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Political Delineation of News Media in Kashmir Valley and its Consequences

 

Archana Kumari:

Political affiliations to news media is not a recent phenomenon, rather it had been practiced in global media since the power of media was realized. However, it used to be a covert phenomenon keeping in mind the credibility of news media. With the proliferation of news media in India and growing realisation of its power in shaping public opinion, the politicians and media barons started mutually comforting each other (Thakurta, 2012). According to Vanita Kohli-Khandekar (2012), in India, more than a third of news channels are owned by politicians or politico-affiliated builders. An estimated 60 percent of cable distribution systems are owned by local politicians. These have influenced and funded several local elections. There are dozens of small and big newspapers owned by politicians or their family members that influence the course of several local elections. In the wake of such trend in media ownership, this paper tries to list the politically owned regional newspapers and regional channels in Kashmir valley and its repercussions on the news content by interviewing the senior most journalists of the valley.

 

Introduction:

According to Thakurata (2012), “In this country, as in the world over, large media corporations are today clearly playing a bigger role in the political economy that they report on.” This means that they certainly influence the government policies pertaining to the ownership of media houses. Now-a-days, the recent development in this ownership pattern is that the politicians directly jump into the media business in India. A clear repercussion of this new form of ownership is weak functioning of information and broadcasting ministry and its fractured competency in devising policies against owners’ interest. For example, the ministry of information and broadcasting decided to extend the June 30, 2012 deadline to digitize TV homes in the four metros due to pressure from the cable TV owners, who were local politicians and did not like the idea of subjecting their freedom to the scrutiny that digitization would eventually force (Khandekar, 2012).

 

Thus political ownership of news media in India has potential for further investigation in understanding its sociological consequences as ultimately it affects the society in pervasive manner. Media and society are mutually dependent entities. Media, especially print media is only one ‘commodity’ which is sold much below its production cost and its ingredient ‘information’ is considered right of the people. It’s a different kind of business, which run on credibility and expected to be pious in the interest of country and society. Especially in case of India, which has seen great contribution of newspapers during its freedom struggle, media industry is considered major vehicle for shaping and reshaping public opinion. This great power makes media inevitable for running a democratic country like India as it is considered fourth pillar of democracy. It acts as an instrument of ‘check and balance’ in a democratic society like India and also provides a forum where issues pertaining to this democratic society can be discussed and views can be shared. It has such a societal value that it can give a direction to a society and lead it to either prosperity or depravity. That’s why basics of journalism teaches first and foremost, neutrality of the journalist, whether reporter or editor so that his or her bias do not creep in the content and certainly no one can use media vehicle for propagating his own ideas. This particular basic ethics of journalism falls in danger if the owner of media vehicle uses it for his personal gain and situation becomes grave if the owner is affiliated to a political party. Then there is every possibility that he or she would use this powerful media for his or her image building or canvassing for elections. If the number of such media vehicles grow, then people will have very less options and they will be unable to get correct informations or unbiased views which would ultimately affect their decision in choosing right candidate in election and with it many more other decisions related to their day-to-day activities. The content in the interest of common people will be less and in favour of owners will be more. This will lead to uninformed or poorly informed society which itself will be an obstacle in its growth.

 

Considering the grave repercussions of political ownership on content of the newspapers and eventually on democratic system of India, this area requires dedicated research work, which has not been done minutely in India. So, this research aims to list the politically owned regional newspapers and regional channels in Kashmir valley and its repercussions on the news content by interviewing the senior most journalists of the valley.

 

Objective:

In the backdrop of above mentioned scenario, it is pertinent to investigate empirically whether political leadership really dominate the newspapers industry in the Kashmir valley and moulds it according to their own interest. This research hypothesizes that

“There is domination of Political ownership of newspapers, which use their media vehicle to highlight their own political party and its achievements.”

This research would examine the following research questions:

  1. Which newspapers in Kashmir valley are under direct political ownership or the owner of which newspapers are indirectly or directly associated with any political party?
  2. How far the content of politically owned newspapers is influenced by the ownership?

 

Methodology:

 

This study uses hybrid of methodologies, but the most prominent one is free flowing interviews.

Informations were collected by meeting and discussing thoroughly with senior editors and working journalists which allowed the researcher not only to gather informations but also to observe their work minutely. Apart from this, personal communications on phones and by e-mails were also used. The informations have also been gathered from their official websites. All this helped in understanding the impact of ownership on the Kashmiri media.

