and circulation while the cost of production and distribution have been increasing. The decision of 80 year old Newsweek magazine to stop the print edition and reinvent itself as a subscription-based digital publication is an indication of this trend. The digital revolution is here to stay and is going to transform news as business.

Another trend in the latter half of the 20th century is that media ownership is increasingly becoming concentrated. Intense pressure on international publishers witnessing declining readership in their home markets has led to a sting of mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures and licensing of titles. India with its young population, rising literacy rates, increasing disposable income and high earning offers an ideal market for the global players in the news and entertainment segment.

Technology is forcing media companies across the world to diversify to converge digitally. TV, newspapers and radio are all converging onto internet and mobile phone. Media companies are starting all forms of text, audio and video in order to remain viable in the digital and mobile environment. Instead of just newspaper, magazine or television many of organizations are evolving as full functional multimedia organizations with their own television networks, cable channels, movie studios, newspapers, magazines, publishing houses, music labels and websites.

Incidentally Eenadu was the first print publication to enter into the GEC (general entertainment channel) space in 1995. Almost 7-8 years later that Business Standard, India Today and Hindustan Times also got into television. India Today launched Newstrack, while Hindustan Times also tried to start its own video magazine with Vinod Dua as its head but the project failed to take off.   

After that, many others like Malyalam Manorama, Times of India, Rashtriya Sahara, Dainik Jagran, Lokmat and Sakal got into the television business which seemed to be a natural extension.  

Inside Story : Who Controls the Media -III

Concentration of media ownership- A global trend

A media tycoon who believes in sharing the political power, Murdoch has consistently backed every winning British Prime Minister since 1979.

By Neeraj Mahajan

Imagine a western democracy where only nine billionaires control 90% of a country's daily newspapers, television networks, cable systems, high-speed internet access, radio waves and most of its major web portals. 

Canada has the most concentrated TV industry ownership and the second most concentrated TV audience of the entire G8 community. The Canadian media ownership remains in the hands of a few people like Media baron Conrad Black who has the power and money to control the means of production and communication. Besides international newspapers like the "London Telegraph" and "Jerusalem Post" Conrad Black's Hollinger Inc. owns and controls 58 of Canada's 105 daily newspapers. Another such company the Brunswick News Inc. owns every English language daily, majority of weeklies, and almost all French-language newspapers in the New Brunswick province. The family-owned Irving group that owns Brunswick News Inc. also owns hundreds of other businesses in dozens of different sectors in the province. TV distributors like Bell, Rogers and Shaw also own cable and over-the-air TV channels in Canada. Canada’s largest media company, Bell Media, controls 28.6 per cent of the TV viewing market. A slew of mergers and acquisitions in the recent years have paved the path for consolidation of press and cross-media ownership in television, telecoms, radio and cable sectors.

Paradoxically media concentration also appears to be a serious problem in Japan which promises to be the second largest economy in the world, after USA with one of the highest literacy rates in the world-- over 90 percent. Japan has a broad and diverse media marketplace 128 Newspapers – many with a morning and evening edition 305 Radio Channels 7108 TV Stations and 500 cable operators. Media life in Japan is focused around the TV where every person on an average watches not news but entertainment programs for three hours and a half hours a day. In contrast the time spent listening to radio is 20 min, reading newspaper is 21 min. and books-10 min.  All most all the Japanese newspapers depend on two agencies-- Kyodo News Service and Jiji Press for their news inputs. Apart from this the only source of news is informal gossip at the Press Clubs organized by various government departments. Top five Japanese newpapers Asahi Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun, Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Sankei Shimbun and Yomiuri Shimbun accounts for half the total newspaper readership.  Each of them sells above 4-10 million copies – more than the combined circulation of even Times of India. Japan can also boast of Dentsu the largest advertising agency and the second largest advertising industry in the world. But then there is one drawback most of its media is concentrated in a few hands. For instance Yomiuri Shimbun group Honsha owned by a 82-year-old businessman, Tsuneo Watanabe control 42 media firms. Some of these firms held under third parties include 24 local television broadcasters and 18 local radio stations besides Japan’s largest newspaper. The owner of Yomiuri Shimbun, Watanabe is obviously supposed to be more powerful than any Minister in Japan can ever expect to be. Apart from this all the five national TV companies, including public NHK—have investment in a newspaper or radio network. Yomiuri Shimbun Newspaper owns Nippon TV. TV Asahi owns Asahi Shimbun Newspaper, TBS owns Mainichi Shimbun Newspaper, TV Tokyo owns Nippon Keizai Shimbun Newspaper and Fuji TV owns Sankei Shimbun Newspaper. Fuji Television is also actively developing new business opportunities in the Internet and mobile world. Apart from this the more than 500 cable operators in Japan have their own production and reach out to 15 million households. Many media companies are also exploring avenues of Twitter, Facebook and Myspace.

