Indian Media in a Globalised World


Maya Ranganathan & Usha M. Rodrigues

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    For my parents Janaki and (late) J. Ranganathan.

    –Maya Ranganathan

    For my children Isaac and Rishika.

    –Usha M. Rodrigues


    The idea for this book germinated a couple of years ago. However, it required one of the authors to move to Australia from India in 2007 for the idea to take further shape. Since then it has meant more shifts, lots of juggling and heaps of hard work, all of which was possible, thanks to the guidance, support and encouragement of a number of people.

    Maya Ranganathan thanks the generous help extended by Monash University in the form of a grant to travel to India for data collection in 2008. She is appreciative of the support extended by the School of Humanities, Communication and Social Sciences (HUMCASS), especially its research director Professor Jenny Hocking. She acknowledges the insightful comments on various issues covered in the book by her Indian friends—columnist Gnani, Observer Research Foundation Chennai director N. Sathiya Moorthy, Business Line correspondent Mony K. Mathew, Frontline correspondent T.S. Subramaniam, Loyola College Professor S. Rajanayakam and Advocate T. Venugopal. She thanks author Vamanan nee' N. Krishnaswamy, Radio One station director in Chennai Navaneet and Dr James Gomez of School of Humanities, Communication and Social Sciences, Monash University, Victoria, Australia—for the time and effort they dedicated to commenting on initial drafts of some of the chapters. The painstaking references have been made possible by the quick and most efficient response from Manipal Institute of Communication librarian Rathi Nair. Three chapters in the book were written with the help of the excellent research of three students of Manipal Institute of Communication—Judhajit Bagchi, Bernadette Lobo and Shiva Roy-Chowdhury—who dealt with the issues in their post-graduate dissertations. Special thanks are also due to Ragamallika Karthikeyan for recording episodes of ‘mega serials’. Seline Augustine was there from the beginning, working as an informal research assistant in Chennai, and so also Jerry, who helped in many ways to help the project proceed smoothly.

    Usha M. Rodrigues is grateful to her husband Sunitho Rodrigues for his unflinching support in undertaking yet another research project. She is also humbled by her children's patience and love to allow Mom to work on the chapters. Usha would also like to thank her sister Poonam and brother Raj for their constant support. Some of these chapters stem from her PhD research, for which she is thankful to her supervisors: Dr Chris Lawe Davies and Dr Levi Obijiofor at the University of Queensland. The writing of the two chapters on citizen journalism and print media in India were supported by a grant provided by the Public Memory Research Centre at the University of Southern Queensland.


    In November 2006, an exhibition on Bollywood was organised 9,802 km from the place where it originated. In the Immigration Museum in Melbourne, Australia, a small theatre showed clips from Bollywood films, while in the room next door, life behind the celluloid was documented in photographs. In the days that followed, the city played host to an academic seminar, ‘Transnational Dialogues on Bollywood: Australian Perspectives’. Bollywood dance schools and regular Hindi film screenings ensured that Australians were no strangers to the largest film industry in the world. The global Indian brand, Bollywood, had won over yet another country. The time-tested formula of heroism, romance and tradition could be packaged more sophisticatedly to draw audiences from cultures across the world.

    Since the liberalisation of the 1990s, the Indian media has been growing phenomenally. In May 2009, the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) said that India was one of the developing markets where newspaper readership figures were constantly increasing. At the time of independence in 1947, the Indian population was around 345 million (Srinivasan 2004), with the literacy rate averaging around 18 per cent (Rao 2002). There were 214 newspapers including 44 English newspapers published in India (Shrivastava 2008), and there were six All India Radio (AIR) stations and no television network (All India Radio 2006). The Indian print media, which had played a significant role in the freedom movement, has since then multiplied to 62,483 registered newspapers (Registrar of Newspapers for India 2008), and according to National Readership Survey, Indian newspapers and magazines are being read by 222 million readers (Shrivastava 2008). Meanwhile, there are more than 500 radio stations and nearly 450 television channels broadcasting news, entertainment and other programmes in India ( 2009a, 2009b). The media—print, radio, television and online—at present, caters to a huge market by any standards with 1.1 billion people, of which more than 65 per cent are literate. The phenomenal growth of media in India, along with potential audience numbers, has today made Indian media and entertainment industry one of the most vibrant sectors in the world.

    The globalisation era, which has reached the Indian economy via competition and investment from overseas in the media industry, seems to have transformed the media industry in India, which is going through one of its most exciting phases in post-independence times. When the Government of India reversed its protectionist economic policies in the 1990s to allow foreign investment and goods to flow into the country to increase the domestic industrial sector's efficacy, it also opened the country to foreign ownership. Television was the first to experience the de facto regulation, and as a result of the entry of foreign and private channels, the industry was transformed from a government-owned single network to a multi-channel industry. The opening of Indian doors to satellite television from overseas was not confined to its television industry alone. Technological advances and the introduction of entrepreneurial media management strategies also changed the traditional print media industry in India. As a result, newspaper circulation has continued to grow in India, particularly in non-English languages where print media adopted a strategy of ‘localisation’ of news to reach smaller towns and rural India.

