Written by Natalie Berner

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  • Area: 3.287.263 square kilometers
  • Population: 1.34 Billion (2017)
  • Capital: New Delhi
  • State form: Federal parliamentary republic
  • Official language: Hindi, English
  • Religion: Hinduism (79.8), Muslim (14.2), Christianity (2.3)

  • Flag of India

    India is the second most populous country in the world and the biggest democracy on the globe. Due to its dynamic market and its huge population, India is part of the BRICS grouping that includes some of the fastest growing countries – economically and humanly. Indian media is growing even faster than the economy in a whole and the media landscape is said to be “the most energetic and vibrant one in the world” (Jain, 2015: 145). India has worldwide the biggest newspaper market with 100 million copies sold each day and overtook the US in 2016 as second biggest internet user behind China. Indices about press freedom categorize India between “partly free” (Freedom of the Press, 2016) and “difficult situation” (RWB, 2016). Components influencing press freedom are the highly concentrated media ownership structures, the government’s impact on media content, and high ethnic and linguistic diversity. In addition, poverty, illiteracy and unpunished violence are India’s areas of weakness. The diversity of the society results in a prospering and differentiated media landscape on the one side but draws borders in free reporting on the other.
    Communication policy and regulations
    Literature and experts agree that it is difficult to deal with India as one system, equally whether it is the political or the media system. Its size, its population, its more than 20 recognised languages, its religious and spiritual variety – all of that makes India very complex and general remarks difficult. Neyazi (2016: 401) sums up his diagnosis as followed: “the country has not one but several media systems and party systems, based on particular regional configurations of competition. India’s complexity is driven by (…) the nature of the growing news market, which is occupied by multiple vernacular Indian languages as well as English”. Jain (2015: 162), too, exposes the problem of describing India’s media system as a uniform one. The “diversity of media” and “the dozens of languages in which they operate” hinder to classify Indian media as one media system. While some states were voting repeatedly Hindu right wing governments, others would elect communists for decades. So dissimilarities among India were often more pronounced than resemblances (ibid: 146). Therefore, when analysing the Indian media system in a whole, its “multi-faceted and multi-layered” character has especially kept in mind. Nevertheless there are overarching frameworks and regulatory mechanisms which will be outlined below.

    Political Environment
    News media plays an important role in India’s democracy in order to investigate and control politicians. Historically, media was a crucial component during the independence movement in the middle of the 20th century. Newspapers played a major role in supporting the movement and promoting a spirit of nationalism through the country. Its leaders Mahatma Ghandi and Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, “wrote and published extensively” (Jain, 2015: 149). So newspapers became “a critical element of mobilization and activism” – even though less than one-fifth of Indians were literate back then (ibid.). Nowadays “close relationships between politicians, business executives, lobbyists, and some leading media personalities have dented public confidence in media” according to the Freedom in the World report (2015).
    The political environment is based on India’s multiparty system. At the national level there are two major alliances that form coalition governments: the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The UPA is led by the centre-left Indian National Congress (INC) party, which is ideologically progressive and favoured by the Muslim minority. The INC “has ruled the country for most of the period since independence in 1947” (Neyazi et al., 2016: 400). The NDA is led by the centre-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It is more conservative oriented and identified with the Hindu majority. Since the 2014 national election another player entered the political stage: the Adam Aadmi Party (AAP), which emerged from the anticorruption movement. Anna Hazare, civil rights campaigner and leader of that movement, “made world news” by “calling an end to political corruption and urging the passage of legislation to provide for an independent authority to investigate politicians and government officials” (Neyazi, 2015: 400). The movement’s success shows that corruption was and still is a serious threat of political and media independence in India. Looking at the two alliances, a second characteristic of the political environment gets obvious: the significance of religious affiliation with Muslims on the one and Hindus on the other side. Freedom House also denounces that some Hindu-majority states criminalize religious conversions and refers to Hindu groups that “have mobilized to suppress books that are critical of Hindu or Hindu nationalism” (Freedom in the World, 2015).
    In addition, the “politicized interference in editorial content and staffing decisions is a serious concern” (Freedom of the Press, 2016). In particular the state-controlled TV station Doordarshan gets accused by Freedom House of reporting in favour of the government. Since the revenue of public-sector advertising purchases is the key source for some outlets, they self-censor to avoid losing them. However, the very same is true for private-run media. Otherwise journalists risk their job. With the new Modi government elected in 2014 “censorship of books and social media become a growing concern” (ibid.). Besides this way of press handling, censorship on the part of the authorities takes place in a very concrete way. For example the government banned filmmaker Leslee Udwin because of his documentary about a gang rape and death of a student in Delhi. Even the BBC was threatened for airing the documentary internationally, according to Freedom House. So “dozens of writers and filmmakers returned government awards to protest what they described as a rise in intolerance for more secular viewpoints under a right-wing government” (ibid.). Especially the political environment in more rural areas is difficult for journalists since, besides censorship from above, also militant groups try to tend coverage in a certain way on a local level (ibid.).

