Filings with the registrar of companies in the ministry of corporate affairs have revealed that five Indian news media companies—NDTV, News Nation, India TV, News24 and Network18—are either indebted to Mukesh Ambani, the richest Indian and the owner of Reliance Industries, or to Mahendra Nahata, an industrialist and associate of Ambani’s, who is also on the board of Reliance’s new telecom venture, Reliance Jio.
Through loans and investments, Ambani, Nahata and the industrialist Abhey Oswal have given the five media companies funds that range from tens to hundreds of crores of rupees. As a result, the control that the three businessmen wield over these media networks varies from 20 to over 70 percent. This is a cause for concern for the freedom of speech in this country. The state of affairs also raises questions about monopolistic practices that may be in conflict with the competition laws of India.
On 12 August 2014, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, TRAI, published a paper titled Recommendation on Media Ownership. In its opening remarks, the paper said, “The right to freedom of speech is essential for sustaining the vitality of democracy. This is why the right is sacrosanct; it is fiercely protected by the media. The question that arises is whether reposing such a right in the media simultaneously casts an obligation on the media to convey information and news that is accurate, truthful and unbiased.” “What happens in the media,” the paper went on to state, “is the concern of the entire country.”