Likewise have you heard of a man called Silvio Berlusconi? He started off as a cruise boat lounge singer and small-time hustler. But now owns enough newspapers, television stations and radio stations   to own 95 percent of all the media seen, heard, or read in Italy. He not only controlled the information in Italy, but used it to become Prime Minister of Italy. Thanks to his grip on the media, Berlusconi ruled for three terms in a decade, despite being accused of tax fraud, false accounting, corruption, bribery, perjury, mafia collusion, aiding terrorist organization, and sex with minors at his infamous “Bunga Bunga” parties. That’s how crucial a media monopoly is to political power and legal immunity from prosecution. His vast media empire among others included three of Italy’s seven national television channels, two newspapers, the largest publishing house, the biggest advertising agency and numerous Internet ventures. Till he was Prime Minister he enjoyed absolute media control by virtue of controlling the state-owned broadcaster, Rai, which owns the three other national channels. Italy’s largest broadcaster Mediaset having 45 per cent of total Italian viewership and Rai together dominate Italy's TV market. In addition, his huge presence in advertising guarantees him considerable influence over commercial media that he does not directly own or control. Berlusconi remains one of Italy's richest and most influential men with a fortune of $9bn. His first business venture was a cable-television outfit – Telemilano which is now Italy's biggest media empire controlling three largest private TV stations. His huge Fininvest holding company now has Mediaset, Italy's largest publishing house Mondadori, daily newspaper Il Giornale, AC Milan football club and dozens of other companies under its umbrella.

The only person on planet Earth who can outshine Berlusconi both as a media mogul and as a kingmaker is Rupert Murdoch. Starting with a single newspaper in 1950s, it took a series of ruthless expansion and deal making for him to be crowned as the undisputed king of newspapers, films, and television in Australia, USA, UK, India and other parts of the world. Murdoch's News Corporation owns over 800 companies in over 50 countries with a net worth of over $5 billion. News International is the world's second-largest media conglomerate with all-embracing media Entertainment Empire after acquiring TV stations, movie studios, music recording and publishing labels, newspapers, magazines and book publishers in six continents of the world. In Britain, he is one of the four corporations that control 80% of the press. In Australia News Corporation or John Fairfax Holdings control 11 of the 12 major newspapers having 88% of the circulation. NewsCorp owns 8 of that 12 newspapers besides dominating the regional and suburban newspaper publishing industry, as well as owning a major slice of Foxtel. A man who never lets any hurdle come in his way—some 30 years ago when he dreamt of starting a new television network in the U.S., there was one obstacle-- he was a foreigner, so he decided to solve the problem and became an American. He was now free to expand his media empire throughout United States.

A media tycoon who believes in sharing the political power, Murdoch has consistently backed every winning British Prime Minister since 1979. Often accused of using his media holdings to advance his political agenda he was instrumental in editorially supporting the invasion of Iraq through all 175 of his newspapers forcing Prime Minister Tony Blair to declare the war in 2003. A man who is often seen advising Prime Ministers, he was known in political circles as "the 24th member of the Cabinet". Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s official spokesman stated “there is nothing unusual in the prime minister talking to Rupert Murdoch". Rupert Murdoch – the kingmaker has many prominent Republican politicians on his payroll. He was on the Board of Directors of Philip Morris, a major Bush donor. Murdoch owns 132 major newspapers (113 in Australia alone) including Wall Street Journal, New York Post, London Times and Australian besides some 25 magazines including TV Guide and Weekly Standard and HarperCollins books. His assets include Film companies & studios (20th Century Fox, Blue Sky Studios) TV and broadcasting (Star TV, Tata Sky, 20th Century Fox Television, Fox Broadcasting Company, Fox Television Studios and Shine Group), cable TV networks (Big Ten Network, FX Movie Channel and National Geographic Channel International) internet (MySpace, Photobucket, and many others. 