    This volume addresses the various issues that have impacted or failed to impact on Indian media in the era of globalisation. It contains empirical details of how the Indian media has evolved in the age of globalisation as theoretical considerations of the potential of Indian media to transform, construct and nurture particular identities in response to globalisation. The study of the transformation of Indian media at a macro level is significant not only because globalisation has allowed access to a host of things hitherto represented as ‘foreign’ to Indian culture by the media, but has also opened the floodgates for foreign media. This has, in recent times, necessitated subtle and drastic changes in political and economic ideologies advocated by the founding fathers of the nation and reflected in the media, leading to quantitative and qualitative changes. The volume deals exhaustively with the way in which the Indian media is coping with challenges of globalisation, its role and content.

    Considering that the Indian media still functions as a powerful tool of hegemony, newspaper writings, contemporary literature, films and television soaps, indicate how the people are made to see the world in national terms in general, and to think in patriotic terms about the nation in particular. A study of the media brings to light current definitions of ‘we’ and ‘they’, the ‘other’ and indeed, how the ‘other’ is sought to be perceived in contemporary India. The political and economic turnaround in the last couple of decades has necessitated changes in ways through which the media has to portray the nation and the ‘other’. First, globalisation has called for a redefinition of citizenship and national identity as reflected in the Dual Citizenship Act of 2003. Second, globalisation has given an impetus to nationalistic rhetoric in the country so much so that swadeshi, a term associated with the freedom movement, has regained currency and multi-national corporations (MNCs) are resorting to the use of nationalist ideologies in their advertisements. Third, in a country which despite two decades of liberalisation treats foreign entry into the country with fears of ‘cultural imperialism’, the media is caught between portraying a changing society that is adapting itself to the changing needs and Indian cultural values that have formed the backbone of the country's identity. Viewed in this context, a study of the Indian media and its transformation is essential to understand the changes taking place in the country.

    Straddling disciplines of media studies, journalism, political science and sociology, the book places changes in Indian media in the context of economic, political and cultural spheres and draws from studies on the ‘nation’ as an imagined or abstract community. It is divided into four sections that cover the gamut of media transformation and its influence in India. Section 1 is devoted to tracing the economic influences of globalisation on the Indian media and highlights the subtle and not-so-subtle changes in media content and management practices that have been necessitated by globalisation. In Chapter 1, Usha M. Rodrigues uses television as a case study to take a theoretical look at whether the inception of foreign and private television in India has been a threat to local culture; whether it has led to ‘cultural imperialism’ or an improvement in the quantity and quality of television programmes available to Indian audiences; or whether the entry of commercial television and competition vis-à-vis foreign and private channels has further skewed developmental goals of Indian broadcasting as envisaged in the 1950s? The historical growth of the television industry in India in the past 15–20 years has raised the question whether Indian audiences have benefited from this transformation from one public television monopolistic market to a global market consisting of multiple networks, owned in various degrees by foreign and private entrepreneurs vying for viewers all across the Indian society. The chapter engages with theories of ‘modernity’, ‘cultural imperialism’ and ‘globalisation’ advanced by various scholars over the past five decades to analyse the growth of television as an institution of capitalist modernity (Barker 1997: 13).

    In Chapter 2, Maya Ranganathan traces the use of nationalism as a marketing tool by MNCs. The empirical study is significant in the context of two antithetical developments—the resurgence of nationalism post 9/11 and the economic globalisation that necessitates economic interdependence, which in turn leads to political interdependence making flagging of national identities difficult. While the MNCs are able to bulk-produce their goods ignoring national boundaries, their marketing strategies have taken into account the national, local or ‘glocal’. India offers a good case study considering the changes in its economic policies since the 1990s that have influenced the political and cultural scenario as well. The invocation of the national symbols, cultural elements and tradition has made it possible for the MNCs not only to place their products in the Indian milieu, but also to mask their ‘foreignness’. Considered in the light of the fact that India is just 62 years out of colonial rule and is still fearful of cultural imperialism, the identification and employment of nationalist images and ideologies provide the MNCs an effective tool to woo the Indian consumer.

