As the 15th edition of FICCI Frames kicked off with several brainstorming sessions at Mumbai’s Renaissance Hotel on Wednesday, March 12, 2014, Uday Shankar, Chairman, FICCI Media & Entertainment Committee and CEO of Star India, pointed out that “amidst an environment of gloom and doom, the media and entertainment (M&E) industry registered an impressive growth of 12 per cent last year. The fact that we have been able to deliver this in light of an overall economic growth of 4 per cent and a major resetting of exchange rates is a testament to the tenacity of the industry’s leaders and stakeholders.”
Shankar however added that while delivering a growth rate three times that of the country at large is cause for satisfaction, the truth is that in dollar terms, “we have barely made a dent this year. And, even more importantly, we remain at a great distance from the goal of growing the sector to 100 billion dollars.”
“But, this is not a sector whose value is measured just by the size of its financial contribution. Media and entertainment remains central to defining the direction of India’s social and economic path; its work remains key to the imagination and inspiration of a billion Indians every day; and its health will be central to the ethos and values of the society we collectively shape,” emphasised Shankar.
On the issue of free media and its role with the government, Shankar said, “No relationship is more important than the one between the government and the media. In many ways - and not uniquely to India - this is a relationship which by the very nature of its constituents is conditioned to be adversarial. Governments and political leaders are deeply aware of the power of shaping the message. The natural instinct of the state is to control the message and, where it can, to control the messenger. But the natural instinct of the media, whether it is the news media or the creative community, is to resist control, to question authority. There is, therefore, tension inherent in the conflicting instincts of the two constituents.”
“In India, that relationship has often moved from being just adversarial to flirting on the boundaries of dysfunctionality. Used to only a compliant state media, successive central governments have often used policy to limit free expression. And, increasingly, state governments have crossed the boundary to actually own and run private media enterprises. Why just run channels when you can integrate across the whole value chain, and run entire businesses from delivery to content?”
Shankar further said, “Of course, the media has been more than just a silent victim in creating this environment. Too often, the news media has focused on what is sensational rather than what is important. Too often, the point of news seems to be to reduce the extraordinary diversity of the country to the most banal, a contest between extremes that can only be resolved through a shouting match on live television. With singular dominant narratives, the trend seems to be of creating heroes on a particular day only to be labelled as thugs and crooks the next.
“Legend has it that, in the early years of independence, Prime Minister Nehru used to write criticisms of his own government under pseudonyms published in leading newspapers. So concerned was he about a press that was not free and was not fiercely independent. It is ironic that today, it is perhaps easier to get articles published for a fee in newspapers than to place an honest criticism of the government. Nehru’s successors, both in politics and in the media, have strayed a long way away from that aspirational vision of the role of media in Indian society.”
“Instead, it is now a broken relationship, and one that has dire consequences for both the industry as well as the government. The failure to establish credibility and importance has meant the industry perennially stays on a back foot, defending itself against every new wave of regulation aimed only at further curtailing its wings. In return, the government has not been able to leverage either the impact that mass media can have in India or harness the power of media as an economic engine that can create jobs and wealth,” Shankar emphasised.