 

Review of Literature

Existing literature relevant to this research can be seen by various perspectives, which are:

  1. Mass Media Perspective
  2. Sociological Perspective
  3. Political Economy Perspective

 

Mass Media Perspective:

According to Gillian Doyle (2002), “Media ownership matters mainly due to two reasons. The first one is pluralism. Here pluralism means pluralism of ideas and thoughts. Pluralism is generally associated with diversity in the media, the presence of a number of different and independent voices and of differing political opinions and representations of culture within the media.” The citizens of a democratic and diverse society like India need a diverse and plural media content and media sources. The need for diversity and pluralism is sometimes associated with the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression as given in Article 19 of the Constitution.

 

According to William Melody (1978), the greatest threat to freedom of expression in the United States or elsewhere is the possibility that private entrepreneurs will always tend to monopolise the marketplace of ideas in the name of economic efficiency and private profit. The members of societies have a need for diverse and pluralistic media provision so that there can be multiple ideas and multiple thoughts can be given voices. Without an open and pluralistic system of dissemination of informations, thoughts, ideas or any other media provisions, the right to receive and impart information might well be curtailed for individuals or groups of a society. In addition to it, concentrations of media ownership narrow the range of voices that predominate in the media and consequently pose a threat to the interests of a democratic society. A great many writers have focused attention on the potential harms that may result from concentrated media ownership, including the abuse of political power by media owners or the under representation of some significant viewpoints (Doyle 2002).

 

Concentration of media ownership is a phenomenon described by politicians and critics of the media. It is characterized by the ownership of a large number of media outlets by a small number of corporations or media conglomerates. According to Ben Bagdikian (1992), “The six largest media-owning corporations of Europe are dominating 96 percent of the world media market”. A state of concentrated ownership can be either a monopoly or an oligopoly. A monopoly exists when a single corporation owns the entire market. In oligopoly, media industry is owned by two or more extremely large conglomerates that dominate the market together and compete only with each other. The film and music industries are both oligopolistic.


Cable television and satellite radio may create some media variety in concentrated local markets. However, the cable stations are standardized across the nation, and most are still owned by a small number of corporations.
Newspapers and magazines are also generally concentrated in ownership. This is true even of some local independent media (http://communication1234.blogspot.in/).

 

Concentration of media is the relative proportion between two quantities: first, the numbers of people or parties who own, control, or influence a given medium; and second, the numbers of people or parties who are exposed to, affected by, or influenced by, that medium. Concentration of media ownership/media consolidation is also refers to the view that the majority of the major media outlets are owned by a proportionately small number of conglomerates and corporations. According to Anthony Giddens, “The media have a double relation to democracy. On the one hand the emergence of a global information society is a powerful democratizing force. Yet, television and the other media tend to destroy the very public space of dialogue they open up, through relentless trivializing and personalizing of political issues. Moreover the growth of giant multinational media corporations means that unelected business tycoons can hold enormous power.” (Giddens 1999).

 

It is recognized historically that pluralism should be protected in media content in order to give attention to different voices of people and groups and it has been the main reason for regulating ownership of the media. However, concentrated media ownership also matters to society, not only because of pluralism and democracy, but also because ownership patterns may affect the way in which the media industry is able to manage the resources available for media provision. Restrictions on ownership could, for example, result in a duplication of resources which prevents the industry from capitalizing on all potential economies of scale and thus push the media industry towards economic loss. The ways in which ownership patterns affect the economic strength and efficiency of the sector are not solely a matter for broad societal interest but are obviously of immense and particular concern to media firms (Doyle 2002). As a result of economic conditions or circumstances, access to the marketplace of ideas is restricted to the privileged few.

 

Control is not always exercised in a direct way, nor does the economic structure of media institutions always have an immediate impact on their output. Mainstream communication researchers criticise the conspiracy theories of the media on theoretical as well as on empirical grounds, arguing that political economists’ views are supported only by anecdotal evidence.  Above all, ownership and control over the media raise special concerns that do not apply in the case of other sectors of industry as media industry is very much different from other profit and loss based industries. The importance of media concentration can also be understood on the basis of its influence on politics. It matters because media have the power to make or break political careers as in the notorious case of the Berlusconi media empire in Italy. It was said about a former UK media baron: ‘Without his newspaper, he is just an ordinary millionaire. With it, he can knock on the door of 10 Downing Street any day he pleases’ (Financial Times, 2000). Control over a substantial share of the more popular avenues for dissemination of media content can confer very considerable influence on public opinion and politicians are well aware about it.