    Economic liberalisation in India has, in turn, led to changes in the Indian national identity. The technological developments have made physical location insignificant and mass migrations have made a reconstitution of difference necessary. Whereas earlier, an Indian citizen was defined solely by the Indian Constitution, the era of globalisation, in which foreign remittances of the non-resident Indians have become important for the economic development of the nation, has necessitated rethinking the ideal ‘Indian citizen’. In Chapter 3, Rodrigues takes a critical look at contemporary print media in India and at the current trends and strategies adopted by its owners to maintain and expand their market share in a country, which is seeing exponential increase in television and radio audience numbers. The author analyses reasons for this expansion in recent years, at a time when online media seems to be threatening the survival of newspapers in more advanced economies. The chapter also raises questions about the quality of journalism, and whether it is being compromised in these times of boom in print media, in a rush to profit from this ‘sunrise industry’. The era of globalisation has also marked the revival of one of the older forms of communication—the radio—although in the new avatar of Frequency Modulation radio (FM radio). Even as community radio proved effective in development communication, FM radio took the Indian cities by storm. In Chapter 4, Ranganathan looks at the intensity of local medium in the age of globalisation. The popularity of FM radio in cities is interesting in the context of the fact that since the 1990s, television upstaged almost all other forms of entertainment in India. The chapter traces the evolution of FM radio and contentious issues related to it including the process of licensing and curbs on broadcasting news and news-based programmes.

    Section 2 deals with political identities and elaborates the ways in which particularly contentious and conflicting political identities are being portrayed in the Indian media, in television, print and online.

    In Chapter 5, Ranganathan focuses on the identities purveyed by regional media. Taking into account the coverage of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka both by English-language newspapers and popular magazines in Tamil in Tamil Nadu, she points out that not only was regional media more sympathetic to the Tamil cause, but it also seemed to attempt the creation of a pan-Tamil identity. In its coverage, the regional media equated all Tamils with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), despite the fact that the organisation was treated as a terrorist organisation in India. It also relied more on the sources which were supportive of the LTTE, consequently contradicting reports of events in Sri Lanka published in mainstream English media. The author argues that the carefully articulated pro-LTTE slant of the Tamil popular press may be prompted by economics when technological advancements have made the magazines accessible to the Tamil diaspora abroad, which comprises mostly of Sri Lankan Tamils. The issue becomes especially significant when viewed through the prism of ‘media studies’, as it, first, reveals the dynamics of regional media in Tamil Nadu; second, brings to light the issue of objectivity, and; third, explores the concept of ‘audience as market’.

    Chapter 6 is an exploratory study of the recent expansion of citizen journalism in the world, and manifestation of this trend of community participation in the production of media in India. It deliberates on audience dissatisfaction with mainstream media, despite its increasing take up to outline the Indian version of citizen journalism, its adaption by mainstream media, and ponder upon its purpose in a land with thousands of publications, hundreds of television channels and radio stations. In this chapter, Rodrigues explores whether the current momentum in community participation in the media is sufficient to consider it to be an alternative form of media in India.

    Chapter 7 explores the success of online media as an alternate media in the politically-sensitive north-east regions of India. It highlights the process of construction and perpetuation of Naga nationhood online, which runs counter to the official nationalism propagated by the dominant media in India. In the context of political turmoil in the region and the role of dominant media, political websites have emerged as powerful tools of information and for mobilisation of the people. The Naga websites, by being registered outside the boundaries of India, where the writ of the Indian government does not run, exploit the features of online media to propagate Naga nationalism. A study of three websites dealing with the Naga nation has been done to delineate ways in which political agenda is furthered. Of particular interest is the way in which technological features of the medium are employed and how they contribute at the same time to the creation and curtailing of the Habermasian public sphere.

    Section 3 analyses mediated culture in the era of globalisation, with particular reference to popular culture. The opening up of the skies in 1991 brought into Indian homes a plethora of television channels—foreign and privately-owned—called ‘satellite television’. Indian television audiences, who were fed on the public service broadcaster Doordarshan's fare, were now exposed to programmes that were clearly influenced by the foreign channels, both in format and content. A most significant consequence was the soap opera termed ‘mega serial’ in Indian television parlance. Running between a period of six months to seven years, the mega serial dealt with women's lives—women who had moved out of their hearths and homes to make a mark in the male-dominated world, in the era of globalisation. Chapter 8 looks at the ‘new’ Indian identity in context of the passing of the Dual Citizenship Bill in 2003. Ranganathan argues that this ‘new’ identity, however, is not entirely ‘new’, but draws heavily from the ‘inherited culture’ of the nation. This is done through a case study of the Bollywood film Swades released in 2004. The study explores how the hitherto ‘other’, that is, non-resident Indians who have left the country for greener pastures are now sought to be brought back into the fold of ‘we, the Indians’ by the mass media. It is argued that through a careful invocation of tradition and employment of symbolism, domicile in India, which is how the Constitution of India defines Indian citizenship, is stressed as an important factor for inclusion.

