Political Economy of Communications in India: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


Pradip Ninan Thomas

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    For Preetha, Nitin and Prianka Another World is Possible

    List of Abbreviations

    AIADMKAll India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam
    AICCAll India Congress Council
    AIRAll India Radio
    AITUCAll India Trade Union Congress
    APAndhra Pradesh
    APAIAnimation Producers Association of India
    APCAssociation for Progressive Communication
    APECAsia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
    BJPBharatiya Janata Party
    BMGBertelsmann Music Group
    BPOBusiness Process Outsourcing
    BSABusiness Software Alliance
    BSPBahujan Samaj Party
    CAMERACommittee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America
    CBNChristian Broadcasting Network
    CEACCopyright Enforcement Advisory Council
    CEOChief Executive Officer
    CITUCentre for India Trade Unions
    CJCitizen Journalism
    CMCRCentre for Mass Communication Research
    CMsChristian Ministries
    CPIMCommunist Part of India (Marxist)
    CRCommunity Radio
    CRISCommunication Rights in the Information Society
    CSCivil Society
    CSIChurch of South India
    DMCADigital Millennium Copyright Act
    DMKDravida Munnetra Kazhagam
    DNADeoxyribonucleic Acid
    DRMDigital Rights Management
    DSNGSDigital Satellite News Gathering Scheme
    DVDDigital Video Disc
    ELCOTElectronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu
    EMIElectric and Musical Industries Ltd
    ESTExpressed Sequence Tag
    EUEuropean Union
    E&MEntertainment and Media
    FCCFederal Communications Commission
    FCRAForeign Contributions Regulations Act
    FDIsForeign Direct Investments
    FEBAFar Eastern Broadcasting Association
    FICCIFederation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry
    FOSSFree and Open Source Software
    FYPsFive Year Plans
    GATSGeneral Agreement on Trade in Services
    GATTGeneral Agreement on Tarrifs and Trade
    GBNGlobal Broadcasting News
    GDPGross Domestic Product
    GFAGospel for Asia
    GNPGross National Product
    GPLGeneral Public License
    GSPGeneralised System of Preferences
    IAMCRInternational Association of Media and Communication Research
    IASIndian Administrative Service
    I&BInformation and Broadcasting
    ICANNInternet Consortium for Assigned Names and Numbers
    ICDSIntegrated Child Development Services
    ICSIndian Civil Service
    ICTInformation and Communication Technology
    IFEInternational Family Entertainment Inc.
    IIPAInternational Intellectual Property Alliance
    IKSIndigenous Knowledge System
    IMFInternational Monetary Fund
    IMGIndian Media Group
    IMIIndian Music Industry
    INCIndian National Congress
    INCPInternational Network on Cultural Policy
    INGOInternational Non-governmental Organisation
    IPIntellectual Property
    IPCIntellectual Property Committee
    IPRIntellectual Property Rights
    IPRSIndian Performing Rights Society Limited
    IPTAIndian Political Theatre Association
    IPTVInternet Protocol Television
    ITInformation Technology
    ITAInternational Trade Administration
    KAPKnowledge, Attitude, Perception
    KIADBKarnataka Industrial Areas Development Board
    MBPLMusic Broadcast Pvt. Ltd
    MFNMost Favoured Nation
    MITMassachusetts Institute of Technology
    MKSSMazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan
    MNCMultinational Company
    MOIMinistry of Information
    MOUMemorandum of Understanding
    MPAMotion Picture Association
    MPAAMotion Picture Association of America
    MRTPMonopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices
    MSOMulti-system Operator
    NAFTANorth American Free Trade Agreement
    NASANational Aeronautical and Space Association
    NASSCOMNational Association of Software and Services Companies
    NCEUSNational Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector
    NGONon-governmental Organisation
    NRCFOSSNational Resource Centre for Free/Open Source Software
    NREGANational Rural Employment Guarantee Act
    NREGSNational Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme
    NRINon-resident Indian
    NTIANational Telecommunications and Information Administration
    OFCOMOffice of Communications
    OSSRCOpen Source Software Resource Centre
    PACS ProgrammePoorest Area Civil Society Programme
    PBSPublic Broadcasting Service
    PDSPublic Distribution System
    PIOPublic Information Officers
    PPLPhonographic Performance Limited
    RCARadio Corporation of America
    R&DResearch and Development
    RFCRamoji Film City
    RIAARecording Industry Association of America
    RMIRights Management Information
    RSSRashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
    RTIRight to Information
    SAGITSectoral Advisory Group on International Trade
    SAGsSocial Action Groups
    SAPsStructural Adjustment Programmes
    SCRIPTSociety for Copyright Regulations of Indian Producers for Films and Television
    SISWASouth India Soul Winner's Association
    SITESatellite Instructional Television Experiment
    SLBCSri Lankan Broadcasting Corporation
    SNPsSingle Nucleotide Polymorphisms
    SPSamajwadi Party
    SPACESociety for Promotion of Alternative Computing and Employment
    TBNTrinity Broadcasting Network
    TCILTelecommunications Consultants India Ltd.
    TCSTata Consultancy Services
    TDPTelugu Desam Party
    TISCOTata Iron and Steel Co. Ltd
    TPMTechnology Protection Measure
    TRAITelecom Regulatory Authority of India
    TRIPSTrade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights
    T and V systemTraining and Visit System
    TWRTrans World Radio
    UDHRUniversal Declaration of Human Rights
    UNDPUnited Nations Development Program
    UNESCOUnited Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
    UNICEUnion of Industrial and Employer's Confederation of Europe
    UPAUnited Progressive Alliance
    UPOVInternational Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants
    USAUnited States of America
    USAIDUnited States Aid
    USIBCUS-India Business Council
    USPTOUnited States Patent and Trademark Office
    USTRUnited States Trade Representative
    VCDVideo Compact Disc
    VCRVideo Cassette Recorder
    VEWVillage Extension Worker
    VHPVishwa Hindu Parishad
    VSNLVidesh Sanchar Nigam Limited
    WACCWorld Association for Christian Communication
    WCFCGWorld Council for Corporate Governance
    WCTWIPO's Copyright Treaty
    WIPOWorld Intellectual Property Organisation
    WPPTWIPO's Performances and Phonograms Treaty
    WSISWorld Summit on the Information Society
    WTOWorld Trade Organisation
    ZEELZee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd


