Who owns the mass media in India? That is a rather difficult question to answer. There are many media organisations in the country that are owned and controlled by a wide variety of entities including corporate bodies, societies and trusts, and individuals. Information about such organisations and people is scattered, incomplete, and dated, thereby making it rather difficult to collate such information leave alone analyse it. Nevertheless, a few salient aspects about media ownership stand out from the inadequate information that is available.
- The sheer number of media organisations and outlets often conceals the fact there is dominance over specific markets and market segments by a few players – in other words, the markets are often oligopolistic in character.
- The absence of restrictions on cross-media ownership implies that particular companies or groups or conglomerates dominate markets both vertically (that is, across different media such as print, radio, television and the internet) as well as horizontally (namely, in particular geographical regions).
- Political parties and persons with political affiliation own/control increasing sections of the media in India.
- The promoters and controllers of media groups have traditionally held interests in many other business interests and continue to do so, often using their media outlets to further these. There are a few instances of promoters who have used the profits from their media operations to diversify into other (unrelated) businesses.
- The growing corporatization of the Indian media is manifest in the manner in which large industrial conglomerates are acquiring direct and indirect interest in media groups. There is also a growing convergence between creators/producers of media content and those who distribute/disseminate the content.
These trends can be perceived as instances of consolidation in a sector in which big players have been steeped in debt and strapped for cash over the past few years. The shake-out also signifies growing concentration of ownership in an oligopolistic market that could lead to loss of heterogeneity and plurality. The emergence of cartels and oligarchies could be symptomatic of an increasingly globalised but homogenized communication landscape, despite the growth of internet technology bringing about a semblance of democratization by allowing for more user-generated content by “prosumers” (producer-consumers). While the growth of the internet has led to a collapse of geo-spatial boundaries and lower levels of gate-keeping in checking information flows, the perceived increase in diversity of opinion has been simultaneously accompanied – paradoxically – by a shrinking in the number of traditional media operations in television and print.