    Chapter 9 explores the role of public service broadcasting, using Doordarshan as a case study, in a developing nation, particularly following the advent and exponential burgeoning of foreign and private television channels in India. It examines the changing role of Doordarshan from being a tool for ‘development communication’ to becoming a ‘mouth-piece’ of the ruling party; from being a monopoly to being one of the many networks in a 400-plus television channels market. The chapter argues that Doordarshan still has a significant role in India's development goals, in providing choice to Indian audiences, and in ‘raising the taste’ and quality of programming in a competitive environment where private media remains focused on profit margins.

    In Chapter 10, Ranganathan argues that Indian satellite television, while seeming to portray women of the ‘new age’, confines neo-liberalism to the demeanour and occupation of women. Women who are engaged in challenging jobs outside the private space of home are shown to be still preoccupied with emotions that sway home-bound women. By focussing on three Tamil mega serials, the author demonstrates that neoliberalism does not permeate and the women protagonists are archetypes of mythological or historical characters such as Sita, Kaikeyi and Kannagi. Adhering to the traditional values of a ‘good’ Indian woman is touted as the solution to the problems that women face in the era of globalisation.

    This leads to the subject of media policy in India to which Section 4 is devoted. Media laws in India do not always take into account the changes in media technology and when they do, they become draconian in the name of national security. In the light of some of the recent cases where bloggers in India have had to close down owing to threat of legal action, Chapter 11 argues that it is time for law makers to take into account the specific features of the technology, which make computer-aided media technologies ideal for free expression. Media laws in India do not seem to distinguish between online newspapers, which are sources of information and blogs, and which are often used as a platform for a personalised means of communication. It is argued that treating both forms as mass communication works to the detriment of the users as has been seen lately.

    With the multiplication of television channels and their content in the past two decades, it has become significant to note the dual role, which television plays in disseminating information to all segments of Indian population—the poor and disadvantaged, and the middle and upper classes. Although the expansion of private and foreign television in India is seen as increasing choice for the individual vis-à-vis ‘glocalisation’ of Indian media content, questions remain whether the government is doing enough to guide this popular industry, including public service broadcasting, to meet the developmental goals envisaged for television in 1959 when it was launched in India. In Chapter 12, Rodrigues claims that the Indian government continues to make ad hoc decisions, without providing a clear legal framework in which this potentially ‘catalytic’ media can grow, and meet the education and entertainment needs of the various segments of the Indian population.

    All India Radio. 2006. ‘About us’. Available online at (downloaded on 16.01.2006).
    Barker, Chris. 1997. Global television: An introduction. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. 2009a. ‘180 TV channels await government clearance’, 26 February. Available online at (downloaded on 28.05.2009). 2009b. ‘110 pay channels are on cable networks in India: Trai’, 2 April. Available online at (downloaded on 28.05.2009).
    Rao, I.V.Subba. 2002. ‘Indian case study’, Discussion paper for ILI/UNESCO Lap 2nd Experts' Meeting, Paris, 7–8 March. Available online at (downloaded on 21.06.2009).
    Registrar of newspapers for India. 2008. ‘General review’. Available online at (downloaded on 21.06.2009).
    Srinivasan, K.2004. ‘Population and development in India since independence: An overview’, The Journal of family welfare, Special issue, 50: 5–12. Available online at (downloaded on 21.06.2009).
    Shrivastava, K.M.2008. ‘Information technology and print media’, in National Documentation Centre on Mass Communication (ed.), Mass media in India, pp. 37–64. New Delhi: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
  • About the Authors

    Maya Ranganathan is currently a post doctoral research fellow at the National Centre for Australian Studies, School of Humanities, Communication and Social Sciences, Monash University, Australia. Her PhD with the issue of online nationalism continues to be part of her post doctoral research project. Since being awarded a PhD, her research interests have extended to media and identities, particularly in the context of Indian media. She has published widely on the subject, while working as faculty at the Manipal Institute of Communication, Karnataka, India between 2005–2007, in such reputed academic journals as Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, in newspapers and online journals. Prior to her PhD, she worked for 12 years with The New Indian Express, Chennai, in the newsroom as well as with their news bureau.

    Usha M. Rodrigues is currently a senior lecturer of Journalism in Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia. Her PhD research project was based on the ‘impact of private and foreign television on Indian news and news audiences’. The study was significant as it shed light on the burgeoning issue of how global competition can affect local content and public service broadcasting roles. She has published widely in the area of globalisation of media and its local impact, media policy, public service broadcasting, and journalism theory and practice. She has co-edited a book titled Youth, Media and Culture in the Asia Pacific Region (2008) and is currently undertaking research on community media. She has nearly 24 years of experience in journalism practice and journalism education, working and teaching across multimedia platforms—print, online and television. Her research interests are: Journalism theory and practice; global media; multimedia journalism and Asian media. Usha continues to freelance on media related issues for the Indian and Australian media.

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