Politics and media control

A cartoon in The Hindu (that predates the current Ambedkar cartoon controversy) depicts the West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, trying to calm down a bunch of jubilant students, saying “I banned Marx, not marks”. Trinamool Congress chief Banerjee’s ire is primarily directed towards her arch political rival, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), whose mouthpiece, Ganashakti, which she does not want the State-funded libraries to subscribe to. There are many others on her list, especially after cartoongate.

The point here is not about cartoons but that West Bengal has a pronounced culture of political parties (in the Opposition, from distant yesteryears to very recent times) having their own mouthpieces. The undivided Communist party first had Langol and then Swadhinata that immortalised poet Subhas Mukhopadhyay’s verses on the horrifying sense of dispossession at the grassroots. Then came Kalantar. These organs were considered necessary to build their constituencies in their early days.

Today, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is quite a media conglomerate at a national level. Its central organs are People’s Democracy in English, from New Delhi, Kolkata, Kochi, Hyderabad, and Agartala, and the Lok Lehar in Hindi. The Party publishes a theoretical quarterly, The Marxist; five dailies in different Indian languages; several weeklies and fortnightlies in Assamese, Oriya, Bengali, Malayalam, Punjabi, Kannada, Marathi, and Gujarati. Its Hindi weekly, Swadhinata, and its Urdu fortnightly, Abshar, are published from Kolkata. Besides, there are Janashakti (Kannada), Jeevan Marg (Marathi), Samyabadi (Oriya), Ganashakti (Assamese and Bengali) and Chitan (Gujarati). There are also Hindi fortnightlies, Lok Samvad (Uttar Pradesh), Lok Jatan (Madhya Pradesh), and Lok Janvad (Bihar). These efforts are backed by its own news agency, the India News Network. The party also runs a publishing house, LeftWord Books, which deals in broad Left-wing publications only. That apart, it has publishing houses in various States such as the National Book Agency in West Bengal, the Chinta Publications in Kerala, and the Prajashakti Book House in Andhra Pradesh[i].

In Kerala, another CPI (M) stronghold, the party also has the newspaper, Deshabhimani, published by Chintha Printing and Publishing Co. Pvt. Ltd, controlled by the CPIM(M) Kerala State Committee. Besides, there is the CPI (M)-controlled Malayalam Communications Limited that owns the Kairali TV and People TV.

The phenomenon is not unique to the CPI (M), though. The Shiv Sena has the Saamna in Maharashtra; the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s Organiser is of 1947 vintage, prior to the partition of the country the same year. Over the years it has had leading political personalities editing it, including L. K. Advani. The National Herald, founded by Jawaharlal Nehru (on September 9, 1938) and funded by the Indian National Congress for many years, shut down in 2008, in its 70th year, along with its Urdu edition Qaumi Awaz, and was revived in 2011 (with a stockbroker, Vishnu Goyal putting in the funds and becoming editor). The paper was once edited by the redoubtable M. Chalapathi Rau.

The company which publishes The Pioneer, the daily for which Rudyard Kipling once wrote, is now controlled by a Rajya Sabha member from the Bharatiya Janata Party, Chandan Mitra. It also owns Namaskar, the in-flight magazine of Air India, (through CMYK Printech Ltd). Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the father of the nation, published Harijan in English (from 1933 to 1948), Harijan Bandhu in Gujarati and Harijan Sevak in Hindi, all of which ceased to exist.

It is one thing for a newspaper or a magazine to have a political or economic point of view. It is quite another for a media organ that does publicly admit to no affiliation to plug a point of view to the unsuspecting reader or a viewer. Politically affiliated or owned publications occupy a very important and expanding space in the media business, with inroads into radio and television as well.

In Andhra Pradesh, for instance, Jagan Mohan Reddy, son of the late chief minister, Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy, has the newspaper and television channel Sakshi, both owned by the Jagan Mohan-controlled Indira Television Limited (Sakshi TV) and Jagati Publications Ltd, the holding company for the daily Sakshi. Sakshi TV has had a photograph of Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy on a top corner that has had flowers being showered on the head of the deceased leader non-stop, from the day he passed away.

Andhra Pradesh has two other fairly big political names in the media world: T. Venkataram (Ram) Reddy, nephew of Congress MP, T. Subbirami Reddy, has a substantial media empire comprising Andhra Bhoomi, Deccan Chronicle, Asian Age, and Financial Chronicle that are held under Deccan Chronicle Holdings Ltd (in which TVR holds 21 per cent). The Asian Age, one may recall, was started with onetime Congressman M. J. Akbar, Venkatram Reddy, and the now discredited Suresh Kalmadi.