    Legal Environment
    The constitution of India guarantees freedom of speech and expression. Even though the freedom of the press “is not expressly enshrined in the Indian Constitution”, the Supreme Court of India “has interpreted it as being implicit” (Jain, 2015: 148).
    The Press Council Act from 1978 obliges the council to maintain the freedom of the press and to protect newspapers and news agencies. It has therefore the function of a monitoring body inside the Indian media system but it has no punitive power. However, the press council can admonish, reprimand or warn journalists if they cross the borders of “good taste” and “ethical standards”. The most important reference point for reporters is a code of conduct, which sets guidelines, explains the interest of the state regarding internal security and protects persons as well as institutions. The government can legally interrupt the transmission of news or advertisement on grounds of the public safety, public order, sovereignty or integrity. Furthermore, some press laws from the colonial period are still formally existing (Karan, 2009: 900).
    Freedom House (2016) rates the legal environment with eleven points out of 30 (Zero is the best score, for comparison: Germany reaches six points, Indonesia 16 points, and Singapore 24 points). The criticism by Freedom House refers for example to the sedition law which outlaws unpleasant expressions towards the government and can consequently be used to restrict media freedom. The Official Secrets Act, too, “empowers authorities to censor security-related articles and prosecute members of the press” (ibid.). Freedom House also accuses “state and national authorities, along with the courts”, to have punished “sensitive reporting by using other security laws, criminal defamation legislation, bans on blasphemy and hate speech or the contempt of court charges” (ibid.).
    As the Press Council is only relevant for the print media, an independent agency for the rapidly expanding broadcast sector is missed. The News Broadcasters’ Association represents the television sector but is not free from economical interests by the operators. Nevertheless Freedom House outlines that “the access to the profession of journalism is open in India” and “media industry groups and local press freedom advocacy organizations generally operate without restrictions”. There even was a positive Supreme Court decision in March 2015 concerning freedom of expression: a section which criminalized the online distribution of information causing “annoyance or inconvenience” was struck down. These “loosely worded criteria” were no longer maintainable after a public interest litigation (ibid.).

