Work culture in corporate media

"It was made abundantly clear from the disastrous image of those days of disinformation, in which the majority of employees, reporters and journalists put our lives on the line only for media owners and board members to decide not to publish anything and hide from the public the serious events that were taking place in the streets, while mainstream TV channels aired old movies as if nothing was happening. We all must assume those days of confusion, tensions, interests, and mistakes with courage and rectify with deep sincerity. No more manipulation. We workers say firmly and responsibly that we will not accept such behavior again."- Venezuelan Media Workers Statement, Caracas, June 10, 2002

Who controls the information flow?

Although to find and reveal the truth is at the very core of every media worker's mission, corporations have inseminated corporate governance in journalism. These corporations control the course of information through direct ownership of media, public relations, strategic use of advertising, contract workers, lawsuits and boycotts. In such a backdrop, if one witnesses examples of capitulation by media workers to corporations and even public broadcasting, it cannot be deemed surprising.

The Indian media like the global corporate media serves the interests of corporate globalization through self-censoring and monopolistic practices. There are frightening parallels between corporate Public Relations and the techniques of Third Reich propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Media workers with careers to build and families to feed are beginning to change course as per the direction of the wind. Many independent media workers are reporting the truth, which complicit corporate media will not or cannot do. The media workers who have dared to stand up to the might of the media corporations; it's a case of David vs. Goliath.

Political workers shape and direct the world in which one lives. Media workers shape and direct the way in which one thinks about this world. No one can deny that together they exert a formative influence on society. The increasing cynicism and inherent mistrust with which politicians are regarded is a sign that despite corporate influence media workers are doing their job. But the fact is both political workers and media workers are shadows of the corporations.

Besides profit making, the world's most powerful media corporations are also active in shaping public policy in ways that virtually forces common people into a pattern of over-consumption. These policies have led to dependence on personal automobiles; long distance movement of goods and people; the use of chemicals in agriculture; and the generation of garbage that cannot be immediately recycled. The most important reason for why one lives the way one does is because it is profitable for these politically powerful corporations. And as long as corporate interests are allowed to dominate public policy processes, change is unlikely.

Millions of thoughtful, intelligent people…are being deceived by the false information and the distorted intellectual and moral logic repeated constantly in the corporate-controlled media. They are being won over to a political agenda that runs counter to both their values and their interests. Those who work within our major corporate, academic, political, governmental and other institutions find the culture and reward systems so strongly aligned with the corporate ideology that they dare not speak out in opposition for fear of jeopardizing their jobs and their careers. The urgency to break through this veil of illusion and misrepresentation that is holding us in a self-destructive cultural trance is quite obvious.

Media owners in India and world over have stakes in other industries. The mainstream media represents their corporate owners and therefore, quite effectively, rule the information dissemination exercise. The policies made under their influence attempts to blur the distinction between the rights of property and the rights of people by equating the freedom and rights of individuals with market freedom and property rights. The freedom of the market is the freedom of those with money. When rights are a function of property rather than personhood, only those with property have rights.

It is a basic premise of democracy that each individual has equal rights before the law and an equal voice in political affairs--one person, one vote. The market is deemed a democratic arbiter of rights and preferences only to the extent that money and property are equitably distributed. The market is neither just nor efficient and it does not have the legitimacy of democracy.

Market pressues have also encroached on the original mission of public broadcasting, which was to, "Provide a voice for groups that may otherwise be unheard." Around the country, media workers are creating more democratic, informative, and engaging the corporate media despite limitations.
Media Empires vs Media Workers

Why and how is it that media workers in India have accepted their use by media owners as canon fodders in the information warfare underway with unquestioned obedience?

Media as a profession is divided between tribes and castes of its own kind. It is a profession whose framework is based on a sort of equilibrium, resulting from a. general repulsion and constitutional exclusiveness between all its members. When such a framework is a reality, it is predestined to fall prey to the conquest of media barons. Even if one does not delve deep into the history of media workers, the one incontestable fact is quite evident that even at this moment media workers in India are working to ensure a passive basis for their own insecurity. The question, therefore, is not whether media workers prefer working under one media empire or another but it is whether media owners should be allowed to manage media workers on unequal and unethical terms.

