THE TAKEOVER OF MEDIA conglomerate Network 18 Media & Investments Ltd (NMIL) by Mukesh Ambani, executive chairman of the yarn-to-oil and retail giant Reliance Industries Ltd — India’s largest private sector company (annual revenue: Rs.401,302 crore) — for a reported consideration of Rs.2,692 crore in early July, has sent shivers down the spines of media moguls, journalists and dwindling tribe of liberal intellectuals countrywide. With this coup executed through a wholly-owned entity — India Media Trust (IMT) — Ambani has emerged as a media heavyweight with formidable power to shape and influence political and public opinion. In one swoop he has acquired absolute control of 27 national and regional television channels (including CNN-IBN, CNBC-IBN and IBN-7), several entertainment channels (Colors, MTV and Comedy Central), e-commerce businesses (Home Shop 18, bookmyshow.com) and also the upmarket Forbes India business magazine. All this plus control of the Telugu language newspapers and 12 television news channels owned by the Hyderabad-based Eenadu Group, acquired by NMIL in 2012 (with a $730 million RIL loan) for Rs.4,388 crore.
The fact that Ambani has emerged as a media tycoon so soon after the Narendra Modi-led BJP swept General Election 2014, is worrying liberals in Delhi and beyond. It’s well-known neither Ambani nor Modi are proud of India’s enviable free press/media tradition. Ambani’s crony capitalism style of expanding his massive and growing business empire has repeatedly been exposed in the media, and the new prime minister has been put through the media wringer for his acts of omission if not commission, during the anti-Muslim rampage in Gujarat under his watch in 2002, as also his role in the snoopgate affair of 2013.
With industry tycoons — in 2012 Kumaramangalam Birla purchased a 27.5 percent stake in the Delhi-based Living Media which owns India Today and TV Today — bidding for control over television channels and print publications, liberals are beginning to discern an industry-government nexus which will create pliant editors and inhibited journalists walking on eggs. The sun is beginning to set on the glory days of Indian media.
To expect the citizenry’s elected representatives in Parliament and state legislative assemblies (MLAs) to be aware of the epicurean excesses of the nobility who precipitated the French Revolution (1789), or greedy members of the Soviet Communist Party whose loot and arrogance destroyed the Soviet Union and buried communism a century later, would be to expect too much.
This is especially true of the southern state of Karnataka which in the first few decades after independence, had the reputation of being the most law-abiding and well-administered state of the Indian Union. But after the mid-seventies when a succession of venal chief minsters perfected the art of divide-and-rule caste-based politics, and began injecting under-qualified kith and kin into the bureaucracy, police and judiciary, the state’s once-efficient administrative system lives in eternal fear of politicians and bureaucrats who have the terrifying power to transfer officials who displease them, to backward districts of the state.
These days reports are rife of MLAs wrecking restaurants, involved in drunken driving accidents and behaving loutishly in the legislative assembly even as the garden city has morphed into garbage city. Inevitably, MLA power is also being exercised by their progeny. In July when police booked privileged youth driving high-end cars recklessly in broad daylight, the law enforcers were roundly abused and forced to apologise.
On another occasion, an MLA and his entourage (which is always on the scene) wrecked a high-end pub for deficiency of service. Indeed the power of this new privilegentsia is so enormous that a youth who brazenly kidnapped and raped a college student, claimed privileged status because his sire had contested two assembly elections, albeit unsuccessfully. This was sufficient for the police inspector to dilute the gravity of the charges against him.
NB. The sole bulwark against the runaway excesses of the country’s new privilegentsia is the media which reports them.
The downside of the internet revolution which has enabled citizens to access a diversity of knowledge at the click of a mouse, is the tsunami of dehumanising pornography readily available on the world wide web. 24×7 porn is scrambling the under-developed minds of the vast majority of the country’s ill-educated youth and changing the character of the country. Even a cursory investigation of sex crimes will indicate that almost all the cases of gang-rape and vicious brutalisation of women and children are influenced by lurid pornography streamed worldwide through the internet.
It’s important to appreciate that the socio-psychological impact of dehumanising pornography upon under-policed societies of developing nations — in contemporary India the police-people ratio is 127:100,000 cf. 226: 100,000 in the US and 564 in Russia — where rote learning is the rule, is devastating.
Therefore state governments need to urgently establish anti-pornography cyber squads of IT experts to discover ways and means to block pornographic content being streamed over the internet and simultaneously criminalise porn voyeurism. Moreover, New Delhi needs to officially protest the free rein given to the booming pornography industry of Western countries, especially the US. In particular, it should request the US Supreme Court to review its bizarre judgement in People vs. Flynt (1968), in which the court upheld the production and dissemination of pornography on the absurd reasoning that it’s synonymous with freedom of speech.
Although feeble-minded liberals tend to dismiss such gloom-and-doom warnings as trivial, for millions of women and children countrywide, the smut tsunami flooding the nation is becoming a life and death issue.