In India Star TV owns television channels, Internet offerings, radio, mobile entertainment and home video (11 cable distribution companies provide some 400 television channels through DTH and cable distribution platforms in India). 

Inside Story : Who Controls the Media -II

Doctored Media: Changing business of news.

Napoleon feared four hostile newspapers more than a thousand bayonets. Anyone – in the government or private domain – who has the opportunity to allow, disallow or regulate the flow of information can virtually ‘run’ a parallel government and psychologically doctor mind and soul of men, women and children.

By Neeraj Mahajan

90% of what Americans watch read and listen is controlled by these six media conglomerates who also have an impact on the rest of the world. But such media monopolies are not exclusively to be found in U.S.A alone. This trend is global. Almost The all the giant media companies’ have had to reinvent their business model to stay ahead of the economic recession. It’s hardly a surprise that most such top-media groups are in the developed world. And because they control the news and information the developing countries have to depend on them even to know what is happening in their own backyard.

One such media entity is Germany’s Axel Springer corporation AG -- one of Europe’s largest newspaper publishing and multimedia companies, with over 150 newspapers and magazines in 36 countries including Germany, France and Spain. Newspapers all over the world depend on four main news agencies: Associated Press (AP), Reuters, Agency France-Presse (AFP) and China’s Xinhua News Agency. A good chunk of their news comes from them. It may be recalled how Associated Press of India (API) a British-controlled agency was initially reluctant to report about the freedom movement in India hence Free Press of India News Agency came into existence.

Another German business Bertelsmann is one of the world’s largest media companies that owns RTL Group – one of the two major private TV companies in Germany and Netherlands and having assets in Belgium, France, UK, Spain, Czech and Hungary. Apart from this it owns Gruner+Jahr the leading publisher of Stern and investigative news magazine Der Spiegel. Bertelsmann also owns Random House #1 book publisher in the English-speaking world and #2 in Germany.

If that does not shock you, try this: 75% of global expenditure on advertising is consumed by top 20 media companies. Just 5-6 top ad agencies dominate the 350 Billion dollar advertising industry.  

All this definitely has an impact on the global media where conglomerates like Viacom, CBS Corporation, Time Warner, News Corp, Bertelsmann AG, Sony Corporation of America, NBCUniversal, Vivendi, Televisa, Walt Disney Company and Hearst Corporation– earn more profits than most independent country’s GDP. As a result their owners individually as well as jointly wield enough to directly or indirectly veto any government’s policies. The trend in media ownership is not only restricted to exercising  influence over domestic politics but also creation of 'global media empires' that include newspapers, television stations, magazines, movie studios and publishing houses.

It is said that Napoleon feared four hostile newspapers more than a thousand bayonets. As the proverbial fourth estate the media has a huge responsibility and power to disseminate unbiased news and information, fair and impartial comment to inform, inspire, motivate and educate people. Media was supposed to act in public interest – with any fear or favor. The media has a powerful influence on the way the whole society think, act and behave. Not just news, entertainment and books but even cinema has an impact on the mindset of the society and its politics. Anyone – in the government or private domain – who has the opportunity to allow, disallow or regulate the flow of information can virtually ‘run’ a parallel government and psychologically doctor mind and soul of men, women and children.

In a democracy the public needs sufficient information to make informed judgments for the greatest good of the greatest number. As someone said; "A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." That is why "the public's right to know" – is the fundamental principle of journalistic code of ethics. As Gandhi himself a journalist wrote: “an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy.”

Traditionally Print (books, pamphlets, newspapers and magazines), Recordings (gramophone records, magnetic tapes, cassettes, cartridges, CDs, DVDs), Cinema, Radio and Television were among the five recognized mediums of mass communications. Lately Internet and Mobile phones-- two new mediums have been added to this category. Mobile phone is said to be the most perfect media – which never gets switched off like a TV or Radio and is always within hands reach of its owner – even in the toilet or while sleeping. It supports text, voice, graphic and multimedia– everything that any of the other media can do. The realization that the mobile can be both a personalized means of two way as well as simultaneous communication with a large group is beginning to change the business of news.