Editor of The Hoot - a media watchdog website, Sevanti Ninan comments on the differences and similarities between Murdoch's media empire and what exists in India. She is interviewed in the context of the "phone hacking" scandal that has brought media moghul Murdoch in the dock in Britain.
Srinivasan Ramani (SR): Media Mangate, Rupert Murdoch is in the news recently for the closure of it's sensational tabloid 'News of the World'. The tabloid's phone hacking ways in the United Kingdom has created a massive public outcry and that forced tabloid to close after a long run. To discuss with us Murdoch in the dock and Murdochisation of the media in general, we have with us Ms. Sevanti Ninan, Editor of the popular media watchdog website thehoot. Thanks for coming to the Newsclick. In one sense, Murdoch's ways of sensationalising news, his ways of dominating the media empire has been called into scrutiny after this news of the world scandal. But some say, it's just a blip. Soon, it will be a business as usual. Do you think so?
Sevanti Ninan (SN): No, Murdoch has a huge empire and all of that which not news and this news empire I think Britain was even though it counts very little financially. Britain was his biggest area of influence. Britain certainly will take a beating. His plans for television, just the fact that he has to call off his bid for B sky B is a hit. It's a major hit. Also because of 9, 11 angle his other influential news base was the US and we don't know how it's going to unravel in future. But overall, Murdoch is too big and has to diversify his empire to be financially effected too much by this.
SR: What's more profound about this episode is that it's not just about paying of law enforcement agencies son on and so forth but simply the fact that Murdoch has been able to buy off or rather threaten off political pressure by virtue of sold most in his country. He is able to set the agenda in some sense. It's true of what Murdochs news channels in America for example.
SN: Not entirely, the three huge mainstream network. Fox is simply accounted to them.
SR: But at the same time, Murdoch's networks actually push deeply very right wing agenda.
SN: They push up very conservative agenda.
SR: Especially UK for example. They have even been able to manipulate antagonistic political party, labour party for example, subheading within supporting Tony Blair and so on. The question however is such a trend is visible in India or it's just an exaggeration.
SN: No, India is different, it's huge. There is no question of any one media empire having empire having influence on any one ruling party. There are several which who are equally influential. Also in India, political parties themselves have started majorly getting into acquiring media. So they don't depend entirely on commercial media for their influence pedalling.
SR:The form of agenda building on UK and US you think doesn't happen in Indian media.
SN: You know in the Indian media there is a huge amount of diversity. For every Hindu, there is a Pioneer. So there are ideological counter poles. The television which simply done it's market things. So you simply can't influence beyond a point.
SR: But having said that except for honourable exceptions coverage of let's say economic crisis from the point of view of labour, peasantry, increase scrutiny on the corporates. That seems to be lacking to certain extent.
SN: No that it is true that they scrutinise politicians much more than they scrutinise corporates largely because of influence of advertising because all of our media is hugely dependent on advertising. But, the fact remains is that every time something breaks, then you can't ignore it beyond a point. So if there is Radia kind of episode, then industrial houses will come under scrutiny. For every guy who doesn't scrutinise, somebody else will because we have had a huge growth and diversification of the media.
SR: Another aspect of the Murdofication if you can use the term, there is blurring of the lines between the news coverage, editorialising and advertisement at least visible in the Murdoch press. Now, in some sense, some newspapers in the country do fall for it. SN: See, I don't think have to look to Murdoch too to commercialise. I mean, the times group has done it's own thing. If they commercialise or if they start selling news or if they set any other trend which is highly questionable in terms of ethics, then I don't think necessarily the inspiration for that was got from Murdoch.
SR: The ways the paper was structured, the news and editorial were different departments in one sense. But you find editorialisation is creeping into the news and the interest of the proprietors and the advertisers actually reflected in the editorial pages and so on and so forth. Now that necessarily might have not drawn from Rupert Murdoch alone. But, he is seen as embodying the trend in all sense.
SN: He has seen as contributing to sensationalisation, foxification, the fox news brand is seen as where you turn very aggressive and you blur the line between comment and news. So all of that you are seeing here, we are seeing it in channels in like Timenow and then we also have other channels which stick to a basic news formula.
SR: Murdoch, I mean is an owner of a large media monopoly, even if diversification is there in the India media, there is also trend towards monopolisation.
SN: There is cross ownership but you know it becomes a problem in a place like Tamil Nadu where you have a political ownership which is highly influential and then he has newspapers as well as television, as well as radio and so the scope for it is there at a national level, it is unlikely to be it's simply because there is so many players and simply because the country is so huge and has so many regional dimensions to it. But we need to have cross media restrictions and law makers and law makers have not been come up with good solutions.
SR: So you do think that certain laws and regulations have to be made? SN: So in regions you need cross media. You have Sakshi TV in Andhra Pradesh, you have newspaper, they are huge, they have a lot of money, it's political. When you have TRS and Telengana again they have their own newspaper now. So partly because it's politically clued, it certainly needs cross media restrictions.
SR: When you have a political party controlling various forms I think you are bombarded with an opinion.
SN: Then you have another political party but where is the space then for non political news which can hold it's own against the money that's being poured in every body else is a viable media thing. They don't have other money.
SR: Is that commercialisation of this process because of cross ownership because certain media groups are quite huge, so they are able to subside other.
SN: Yeah, I mean obviously, times TV channels don't make money. Certainly, timenow doesn't make money. But you know the paper is so wealthy. They are able to subside a voice in another medium. Mr. Murdoch by the way never made any money either in a lot of his newspapers.
SR: So what is the lesson that you think that the Indian press gets out of this.
SN: First of all you must understand that the Indian press is not operating in a similar society. We do not have red top tabloids in this country. Even if we have tabloids they are known as black tops. You don't have these kinds of sensational things. You don't have societies which permits crime. You don't have owners who would put large sums of money into hack anybody's phone or to buy off. So we don't have that culture. So I think that we don't need to try and apply. But yes, the cross media thing is we have been reminded of other ways also. We need cross media regulations and possibly in some centres if not all over.