 

Sociological Perspective

 

A sociological perspective suggests that media products cannot be looked into a vacuum. Instead, media products should be seen as the result of a social process of production that occurs within an institutional framework. Some researchers       call this kind of institutional approach a “production perspective” (Crane 1992; Peterson 1976) because it emphasizes the media production process rather than either specific media products or the consumption of those products. The production perspective highlights the fact that mass media products are not free-floating texts; they do not just appear out of thin air rather they are the result of a complex production process that in turn is shaped by a variety of social structural forces that operate on various levels, some affecting the industry as a whole, some affecting particular actors or groups of actors within the industry (Croteau and Hoynes 2003).

 

Croteau and Hoynes (2001) identify two perspectives on mass media ownership on the basis of public interest – market model and public sphere model – which affect the way the public interest is seen. In the market model of media, content of media is seen as any other commodity and interests of the public are served by the market rule of demand and supply. The public interest is what public is interested in and what it needs and demands. In this model, the audience of mass media is seen as consumer. It says that the primary goal of media is to generate profit and profit will be converted into success. Sometimes, competition between media companies provides good results in public interest and ensures that the public interest is served properly. On the other hand, the main assumption of the public sphere model is market’s inability to meet the society’s needs. Based on the characteristics of the public sphere model, Croteau and Hoynes (2003) see the public sphere on a macro level as a social discourse that enables the circulation of ideas and knowledge, thereby ensuring the successful socialization of individuals into society.

 

Mass media are also considered as capable of affecting people’s behaviour (Lippmann 1965). It is assumed that since it has an effect on publics media organizations, so it should “promote active citizenship, education and social integration” through its messages (Croteau & Hoynes 2001). Here it is necessary to understand that producers create media products under always changing economic, technological, political conditions which is reflected on social changes which occur in the broader society. Therefore to better understand media products, the historically specific context in which people created them, must be taken into account. According to David Barrat (1986), the mass media are products in two senses – first, they are the result of an industrial process and manufacturing of a TV programme or a popular magazine resembles the production of a refrigerator or a washing machine. All require the division of labour, a complex social organization, and heavy investment in highly technological capital. Second, the consumers are able to choose only between those products that are available in the market place. Like in other markets, the consumer of mass media products has very little control over their nature (Barrat 1986).

 

One central feature of traditional mass media is that they are designed to allow a one way flow of information. A small group of media professionals transmit messages to a much larger audience which has very little opportunity to reply means the feedback mechanism is very week in mass media. It can be better explained by “hypodermic model of mass communication”. According to this model, media messages are seen as being directly injected into the minds of individuals who are powerless to resist. It is believed that media have almost magical powers to alter the ideas and behaviour of their audience.

 

Mc Luhan (1964) takes an optimistic view of the mass media, which he sees as possessing the power to reunite mankind in a new electronic community: the ‘global village’. Others look more skeptically at the special power of those who control the mass media to manipulate and suppress dissent.

One approach which has been a strong influence on media sociologists in recent years is based on the work of Karl Marx. Writing before the development of TV, film and radio, Marx did produce a number of useful insights into the role of the media in capitalist societies. His own experience as a journalist was a useful resource in this (Murdock 1982). In his view, all capitalist societies were split into two major sections. One section is of a small group of powerful people (the ruling class), who through their ownership of factories and equipment used to make the things needed by people in society  and in this way they are able to dominate group of employees, although they were not allowed to receive the full value of the work they performed. The power of this ruling group or class comes from their economic control of the media, but according to Marx, it spread out from here to cover all other aspects of society. To make this unequal system sustain it was essential that the exploited working classes were kept under firm control. To some extent this was achieved through the power of the owners to sack workers and thus deny them the means of earning their living, but this control system did not remain confined to media industry rather it extended throughout the major institutions of society. For Marx, the state was no neutral institution which represented in a democratic way the interests of all. Regardless of the electoral processes that led to the selection of a government, the state, in a capitalist society, would continue to represent the interest of the ruling class. The control of the ruling classes resulted into the control of ideas. Marx wrote ‘In every historical epoch’, ‘the dominant ideas are those of the dominant class’. The mass media are to be included in this observation. It is to be expected,   from a Marxist perspective, that the dominant ideas they express will reflect ruling-class interests (Barrat 1986).