    As we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century, India has emerged as one of the world's fastest growing economies, a fact also reflected in the exponential growth in its media and communication sector.

    With 70 round-the-clock television news channels—unrivalled in any other country—India boasts of the planet's most linguistically diverse and differentiated media landscape. Sale of newspapers is booming: every day nearly 100 million copies are sold in the country. FM radio is mushrooming as are community and online media outlets. The revolution in telecommunications, especially mobile telephony, has touched almost every aspect of people's lives—economic, political, social and cultural. India is now acknowledged as an information technology giant and a major hub within the global outsourcing industry.

    The scholarship on Indian media and communication has scarcely kept pace with the extraordinary changes that have transformed the media and communication sphere in the world's largest democracy. Part of the reason for this has been that, with a few exceptions, most universities have not yet grasped the importance of media and communication in our political, economic and cultural interactions, as well as our globalising experiences.

    Though there has been a proliferation of media institutes in recent years, these are primarily oriented to the vocational aspects of the mass media. More often than not, these are private institutions established sometimes by media houses themselves to groom trained workforce for the bourgeoning industry. For a fast growing creative and cultural industry in India, such institutes have an important contribution to make. However, more grounded and rigorous academic work in media and communication has yet to emerge in a systematic manner, though such entities as the Centre for Culture, Media and Governance at the Jamia Millia Islamia are embarking on intellectually ambitious research.

    Pradip Ninan Thomas's latest book fits neatly in the latter category. Pradip has lived and worked for many years outside India—first in the UK and now in Australia—and the academic and activist in him has kept a close watch on the rapidly evolving situation in the country of his birth. In this timely and extremely topical book, Pradip breaks new ground in the study of media and communication in India, bringing in new strands of politics onto the communication research agenda. He expertly guides the reader through the exceptional growth and development of India's communication hard and software. The contemporary trends in the media and communication scene are contextualised in a historical framework. Important questions about media and empowerment; information rights and responsibilities; copyright and commodification of cultural industries; bioethics and religious fundamentalism, are tackled with alacrity, great insight and aplomb.

    I have always admired Pradip's work. He is one of the best scholars of his generation: committed, conscientious and cosmopolitan. These virtues have ensured that he is a member of the distinguished international advisory board of the India Media Centre—the world's first academic centre dedicated to the study of media in India and its globalising tendencies—which we have recently set up at the University of Westminster in London, in recognition of the important role of Indian media in the world today.