    Trade unions and associations
    To promote and safeguard the interests and rights of journalists in India, several trade unions are existing. They should give the profession a powerful voice inside the media system. The “largest journalist organization in the non-aligned world” (IFWJ, 2014, self description) is the Indian Federation of Working Journalists (IFWJ). It was founded 1950 in Delhi and claims to have over 30.000 primary and associate members nowadays. After the independence it was set up by the journalist community which wanted to follow its anti-establishment tradition and solve the contradictions towards ruling politicians. In modern India the IFWJ is “recognized as the representative body of working journalists for official purposes” (ibid.). Furthermore “the IFWJ nominees are included in various official committees for media and labor matters” (ibid.), e.g. wage boards and the Press Council. In 1952 the IFWJ adopted the Delhi Declaration which set up better working conditions for journalists. However, the “delinking of the ownership of newspapers from other industries” remained unfulfilled (IJU, 2016). That’s why the IFWJ “suffered a vertical split” and the Indian Journalists Union (IJU) aroused in 1990. The IJU wants the “continuation of its militant traditions”, has nowadays 23.000 members and claims to be “the only representative organization of journalists in India” (ibid.). Both unions engage in the development of Indian journalism, human right campaigns, and research. They have branches in many cities and try to fight for journalistic working conditions and welfare. However, in the sample of the Worlds of Journalism Study (2016), the majority of the polled Indian journalists said that they were not members of professional associations (63.7 per cent).
    Media offers
    Characteristics of the media market
    There are some major characteristics and influences which shape the Indian media landscape considerably. First of all the two-digit growth number regarding almost every media sector. As direct driver of media growth functions the “sheer size of the population” (Jain, 2015: 158). Unsurprisingly more and more people are leading under best circumstances to a greater audience for the media industry. In particular increasing literacy rates open new outlet markets. These days the literate rate is about 62.8 per cent (UNDP, 2015). However, still one third of the population live under the national poverty line, have a low level of education and are living in so called “media-dark” zones (Jain, 2015: 159). Therefore, the “Indian media has several years of growth ahead of them before they reach saturation level” (ibid.). After the economic reforms (initiated in 1991) a liberalism policy shifted India towards privately-owned broadcasting and market-led media. As a result commercialization and intense competition among the media players took and still take place. In the meantime “India’s GDP growth has outstripped its population growth” (Jain, 2015: 145). Regarding ownership structures the state still dominates radio with the All India Network and has a well-positioned and heavily used broadcaster with the TV station Doordarshan.
    Most influential media in India are television and newspapers: the public sphere is ruled by them and most advertising revenue “still flows to that direction”. Unlike in Western countries, TV and Print “is not yet adversely impacted by the rise of the mobile and Internet sectors” (Jain, 2015: 155). TV and print start to take advantage from the heterogonous character of India: new outlets target specific regions or linguistic audiences. So there is also a move away from Hindi and English towards other spoken languages and dialects (Jain, 2015: 163). Next to the state-run outlets, media is highly concentrated in India. According to Freedom on the Press (2016) “the ownership structure of India’s media market continues to compromise objectivity in both print and broadcast journalism.” Often media companies are owned by politicians “who want to use media for their ends” (Jain, 2015: 163). This instrumentalization is a serious problem for journalists’ autonomy. The intense competition for market shares is also lowering the standards, because many players try to be “clones of the market leader” (Jain, 2015: 163) instead of trying out new ideas or formats.
    The highest turnover media companies are BCCL, HTML, ABP, Dainik Bhaskar, Malayala Manorama- and Eenadu Group, Hindu Group, the Indian Express Group and Living Media. Most of the media companies operate widespread. TV and radio stations, internet provider and print media are combined under one empire (Federal Foreign Office of Germany, 2016). Access to foreign media, “with the exception of some outlets based in Pakistan, is generally unrestricted” (Freedom on the Press, 2016).

    Print media
    Concentrated ownership applies in particular for the print industry. According to BP Sanjay who was interviewed for this country report, 86 per cent of the Indian newspapers are owned by few individuals. Contrary to the trend in Western countries, print media is rising in India (Sanjay, 2016). Even though the circulation is already record-breaking high, the growth still goes on (5.8 per cent in 2015, Sanjay, 2016). Only 17 per cent of the newspaper circulation is in English language. 36 per cent are written in Hindi, the rest is spited into regional languages. Overall there are 97.000 registered newspaper and magazines with a total circulation of 350 million copies (Federal Foreign Office of Germany, 2016). Key print media is The Times of India, which has become the largest circulated English quality newspaper in the world. It has 4 million copies (Federal Foreign Office of Germany, 2016) but “each day’s paper is read by an average of 7.64 million people” (Jain, 2015: 151). However, newspapers in other languages such as the Hindi newspapers Dainik Bhaskar or Dainik Jagran have far greater reach. Other important English newspapers are The Hindustan Times, The Hindu and The Indian Express. Other big vernacular publications are Malayala Manorama, Amar Ujala, and Gujarat Samachar. Important political magazines are India Today, Outlook, Tehelka, The Week, and Frontline (Federal Foreign Office of Germany, 2016). The difference between of readership and circulation is especially high in India, since collective reading and passing on is part of the Indian culture.