 

The political economy perspective    

 

The problem of media ownership and concentration is perceived quite differently from a political economy perspective. In this context, the mass media industry is said to play a significant role in legitimating inequalities in wealth, power and privilege. When the control of the flow of information, knowledge, values and images is concentrated in the hands of those who share the power of the dominant class, the ruling class will establish what is circulated through the mass media in order to reproduce the structure of class inequalities from which they benefit. The mass media industry is crucial for the creation of reliable information, knowledge, ideology and propaganda in contemporary capitalist societies (Meier 2002). Strinati (1995) also argues its structure of ownership and controls are equally crucial. Marxist ‘critical studies’ claim that the mass media ‘assume an all-encompassing conspiracy by monopolist’ (Gomery 2000). Political economists like Golding and Murdoch (1997) see the relationship between ownership and control as an indirect and mediated one.

 

The political economy theory has been the most important one in an attempt to understand and critique the implications of media concentration and conglomeration. The political economy perspective is concerned with investigating how the capitalist class promote and ensure their dominance or hegemonic position. It is first and foremost a theory about unequal power relations (Mosco 1996). It is a socially critical approach that focuses primarily on the relation between the economic structure and dynamics of media industries and the ideological content of media (McQuail 2000). It draws research attention to the empirical analysis of the structure of ownership and control of media and the way media market forces operates and influence media content. In view of this assumption, the media institution has to be considered as part of the economic system, with close links to the political system. The predominance of what the media products can largely be accounted for different kinds of content, under pressurizing conditions to expand markets and by the underlying economic interests of owners and decision makers (Garnham 1979). These interests culminate in the need for profit oriented media operations as a result of monopolistic tendencies and processes of vertical and horizontal integration.

 

According to McQuail (2000), the implications of changes in the ownership structures of the media industries from a political economy perspective is a reduction in independent media sources, concentration on the largest markets, avoidance of risks and reduced investment in less profitable media tasks such as investigative reporting and documentary film making. It also results in negligence of smaller and poorer sections of the potential audience and production of mostly a politically unbalanced range of news media. According to this perspective, concentration and conglomeration have serious implications for media content (especially factual genres such as news, current affairs, and documentaries) and media audiences. Audiences are constructed primarily as consumers rather than as citizens who have a right to be informed. Concentration and conglomeration also pose severe results for media workers such as increasing number of casual media workers and the greater economies of scale demanded by the media oligopolies have also resulted in job losses (Devereux 2007).

 

The political economy perspective indicates that in order to understand media content honestly, especially its ideological character, one must examine the ownership and control of the media industries. Not only this, it is also needed to examine the relationship of media industries to other political and economic elite groups in society. If cultural production is driven predominantly by the relentless search for profit and is increasingly undertaken by media organizations that have a wide range of economic interests, then the political economic perspective would lead to conclude that one of the first casualties tends to be media content that directly challenges the prevailing capitalist interests (Devereux 2007).

 

Changing patterns of ownership

 

The central question about the economic organization of mass media is – who owns the media? The assumption behind the question is that owners of the media control the content and thus can mould the public opinion. They can influence the content and sometimes also take decision to hire and fire certain personnel, to fund certain projects and to give a media platform to certain speakers. As a result of mergers, takeovers, deregulation, privatization, globalization and technological change, a substantial amount of mainstream media ownership increasingly rests in fewer hands. Much media ownership is now increasingly characterized by both concentration and conglomeration. Individual media companies may be owned and controlled by conglomerates that concentrates exclusively on media activities or by conglomerates that have a wider range of commercial activities within their specific portfolios. Conglomerations operate at the local, regional, national and increasingly at the transnational levels.