The other important Andhra media player with a clear political agenda is the K. Chandrasekhara Rao-controlled television channel T-News. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi chief controls the channel through the holding company, Telangana Broadcasting Private Limited. He says that he had borrowed Rs. 4 crore to invest in Namaste Telengana and Rs. 50 lakh for the T News Channel[ii].

Political lines are not always well delineated; it is often all in the family. Thus, Rajeev Shukla, the Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and secretary of the All India Congress Committee, controls the News 24 television channel with hiswife Anuradha Prasad, who happens to be the sister of the BJP leader, Ravi Shankar Prasad. Between the two, they own not just News 24 but Aapno 24 and E24, held by News24 Broadcast India Ltd in the television space and Dhamaal 24 in the radio space. Besides, they own a production house, Studio 24, and a media institute, International School of Media and Entertainment[iii]. Both the radio company and the production house are held by B.A.G. Films & Media Ltd.

Politicians from the Congress as a whole have done well for themselves with media ownership. Vijay Darda, Congress member of the Rajya Sabha, is the chairman of the Lokmat Media Group that controls IBN-Lokmat, apart from the newspaper Lokmat, the largest-circulated Marathi daily which is also one of the most widely-circulated daily newspapers in India. The companies controlled by the Darda family are held through IBN Lokmat News Pvt. Ltd. and Lokmat Newspapers Ltd.

In Kerala, the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) has teamed up with four non-resident Indian businessmen who have a combined holding of about 26 per cent in Jai Hind TV, controlled byBharat Broadcasting Network Ltd. Among the key individuals controlling the operations are Ramesh Chennithala, former minister and official spokesman of KPCC, M.M. Hassan and two Dubai-based businessmen, Kunjukutty Aniyankunju and Vijayan Thomas. Interestingly, the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee members have invested about Rs. 20 crore in the Indiavision channel, controlled by M. K. Muneer, former Muslim League minister, through Indiavision Satellite Communications Limited.

Other Congress connections with the media in Tamil Nadu come courtesy H. Vasanthkumar, MLA and president of the Tamil Nadu commerce wing of the Congress, which controls Vasanth TV held by Vasanth and Co. Media Network Private Limited. There is also K. V. Thangabalu, Congress MP and former Union minister, who controls Mega TV, held through Silverstar Communications Limited. The Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) controls Makkal TV, through Makkal Tholai Thodarpu Kuzhumam Ltd, which is controlled by PMK chief S. Ramadoss, father of former Union Health Minister Ambumani Ramadoss.

The pride of place in terms of media control by politicians must, however, go to Kalanithi Maran, the grand nephew of Karunanidhi, the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) patriarch. Maran controlsSun TV, Sun News, KTV, Sun Music, Chutti TV, Sumangali Cable, Adithya TV, Chintu TV, Kiran TV, Khushi TV, Udaya Comedy, Udaya Music, Gemini TV, Gemini Comedy, and Gemini Movies. He also controls the newspaper Dinakaran,and Suryan FM93.5 and Red FM 93.5 in the radio space. Sun TV is controlled by Sun TV Network Limited, Suryan FM is owned by Kal Radio Ltd, Red FM is owned by South Asia FM Ltd, Dinakaran is owned by Kal Publications Pvt. Ltd. Kal Radio Ltd and South Asia FM Ltd are, in turn, subsidiaries of Sun TV Network Ltd, and Kalanithi Maran has 75 per cent control over these companies. DMK supremo Muthuvel Karunanidhi himself controls Kalaignar TV Pvt. Limited, owner of the very popular Kalaignar TV (one of the alleged beneficiaries of the 2G spectrum scam, courtesy former Union Telecom Minister Andimuthu Raja). Close associate and businessman, M. Raajhendran, controls Raj TV and Raj Digital Plus through Raj Television Network Limited in which he owns 11.3 per cent shares.

With the DMK playing such an important role in this space, can Ms. Jayalalithaa be missing from the scene? The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) chief controls Jaya TV, Jaya Max, Jaya Plus, and J Movie through Mavis Satcom Ltd.

Interestingly, Karnataka does not have the kind of political presence in the media as do Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. The two important players are Anita Kumaraswamy, wife of former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, who owns Kannada Kasturi through Kasthuri Medias Pvt. Ltd, and businessman Rajeev Chandrashekhar, an independent member of the Rajya Sabha from Karnataka, who controls a host of language offerings: Asianet and Asianet Plus (Malayalam), Suvarna (Kannada), Vijay (Tamil) and Sitara (Telugu), Best FM and Radio Indigo, and Kannada Prabha through Jupiter Media and Entertainment, which owns 26 per cent of the shares in the company that publishes Kannada Prabha.