Governments are shadows of the corporations, which have created such material conditions where the market and the modern powers of production have subjugated common man and media workers in the service of the modern kingdoms. Media workers are being taught that professionalism means loyalty to media tycoons in the face of media as a global corporate project. Needn’t media workers ask questions like why has a gulf been created between journalism as a mission and journalism as a profession? Isn’t media’s participation in the manipulation of public opinion criminal?.

Media in general with its 38,000 publications and about 250 channels besides radio is not accountable to any one. The luxury of journalism for the sake of it like art for art’s sake is fraught with adverse psychological consequences besides others. Most of us accept that much media originated speech is designed to influence, in one way or another, our attitudes and behaviors. Also we distinctly do not accept that speech will or should be allowed to force us into a particular attitude through such methods as coercion but for the act of communicator, the media workers. In the whole intellectual culture, the part that is easiest to study is the media and the role of media workers in it. It comes out every day. One can do a systematic investigation. One can compare yesterday’s version to today’s version. There is a lot of evidence about what’s played up and what isn’t and the way things are structured. When this is done it becomes evident that the media aren’t very different from scholarship. There are hose that are agenda-setters and there those who are basically trying to divert people to do something else, to get people interested in professional sports or sex scandals or the personalities or something like that. Anything as long as it is not serious.

In the era of embedded journalism media is betraying public interest in connivance with the Government, the Corporations, the NGOs and now even the media schools, there is case for media workers to play a creative and constructive role.

Neo-liberal school appropriates media workers

Dr Manmohan Sigh’s speech at Oxford University must be looked at as formulations emerging from neo-liberal school of thought. Dr Singh had initiated the most dangerous economic experiment, which led to the suicide of thousands of farmers in rural India in the past few years partly as a result of “price uncertainty due to trade liberalization and rise in costs due to domestic liberalization”. Media workers do not find these deaths newsworthy. Even the National Democratic Alliance Government sustained this experiment.

Addressing the British audience he said, “Of all the legacies of the (British) Raj, none is more important than the English language and the modern school system” in his speech. The fact is British rulers plundered Indians and converted them into inferior beings in their own country. They introduced an education system, which keeps majority of Indians illiterate and a legal system, which delivers unintelligible justice.

Intellectuals have dissected the propaganda system that fabricates a mythic past and airbrushes inconvenient facts out of history but media does not have space and slot to introspect. The liberal school teaches how "to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority". Quite like the East India Company, the media corporations have no conscience, no moral accountability and no citizenship. Corporations "simply do not belong in people's political spaces." It would be in the fitness of things if corporations were prohibited from influencing the political process or "educating" the public on policy issues. These corporations promote false-front "citizen" lobbying organizations and even corporate "charitable" trusts through which they push their own agendas.

In other companies, yardsticks for measuring `performance' are set by the management. In media houses too, yardsticks for `performance' are set by the management – but since most of them tend to be family-owned enterprises, managements tends to equate to owners, whose interests are generally in conflict with journalistic notion of `performance'.

Media workers are getting killed and situations are being created where they are compelled to commit suicide. The beheading of Daniel Pearl (38) of 'Wall Street Journal' by militants makes headlines for reasons of brand positioning. The suicide by Dinamani Kumar (27) of Chennai who had cited 'harassment at newsroom' in his suicide note does not help any brand; therefore, this is not news. Dinamani was fired without even a day's notice.

It is indeed strange that media workers are beginning to ignore their responsibility. The perversity in the management style of media companies makes it system-less, autocratic, feudal, life-less, non-transparent and insensitive. Kumar's life could have been saved, had he worked in a friendly work environment, where there is no emotional bullying, isolation, harassment, etc. He would have been alive, had he found a supportive peer group. Media workers lack self-help groups, peer-support groups. Media workers association can certainly have a role to play in improving the working environment.

The Hire and Fire policy cannot be allowed to gain currency. Daniel Pearl's beheading and Kumar’s suicide proves that media workers are easy targets world over. Such acts of terror are one of the many ways of muzzling the press freedom. It is time that American and British media looked at the issues in true perspective and addressed the root causes of these acts of terror. Given the diverse and plural nature of Indian citizenry, India need to highlight the fundamental reasons with greater urgency and a sense of responsibility. News column after news columns in business as well as general dailies are propagating introduction of hire and fire (contract) policy under the guise of labour reforms. And media companies are practicing what they preach!