    Television and Radio
    In India, about 200 million households have TV. One third of them watch the state-run TV station Doordarshan (Federal Foreign Office of Germany 2016). It has 35 channels in different languages (Jain, 2015: 153). Karan (2009: 903) even says it reaches 90 per cent of the population. Founded in 1959, Doordarshan was used to control and to push social change after independence.
    The state monopoly for broadcasting lasted till the 1990’s. Since then private run cable and satellite TV gains ground rapidly (Federal Foreign Office of Germany, 2016). Nowadays there are more than 800 TV channels in India. More than half of them are news channels which says they have at least any news content. Solid or mainly news oriented channels are less (Federal Foreign Office of Germany 2016, Sanjay, 2016). The number of TV news agencies rises continuously. There is strong competition and they get consumed above all by the urban elite. Besides the Indian stations, also DW-TV, BBC World Service, CNN, NHKand TV5 can be received via cable (ibid.). Broadcasting in India is following the commercial model and the broadcasting sector is the fastest growing among all industries (Sanjay 2016).
    According to the Broadcasting Authority of India the All India Radio Network reaches 99 per cent of the Indian population (Federal Foreign Office of Germany, 2016). It has 432 transmitters (Jain, 2015: 155). In the megacities, private radio stations are popular too. However, these stations are not allowed to broadcast news but just headlines of the day, given by AIR (Freedom on the Press 2016, Jain 2015). Originally the two public stations All India Radio Network and Doordarshan should grant autonomy from economic interests as independent public broadcaster. However, since the stations are funded by the government and government plays a role in the appointment of officers in key executive roles, the scope of free and independent reporting is limited.