    Pradip's book is a major contribution to the study of media and communication in India and indeed to the broader scholarship in the field of political economy of communication. I very much commend its publication and hope that the book will generate greater interest in analyses of the changing contours of media and communication institutions, structures, production processes and audiences in what is likely to become one of the most intellectually exciting and empirically rich fields in this area of research.

    Dr DayaThussu, Professor of International Communication Co-Director, India Media Centre University of Westminster, London


    The seeds for this book were sown many moons ago. I remember that the very first article that I wrote, soon after completing an initial draft of my doctoral thesis that I had got rather weary of writing, was on the Gramscian theory of hegemony and state monopoly broadcasting in India. That was way back in 1987. Two decades later, the various trajectories of a critical political economy of the media continue to intrigue me.

    To a large extent, my interest in the subject was spurred on by introductory lectures on the political economy of communications given by Peter Golding and Graham Murdock at the Centre for Mass Communication Research (CMCR), University of Leicester, between 1982–1983. I was a student in the MA course before becoming a doctoral candidate at the Centre. Their critical approach to the media and society and the readings that I encountered and required ploughing through, including classic texts such as Marx and Engels’ German Ideology, certainly helped me imagine India in a new light during and after my fieldwork. My interest in this area was furthered during a longish stint of working at the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC), London, where, as Director of Research, I was responsible for organising a number of international workshops on a range of issues—media ownership and control, intellectual property, media resistance, poverty and the media, involved in co-editing the journal Media Development and in global media advocacy such as the Communication Rights in the Information Society (CRIS) Campaign. By this time, I had become a member of the International Association of Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) and frequently attended the political economy section—a watering hole for a great many critical political economists of the media.

    I have met and learned from a number of critical political economists, some of whom I count as sage counsels and close friends of mine—Cees Hamelink, Dan Schiller, Yuezhi Zhao. There are a number of other old and new acquaintances whose contributions I value—Manjunath Pendakur, Andrew Calabrese, Robert McChesney, Daya Thussu, Keyan Tomaselli, Roberto Verzola, Hopeton Dunn, Colin Sparks, Lawrence Liang among many others. I also value the insights of a number of scholars from India, including Sevanti Ninan, Vibodh Parthasarthi, Ammu Joseph among others.

    My intellectual horizons were immeasurably expanded in the company of my close friends—the Leicester mafia, consisting of Zaharom Nain (Rom), Francis Nyamnjoh, Chien-San Fang, Roderick Salazar, Ubonrat Siriyuvisak, Kim Seung Soo, Muhammed Musa and others, some of whom I continue to collaborate with to this day. Rom, in particular, introduced me to some of the key debates in political economy that we discussed over copious quantities of cheap wine and ale, in a variety of student digs located in the vicinity of the CMCR. While some of these debates, with the benefit of hindsight, were not terribly consequential, my world would have been poorer for not having encountered the thoughts and ideas of a highly variegated cast of characters from the annals of critical political economy. Incidentally, Rom and I co-edited the volume Who Owns the Media: Global Trends and Local Resistances (2004).

    The University of Queensland has provided an excellent base for this particular study. I have made use of the library resources, tried out ideas in class and valued conversations with a number of my colleagues—Zala Volcic, Michael Bromley, Levi Obijiofor, Martin Hadlow, Elske van de Fliert, Rhonda Breit, Nic Carah, Eric Louw and others.

    The ever changing media scene in India has been my bread and butter for many years and has opened me to a range of research interests, some of which I have enjoyed exploring. I have always maintained that it is necessary to strike a balance when reporting globalising India and have tried consistently to deal with its other, less wholesome sides, that international cheer leaders of India Inc. along with most Indian journalists and media academics have chosen to ignore. Arvind Adiga's novel White Tiger, the film Slum Dog Millionaire, the Indian journalist Sainath's consistent exposes of poverty and the scandal at Satyam Computers reveal that not everything is well at India Inc. and that it will take more than technology to redeem the image of ‘India Shining’. India has, for sure, made significant advances in science and technology and in communications. The great variety of regional and national channels and media is quite astounding especially when compared to the strictly limited media environment in Brisbane, Australia, where I currently reside. However, in spite of these achievements, India does face significant issues related to poverty and human development, with poor governance and state and private media monopolies that have developed at the expense of its many marginalised communities. I hope that this book throws light on issues and concerns that are often forgotten in the context of the general euphoria with India's satellite days and cable nights.

