The lack of transparency related to news media ownership has begun to nibble on their credibility. "A villager in Meerut told us on our face that you (all news channels in the country) are all sold out. After a brief discussion, the same person also told us that you are our last hope. Yes, contrasting views," Dr Subhash Chandra, chairman of Essel Group, which runs over 70 TV channels under the Zee umbrella and dna.
Can Dawood Ibrahim start a television news channel in India? "Not too difficult," Worse, if the fugitive on the run already funds a media enterprise in India surreptitiously, do we have a system in place to detect and counter it? Dr Subhash Chandra said. He runs a media behemoth that expanded to over 170 countries across the globe over three decades.
"I took my editors to see what is liked and disliked by the rural folk. Instead of appointing a research agency, I said, let's go and find out ourselves." He points fingers at a couple of news channels in the Hindi heartland, one is 'owned' by a practicing chartered accountant and another clandestinely managed by the wife of an ex-service man from UP.
"Unfortunately, our system doesn't go even one layer beyond what the owner has submitted as part of his application. I will not be surprised if the money trail ends at Dawood Ibrahim," says Dr Chandra. It compromises the national security.
"TV being a mass medium has a far deeper penetration, reaching even the remote rural areas of the country. Hence it has a far greater impact on the society." "RBI applies fit-and-proper criteria by which they go to the ultimate source of funding," he says.
There are many who illegally operate channels. "If you ask them, they will tell you they aren't. They are funding it and some of their associates are running it," he says. "Even the security clearance is subject to misuse in a way."
Media baron Subhash Chandra questioned the regulatory norms on ownership structure and said it wouldn't be surprising if some of the news channels are found to be "owned by the underworld." "Today, ownership of media, particularly of news channels is opaque. We should not be surprised if some of these news channels are owned by underworld elements," Chandra who runs the Zee brand of news channels and general entertainment channels, said.
"The media houses were started by our freedom fighters, like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, to inform and empower the people. However, today, a few entities have started news media businesses as a "shield for their illegal activities. Regulatory complexities are a concern for the industry and with skewed business models, no serious corporate wants to invest in this industry. It is high time we realised the need for a defined framework of rules under the media regulator to screen out these illegal players," Chandra said.