    According to BP Sanjay, 28 per cent of the Indians use the internet, most of them via mobile devices. Even if the percentage is rather low in comparison to industrialized countries, with 375 million people the total number of users is huge. Limitation factors are the lack of infrastructure and the general need to improve internet literacy throughout the country. “The digital literacy is crucial”, Sanjay says. “To address these challenges India’s Prime Minister Modi launched an ambitious program called Digital India”. That’s how India shall become a “meaningful democracy in the digital context.”
    Regarding internet usage patterns, there is a significant divide between rural and urban areas. Technical infrastructure in general is leading to an asymmetric access to the internet, since rural areas are sometimes very badly connected (Sanjay, 2016). Furthermore 3G connection is still relatively expansive (Jain, 2015: 156), which turns internet access into a matter of wealth. On the contrary mobile phones rates are one of the lowest in the world with less than one Rupee per minute. Because the internet access is legally largely unrestricted but not everyone can afford it, Sanjay presented the claim: “Voice is free, data is charged”. It has to be said that there are actually some sort of restrictions through officials which “periodically implement blocks on supposedly offensive content to prevent communal or political unrest” (Freedom in the World 2016). Besides of temporarily shut downs of providers, also people got arrested because of information circulated on WhatsApp (Freedom on the Net 2016). As well in terms of internet providers media is highly concentrated: The top ten providers hold almost the entire market share (ibid.).
    For many connected users in India, accessing social media networks is the main online activity. (Sanjay, 2016). Apparently the spread of false or unverified news is a severe problem concerning the public communication in India. The emerging hybridity of the media system also got exploited: Narendra Modi “successfully bypassed the traditional news media” because they were not reporting in favour of his party. So he reached out to his supporters directly (Neyazi et al., 2016). As will exposed below the exclusion of the critical press and journalists by the government is becoming more common. This is one of the reasons why India’s media situation is “difficult” (Reporters without Borders, 2016).
    Journalists' autonomy
    According to the country report of the Worlds of Journalism Study written by Jyotikia Ramaprasad (2016), the estimated number of journalists in India is about 700.000. The majority of the journalists in the sample were holding a master degree (69.5 per cent) and somehow specialized in journalism (50.5 per cent). They had on average eleven years of professional experience which shows that journalism is not only seen as stepping stone to another career. Across the country there are “a few hundred private institutions which offer journalism education” writes Muppidi (2008). A university degree is the most common way but also a number of media houses select “potential students with the necessary skills” and offer those trainings and intern programs (Muppidi, 2008). RWB (2016) indicates that meanwhile the Prime Minister has opened “a journalism university run by former propaganda ministry officials” to meet the governmental desire to increase control of media coverage. As in many other countries there is a big student demand of journalism and communication courses in order to persue a career in those fields. Nevertheless Muppidi complains about the lack of consistent regulation, consistent curriculums and the lack of resources inside the educational system. So the standardization of professionalism regarding journalism education is not given yet in India. The entry salary for a journalist is about 150.000 INR (2100 €) a year, which is far above average.
    How free an Indian journalist can report depends on his employer. State-run media as well as private-owned ones try to shift journalistic coverage in the direction of their interests. If you are not part of the political establishment, news gathering and getting official interview partners have become difficult. The Modi government prefers one-way communication with the public through social media or state-run radio emissions. For instance, Freedom House (2016) cites a survey which says that 74 per cent of the consulted journalists said “government officials had stopped speaking to them or had difficulty speaking freely.” This makes daily work hard for journalists who have no close relationship with politicians. The bad relationship between journalists and politicians is reflected by WJS data: besides religious leaders politicians have the lowest trust results among the questioned Indian journalist. Next to pressure from above, Freedom House denounces some cases in which journalists had to face actual physical violence. One local reporter was “beaten by a group of men and dragged behind a motorcycle in Uttar Pradesh, in apparent reprisal for his critical reporting.” Such violence were encouraged by a “prevailing climate of impunity” (Freedom House, 2016). Many murders and crimes didn’t get punished so the judicial system does not scare off people who are ready to use violence. Also RWB indicates that journalists and bloggers got attacked by various religious groups (2016). Apart from religious topics it is hard for journalists to cover regions such as Kashmir “that are regarded as sensitive by the government” (ibid.). Regarding violence against journalists the government “seems indifferent to these threats and problems, and there is no mechanism for protecting journalists” (ibid.).
    To understand the self-perception and reputation of journalists in India it is expedient to look back in history. During colonial times newspapers displayed three trends: “resistance to the oppressive regimes, social reform campaigns and a strong tradition of political activism” (Jain 2015: 147). From the very earlies days a kind of watchdog journalism was important in India. This included, for example, the exposure of financial and administrative scandals of the East India Company. During the independence struggle, the press was playing a key role in mobilizing people and in spreading Gandhi’s mission. After independence, the press helped to get along with the challenge of nation building. The press continued in the tradition of watchdog reporting, it supported social reforms and encouraged most important the nationalistic zeal (Jain 2015: 148).
    Nowadays the faith in journalists within society fades due to the political entanglements and clientelism on the owners’ side. However, it can be assumed that journalists don’t see themselves as adversary of the government; neither do they want to convey a positive image of the leadership (both statements were the least approved ones at the WJS). Journalists in India rather say that they try to report things as they are, they want to educate the audience, provide analysis of current affairs, let people express their views, but also see it as their duty to support national development. They care about “professional ethics, regardless of situation and context” and reject attitudes which see ethics in journalism as a matter of personal judgment. Journalists are aware of the influence and restriction by economic factors such as advertising considerations, public relations, and profit expectations of the management. Altogether, they indicated that the influence of competition had strengthened as well as the impact of advertising (Ramaprasad, 2016). The weight of economic factors for journalistic work and the whole Indian media system gets reflected by Jain (2015: 150), when he talks about “an era of sharp growth in media outlets and revenues, energetic but chaotic individualism and market-led journalism.”

    Interviewed experts

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    Recommended citation form
    Natalie Berner: India. In: Michael Meyen (ed.), Mapping Media Freedom. LMU Munich: Department of Communication Studies and Media Research 2017. (access date)

    Newspaper circulation is very high in India

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