Media in India: Politics of regulation in a time of false News

The media plays a pertinent role by providing information which is indispensable for two reasons. Primarily, it ensures that citizens formulate proper and updated views by analysing the authentic and genuine facts as provided by media. Secondly, it provides information as a “checking function” by guaranteeing that the chosen government and its representatives act upon electoral promises.

Media thus plays a central role since it is the single means through which public opinion is engendered. The stability of a country is assessed by the way the media report the news of that country. Thus, it becomes the obligation of the media to circulate only applicable and valid facts locally and globally.

The role of media has been changing from what it was perceived. The neutrality of news in reporting is missing in the mainstream media today because of the hidden agendas that many press and media outlets hold.

 Media in India is mostly self-regulated.  The existing bodies for regulation of media such as the Press Council of India which is a statutory body and the News Broadcasting Standards Authority, a self-regulatory organization, issue standards which are more in the nature of guidelines.   Press Council of India established under the PCI Act of 1978 for the purpose of preserving the freedom of the press and of maintaining and improving the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India.

Even though the Constitution guarantees freedom of the press, the government does regulate some media. Print media are largely unregulated, and newspapers and magazines can print nearly anything as long as they don’t slander anyone. The Internet has also gone largely unregulated, despite congressional efforts to restrict some controversial content. Broadcast media, however, are subject to the most government regulation.

Decision-making power in the Indian media regulation is fairly centralized, with the central Government and ministries making the final calls when it comes to new policies and appointments. Politicians have a keen interest in news media regulation owing to the high degree of political ownership in the sector. Thus, political and electoral logic shapes media regulation.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the top of the decision-making list.  Modi follows a centralized decision-making model with significant power allotted to his Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Modi has been a vocal advocate of the use of online media for political mobilization, participation and propaganda. Key influencers in the Indian regulation include Mukesh Ambani, chairman of the Reliance Group of Industries, Amit Shah, an MP and current president of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Subhash Chandra, the chairman of Essel Group, Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd (BCCL), which owns The Times of India.

WhatsApp has become the platform of choice for politicians because of its massive reach that goes beyond a party’s loyal voter base, but also because of the lack of gatekeepers. Messages forwarded through the system have no context about where they originate, but benefit from the trust of coming from a contact . . one of the BJP leaders denies the  spreading polarising content, but public  WhatsApp data collected by analysts and anecdotal evidence show that Indians are being flooded with propaganda memes, much of it anti-Muslim and critical of the opposition Congress party.

In April smriti Irani’s  ministry issued a circular saying that in order to fight the rise in fake news in print and electronic media, the government had decided that journalists who had complaints of creating/propagating fake news against them, would immediately have their press accreditation suspended.The following day, the Prime Minister’s Office asked her ministry to withdraw it.

Recently A picture of Vadra with the Chinese envoy. Both Republic TV and Times Now got excited enough over a picture of Robert Vadra to launch hashtags and primetime shows. Alt News had to give a video tutorial to Times Now and Republic TV to avoid such rookie mistakes. The picture was from a Chinese food festival that was also attended by India’s Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, Sitaram Yechuri from CPIM, KC Tyagi from JDU and other leaders from BJP such as Tarun Vijay and Udit Raj. A quick google search could have avoided these channels the embarrassment though we suspect that they neither consider this as an embarrassment nor are they interested in the truth.

Similarly there was a statement attributed to Arundhati Roy – ‘’70 lakh Indian soldiers cannot defeat Azadi gang in Kashmir”  . A fake statement made in a non-existent interview during a trip that never took place was enough to launch prime time debates on Republic TV and CNN News 18 attacking Roy. The fake news had originated from some obscure Pakistani website called times of Islamabad

What followed was attack on Roy by BJP MP Paresh Rawal and prime time debates on the topic. Arnab Goswami called Roy a “one book whiner wonder” and continued to rant about his favorite topic of Lutyens media and pseudo liberals. An investigation by The Wire revealed the truth behind the fake outrage fueled by the news channels and this piece  by News laundry explored it further News laundry had republished an op-ed responding to Roy’s fake quote and it apologised for its editorial oversight and retracted the piece. There was no retraction or apology from Republic TV or CNN News 18 for attacking Roy based on fake news.

Indian media is grappling with many problems, but the country’s regulators fail to address them.

It took the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB), a key player in India’s media policy, two years and seven months to release public data that had been officially requested in 2015 by, a website mapping media ownership in India. The ministry said that such data couldn’t be released as it was “third party information.” The ministry’s argument was just tosh as media companies have to reveal ownership data to qualify for a license to operate.

The episode epitomizes the excessively bureaucratic, politicized and clientelistic media regulation in India whose decisions have negative consequences for news media operations

Decision-making in matters related to the Indian media is riddled with political influence, regulatory parallelism and clashes over jurisdiction, involving not only decision-making authorities but also industry players,