    A critical political economy-based approach can be used to throw light on the impact of ‘structures’, power and ideologies in other areas of communication research—communication and social change, religion and the media and alternative media. Critical political economy has given me a tool-box, consisting of resources, ideas, texts and conversations that I have frequently used to illumine the key deficits and blind spots in the media in India. I have deliberately chosen not to deal with the major controversies that have dogged the political economy tradition, in particular the debates with those in cultural studies over the base/superstructure, although, having said that, I cannot resist adding the following. While culture certainly plays an important role in the structuring of identity and choices that consumers make and needs to be studied for its complexity, its role in mediation and the making of social relatedness and meanings, the dog's breakfast that some expressions of contemporary cultural studies has morphed into and the widespread lack of critique linked to this tradition is not in anybody's interests, except global capital. I am quite content to concur with Murdock and Golding's (2005: 62) views that since production happens prior to consumption, that is an obvious place to start one's analysis from. ‘…we can think of the economic dynamic, as playing a central role in defining the key features of the general environment within which communicative activity takes places, but not as a complete explanation of the nature of that activity’ (emphasis mine; Murdock and Golding 2005).

    What does this book cover? This book primarily deals with the politics of media structures, policy and processes related to the political economy of communications in India, in the context of convergence. The canvas for this exploration is intentionally both local and global. What I have tried to explore are numerous vantage points, pegs that can be used as an entry point for exploring a political economy perspective. It presents a critical perspective and includes a section on resistance to this dominant political economy of communications. What is not covered in the book? It does not deal with the intricacies of mediation per se or with audiences. While I do concur that what people do with media is an important aspect of understanding the media, that calls for another approach that includes the business of ‘meaning making’ and I would certainly hope that there will be studies in the future that throw light on the complex interactions between media and audiences in India. The book is also not a study of specific genres and associated structures such as satellite news channels (See Nalin Mehta's (2008) India on Television for an analysis of satellite news channels), specific media empires in India (for which there is a crying need for studies) or of the media seen strictly as a business. There is an excellent book by Vanita Kohli-Khandekar (2006, ed.), The Indian Media Business, that provides adequate coverage of this area.

    I have, over the years, contributed a number of articles on the political economy of communications to journals such as Gazette: The International Journal for Communication Studies, Telematics and Informatics, Economic and Political Weekly, Media Development and to edited books. While I do allude to some of these texts, the chapters in this volume are based on research that I have carried out over the last decade. I strongly believe that students of the media located in India and elsewhere need to be exposed to perspectives that go against the grain and that are based on a critique of the dominant systems and practices of communication.

    I am grateful for the support given by the Sage team involved in the production of this book, especially Rekha Natarajan and Aniruddha De. My special thanks to friends and family in India for their no holds barred hospitality—my dear Ammama, Daddy and Mummy, Prem and Beena, Sneha and Shruthi, who in equal measure, have for years, tolerated the ways of an itinerant; my wife Preetha, whose very pragmatic and grounded outlook on life has helped me understand the possibilities and limits of theory, and children Nitin and Prianka who have let me get on with writing, when I am sure they would rather have preferred that I drive them to the Sunshine Coast or play cricket at the Bellbowrie nets.

    PradipNinanThomas, February 2009 Brisbane
    Kohli-Khandekar, Vanita. 2006. The Indian Media Business. New Delhi/Thousand Oaks, London: Response Books/Sage.
    Murdock, G. and P.Golding. 2005. ‘Culture, Communication and Political Economy’, in J.Curran and M.Gurevitch (eds), Mass Media and Society, 60–83. London: Hodder Arnold.
    Mehta, N.2008. India on Television: How Satellite News Channels Have Changed the Way We Think and Act. New Delhi: HarperCollins Publishers India/India Today Group. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17430430802702848
    Thomas, P.N. and Z.Nain. 2004. Who Owns the Media: Global Trends and Local Resistances. Penang: Southbound; London: ZED. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17471111211272057
  • About the Author

    Pradip Ninan Thomas is Joint-director of the Centre for Communication and Social Change at the University of Queensland. He was previously director of research at the School of Journalism and Communication, UQ and prior to that was Director of Research at the then London-based communication rights organisation, World Association for Christian Communication. He has written extensively on issues related to the political economy of communication. He has co-edited the volume Who Owns the Media: Global Trends & Local Resistances (2004) and Intellectual Property Rights and Communications in Asia (2006). Recent publications include Strong Religion/Zealous Media: Christian Fundamentalism & Communication in India (2008) and the co-edited volume Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Intellectual Property in the Twenty First Century (2007).

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