In West Bengal, the CPI (M)’s man in the media is Avik Dutta, who is the party’s public face in the media, not only for the newspaper Ganashakti but for the party-controlled television channel, TV-24 Ghanta. Curiously for a Marxist party, the company has a partnership with the private sector, the redoubtable Zee group at that. 24 Ghanta is controlled by Zee Akaash News Private Limited, a joint venture between Zee News and Akaash Bangla. Avik Dutta also controls the other party channel, Aakash Bangla, which is held by Sky B (Bangla) Pvt. Ltd.

The Trinamool Congress has, over the past few years, built up its own base in the media space, courtesy Kolkata TV, controlled by SST Media Private Limited, reportedly financed by R.P. Techvision India Pvt. Ltd, when it ran into financial trouble[iv]. There is also Sambad Pratidin, owned by Swapan Sadhan (Tutu) Bose, once a blue-eyed boy of the former West Bengal chief Minister, the late Jyoti Basu, who is now closely associated with Mamata Banerjee, who has sent his son to the Rajya Sabha. Sambad Pratidin is controlled by Pratidin Prakashani. The Trinamool Congress also controls Channel 10, held by Bengal Media Private Limited owned by Santanu and Sudeshna Ghosh. Curiously, it was the Jyoti Basu connection that put M. J. Akbar and Tutu Bose together to launch the Kolkata edition of the Asian Age, an association that did not survive too many years.

Punjab and Haryana have their media-politics connections too. The Shiromani Akali Dal’s Sukhbir Singh Badal owns PTC and PTC News through holding company G-Next Media Pvt. Ltd. The Badals launched a bouquet of three channels – PTC News, PTC Punjabi and PTC Chak De – in August 2008, amidst much heartache over the free flow of government advertisements they got. In Haryana, Venod Sharma, former chairman of Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee, a former minister in P.V. Narasimha Rao’s government (he was inducted as Minister of State of Civil Supplies, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution in 1995), and a former Power Minister in the Haryana government headed by Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, owns India News and Aaj Samaj through Information TV Pvt. Ltd. Sharma is the father of the infamous Manu Sharma.

Of the eastern States, a notably vibrant political presence in the media space is in Odisha. The interesting phenomenon here is that the politicians themselves are editors of most of their publications. Former chief minister Nandini Satpati’s son Tathagata, former MLA and now a Biju Janata Dal MP, is editor of the Oriya daily Dharitri and the English Orissa Post, under the aegis of the Dharitri Group, held by Navajat Printers and Media Pvt. Ltd. The group also runs the Orissa Institute of Media Sciences and Culture, a school for journalism started in 2008. Bhatruhari Mahatab, son of former Odisha chief minister Harekrushna Mahtab, and current BJD MP, edits the Oriya daily, Prajatantra, controlled by the Prajatantra Prachar Samiti Trust. Ranjib Biswal, two-time Congress MP from Odisha, a leading member of Odisha Pradesh Congress and prominent in the Board of Control for Cricket in India, is managing editor of the Oriya daily Samaya and of Saptahika Samaya, a weekly, both published by Ashirbad Prakashan Pvt. Ltd.

The most colourful of Odisha’s media barons is Baijayant (Jay) Panda, who controls Odisha Television Ltd (OTV), owned by his wife Jagi Mangat Panda. Jagi Mangat is also a director of Ortel Communications Ltd and Orissa Television Ltd, which broadcasts the State’s most popular television channel. Finally, there is Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, professor of Political Science at the Benares Hindu University and son-in-law of former Congress chief minister J. B. Patnaik, who, along with his brother, Niranjan Patnaik, former industries minister, owns the Sambad daily, Kanak TV, and Radio Choklate, which are held by Eastern Media Pvt. Ltd., a Rs. 110-crore company[v].

The north-east too is in the business of political ownership of news organizations, with Assam and Nagaland in the lead. Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio owns the Eastern Mirror, published by the Nagaland Free Press. In Assam, the most interesting player is the former Union Minister of State of Parliamentary Affairs, Matang Singh, who owns NE TV, Focus TV, NE Bangla, NE Hi Fi, Hamar, HY TV, and Radio Oo la la. He controls them through holding companies Positiv Television Pvt. Ltd. and Positiv Radio Pvt. Ltd. Riniki Bhuyan Sarma, wife of the health minister of Assam, Hemanta Biswa Sarma, controls News Live and Rang through holding company Pride East Entertainments Pvt. Ltd. Other upcoming Congress leaders are present in the media in Assam. MLA Anjan Dutta owns the daily Ajir Dainik Batori through Dasharupa Engineering & Publications Pvt. Ltd. Yet another Assam minister, Rockybul Hussain, in charge of the State’s Ministries of Panchayat & Rural Development, Forest & Environment, conrols the daily Janasadharan, through Janasadharan Printing & Publishers Pvt.

The West Bengal government led by Mamata Banerjee recently proposed that the state government should itself set up its own daily newspaper and television channel. It is no longer enough for the ruling party to have its own media. Enter the State!


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