 

Murdock (1982) has suggested that the control of media conglomerates is best understood in terms of a distinction between ‘allocative control’ and ‘operational control’. The owners and those in senior management possess allocative control in the sense that they determine the overall direction of the media organization in question. They decide whether to concentrate on particular forms of programming over others. Decisions are taken in terms of how much money will be allocated to news and current affairs programming as opposed to ‘reality’ or entertainment –based shows. Those with allocative control may decide to invest in other media companies who are in business of producing or distributing media content through the use of new media technology, for example. Operational control exists at much lower level in the media organization.  An editor or a series producer may exert operational control in the making of a particular television or radio programme. He/she will decide on content and on how a budget is spent during production. Operational control is constrained by the allocative control exerted by those at a more senior level in the media organization (Devereux 2007).

 

Vertical and Horizontal integration   

 

Concentration is usually described as being either vertical or horizontal. According to Croteau and Hoyens (2003), ‘vertical integration refers to the process by which one owner acquires all aspects of production and distribution of a single type of media product’. In contrast to it, Horizontal integration refers to the process by which one company buys different kinds of media, concentrating ownership across differing types of media through one industry.  This shows that media       conglomerates that engage in horizontal integration own and control a diverse range of media companies like the print, broadcast and ICT sectors. Vertically integrated media conglomerates may also own and control a number of companies, all of which are involved in various stages in the production and distribution of a specific kind of media product. For example, vertical integration or concentration occurs when a conglomerate owns and controls the companies that print, publish, distribute and sell a women’s magazine. A vertically integrated conglomerate in the field of television involved in making a drama serial might, in turn, own and control the production company, the television station and the cable network that broadcast the programme in question.

 

Most of the media conglomerates all over the world are horizontal in structure for the reason that it allows to expand in various media sectors. Global media conglomerates such as Vivendi Universal or Time Warner own and control a wide variety of media companies in the ‘old’ and ‘new’ media sectors (Devereux 2007). There are clear strategic reasons why media firms engage in both horizontal and vertical integration. According to Doyle (2002), horizontal expansion allows for greater economies of scale.  In his words, “Vertically integrated media firms may have activities that span the creation of media output through to distribution or retail of that output in various guises. Vertical expansion generally results in reduced transaction costs for the enlarged firm. Another benefit, which may be of great significance for media players, is that vertical integration gives firms some control over their operating environment and it can help them to avoid losing market access in important ‘upstream’ or ‘downstream’ phases.” (Doyle 2002).

 

The term ‘synergy’ has become the watchword of media conglomerates and a core part of their strategy in maintaining a position of power and dominance. Turow (1992) defines synergy as: ‘the coordination of parts of a company so that the whole actually turns out to be worth more than the sum of its parts acting alone, without helping one another’. In the view of increasing audiences and media fragmentation, conglomerates have used synergies in their endless search for profit. The rationale for such an approach is quite clear. Turow (1992) remarks that from the perspective of those who own and control media conglomerates, ‘power would accrue to those who could use them synergistically to play out materials across a gamut of holdings for the most value possible. Playing as they do on a global stage, media conglomerates try to maximize profits on the cultural products that they produce (Devereux 2007). In many instances the studios that make the film also own the distribution companies and cinemas where the movies are shown. This form of vertical integration gives the larger media organizations considerable leverage. Their considerable power is manifest in their ability to keep smaller players out of the mainstream and more profitable market (Devereux 2007).

 

The blurring of distinction between the ownership and control of the culture industries and other types of economic production raises a number of important issues, one of which is the direct impact of ownership and control of the media by conglomerates on media content.

 

Media Companies with Political Links in Kashmir Valley:

 

There are 18 English regional newspapers, 27 Urdu newspapers, 3 regional television channels and three regional magazines in Kashmir valley as on August 2, 2012, according to the media list provided by the Press Information Bureau. Most of them are influenced by either political parties or the political ideologies as per the statement given by a senior journalist of a national newspaper. On the basis of the free flowing talk with senior editors of some of the reputed newspapers of the valley, the following list of direct and indirect relations of the political parties and the influence of their ideologies has been prepared:

S.No. Politician/People with political connection Political Party/Position Media Outlet Name of the Company/ ideology
1. Shujaat Bukhari Brother of Syed Basharat Bukhari, MLA of PDP Newspaper Rising Kashmir in English Kashmir Media Group
2. Ghulam Rasool Kar Former President of State Congress Newspaper Khidmat Urdu Mouthpiece of the Congress
3. Bashir Ahmad Bashir Brother of Late MLC, Sofi Ghulam, Mohammad Congress Newspaper Srinagar Times in Urdu
4. Farooq Andrabi Member of Congress Party Newspaper Indian Times Pro-Congress
5. Syed Rafi-u-Din Bukhari Father of Syed Basharat Bukhari, MLA of PDP Newspaper Buland Kashmir, Urdu version of Rising Kashmir
6. Meraj-ud-Din Wani Editor, Not any direct linkage Newspaper Srinagar News, Urdu Newspaper Highly influenced by National Conference
7. Nusrat Shaban Editor, Not any direct linkage Newspaper Alsafa News Under Soz (Congrss) influence
8. Ahmad Ali Fayaz Chief Reporter, Not any direct linkage to political party J&K correspondent for Daily Hindu,

Take – I, Urdu electronic channel

Highly influenced by National Conference

 

Apart from these listed newspapers and channel, there are many other newspapers which are allegedly funded by either Indian government or separatist parties to mould public opinion in their favour. The newspaper Rising Kashmir is owned by Syed Rafi-u-Din Bukhari.

 

Shujaat Bukhari, son of Rafi-u-Din is its Editor and he is the brother of Syed Basharat Bukhari MLA of People’s Democratic Party. Still, its content is said to be impartial and neutral as per the statement of a senior journalist of a different regional newspaper (Personal communication). He also cited many instances when the newspaper could favour PDP, but it chose to remain neutral.

 

In case of Khidmat, there is nothing more to say, as it is mouthpiece of Congress. So it highlights and presents the achievements and views of Congress prominently. The founder of the daily Urdu ‘Srinagar Times’ was late Sofi Ghulam Mohammad, who was nominated and voted as a Member of Legislative Council by Congress. The same daily is now run by Bashir Ahmad Bashir, a famous cartoonist and the brother of late Sofi.

 

Newspaper Indian Times, owned by a member of the Congress Party, Farooq Andrabi, always reflects pro Congress views in it. This newspaper is said to be pro congress. Again in case of Urdu newspaper, Buland Kashmir, the owner is Syed Rafi-ud-Din Bukhari, son of Syed Basharat Bukhari, MLA of PDP. Still it has maintained impartiality and neutrality in its content. While Urdu newspaper Srinagar News, not directly owned by any political party, but highly influenced by National Conference and produces content in favour of NC. Similarly, newspaper Alsafa in Urdu is not owned by any political party but reflects the views of SOZ. In case of electronic channel Take –I, it is under the influence of NC.

 

However, there are examples that the life of such newspapers or channels which are biased towards one or other political party is very small. In Kashmir, there is an example of newspaper Ittalad, owned by PDP leader Maulavi Iftekhar Ali Ansari. It was pro PDP and got a number of advertisements from government when PDP was in power. Soon it was counted in one of the top newspapers of the valley, but as soon as there was power transfer, the survival of this very newspaper became difficult and it crumbled with the same pace as it rose.

 

 

Conclusion:

 

Public opinion is the most powerful factor in a democracy and it is very important to win people’s opinion to run a democracy. Also the power of media in making and shaking public opinion has been clearly visible during Anna Hazare’s anti corruption movement and emergence of Aam Aadmi Party as an alternative to Congress and BJP. This is the reason, why each political party is willing to own media vehicle too. This ownership is sometimes direct and sometimes indirect. The parties in power facilitate the media houses by providing them advertisements and in return the media group supports the party by positive coverage. The power of media has been realized in Kashmir valley too, but this phenomenon is not so blatant here till date. However, there are apprehensions that few journalists and media groups are moving towards such mutual comfort and in near future even in Kashmir valley the political ownership would be evident on large scale.

 

Bibliography:

 

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Ms. Archana Kumari, an alumni of Indian Institute of Mass Communication, is working as Assistant Professor in the Department of Mass Communication and New Media at Central University of Jammu. She has been the faculty of IIMC, Central University of Kashmir and Central University of Bihar in her academic experience of last 10 years. Beyond academics she has been active in journalism too and worked as media professional in Hindustan Times (Patna), Al India Radio (Delhi), Sahara TV. She has also worked as a freelancer for many print and online media. Her area of expertise is Media Economics, Development Communication, Media Research and Print Media. E-mail: archanaiimc@gmail.com

 

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