Private Interest Journalism

How conglomerates corrupt the Indian media landscape

Credit: Illustration by Sukruti Anah Staneley
01 December, 2022

The Adani Group’s attempted takeover of NDTV this year sparked intense speculation about the future of the broadcaster and the effect it would have on Indian media. The multinational conglomerate, founded by the billionaire Gautam Adani, has already established a presence in media by investing in Quintillion Business Media Private Limited, which owns outlets such as BQ Prime. The speculation, though, has largely been about why Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Limited, which had control by proxy over NDTV and is one of the leading financial players in the media scene, agreed to hand over the channel to its most powerful competitor across the Indian corporate landscape.

On the face of it, Reliance’s decision seems to make little business sense, which is why much has been made of the considerations that might have prompted the group to do so. But the larger point, the one that is far more important for Indian journalism, has been glossed over, perhaps because we have come to accept that we live in a distorted world, where analysis of backroom power play is the only question of interest left. What we should really be asking is why people like Gautam Adani and Mukesh Ambani should have any stake in the journalistic enterprise at all.

Before we can even begin to answer this question, we must make a distinction between the terms journalism and media. Journalism refers to the core activities of newsgathering and analysis, which comes with a set of norms and ethics. In most Indian organisations today, these norms are largely observed in the breach, but this does not mean that they do not exist or are not required. In contrast, media is a value-neutral term that can refer to not just the content and medium of information—print, television, digital—but also the organisational superstructures that run them. It is an umbrella term that subsumes newspapers, television channels, Bollywood studios, network providers, entertainment, streaming shows and IPL matches. Indeed, media refers to an industry so vast that it drowns out the very idea of journalism it is often used as a substitute for.

In India, we are likely to scrutinise the qualifications of an applicant who is about to begin a career in journalism with greater care than someone who wants to run a media organisation. This is because when the Indian Republic was founded, even though the need for journalistic freedom was recognised, not enough attention was paid to the role of the press.