Media companies & corporate culture

Corporate culture is the personality of an organization. It guides how employees think, act, and feel. How does it affect the workers in media companies? One does not know how to uncover the corporate culture of a potential employer. The truth is that one will never really know the corporate culture until one has worked at the company for a number of months, but one can get close to it through research and observation. The media workers ought to evaluate their work culture with reference to issues such as:
· The hours one works per day, per week, per month in a media organization
· Do you get paid for overtimes?
· Is there enough protection for workers?
· Are you a union member?
· Are you banned from joining any Union?
· What can be done to strengthen workers' rights?
· What role has the global economy played in the marginalisation of your rights?
· The work environment, including how employees interact, the degree of competition, and whether it's a fun or hostile environment - or something in between.
· The amount of time outside the office one is expected to spend with co-workers.
· Interaction with other employees, including managers and top management.
· How are decisions made - and how are those decisions communicated to the staff?
· Are there established career paths for employees in this position?
· Have you experienced discrimination in hiring, pay raise and promotions?
· Do you enjoy the benefits of paid vacation, company insurance policies, leave and freedom from the fear of being sacked at any minute
· Whether one’s salary is based on Wage Board or Contract
In many countries, union membership is at an all-time low. Only 28.5% of the UK workforce is unionised. In the USA, the figure is around 13%. Many workers in the developing world are banned from joining unions, and those that try can face threats of detention, violence and murder.

In India, the unions of media workers such as Indian Federation of Working Journalists and National Union of Journalists (India) are attempting unite the media workers under their banner with limited success. These unions would be failing in their duty if they do not make a purposeful intervention in the changing media landscape. There is no denying the fact that these unions also need to be reformed. The corporations have destroyed workers unity. Unions are the only hope for fair treatment and wages for the workers and the only bulwark against corporate tyranny. The breakdown of workers unity is turning the state of the working person, into a de facto state of slavery.

Twenty-Five years of Call for Right to Communicate

There is a mission before media workers, which requires consolidated political unity, strengthened and perpetuated by the communication tools. It is possible more so because it is quite easy to receive intelligence about almost all media activities even from distant parts of the country, which can be used for common man’s welfare and their own well-being.

This profession has the potential to engage with media barons as equals and not as subservient subjects. Taking a cue from the anger expressed by Delhi residents who taught power firms a lesson and compelled Government to act in public interest, the profound hypocrisy inherent in media houses and political parties must be exposed.

In the twenty-fifth year of UNESCO’s call for “right to communicate”, there is a necessity of remembering as to what was under attack from UK and US in the aftermath of Mc Bride Report because it remains under attack even today. Since the Governments have, in effect, merged with the giant corporations, workers have lost all power. This implies return to a feudal system.

It is a fact that the freedom of the media has always been fiercely defended but not of the readers and viewers. The acceptance of the logic of “market forces at play” has compelled Governments to represent Corporations rather than the concerns of the people whom they represent.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon media workers to fight for their autonomy and educate citizens and students that there can never be convergence of interest between the public and media houses. This is because the former seeks reliable information and the latter is obsessed with profit making. Media workers ought to comprehend the convergence of their rights with the rights of the common man.

Now the struggle for democratic media has shifted from UNESCO to World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) where the issue of disparity in the flow of information has so far been sidelined. The WSIS is a UN Summit that was held in December 2003 and its second meeting is planned for November 2005. The Summit is under pressure to adopt a declaration on the ‘right to communicate’. As per Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights is “the right of every individual or community to have its stories and views heard”. This right assumes greater significance in the face of media becoming increasingly homogenised, where dissenting, minority and local voices and issues are not being heard on a consistent basis.

It’s a reality that "who owns what?" influences the information flow that shapes politics and gets shaped by it. Its dire necessity is obvious at a time when media houses explicitly resemble political parties. Most of them are family run business enterprises where profit overrules ethics.

It is high time media workers overcame hurdles to engage with the corporate machinations. Journalism in 21st century has to communicate that New World Information and Communication Order is still relevant. There is a need for a “Global Glasnost” of information flow where ecological survival has a pre-eminent space in reporting. This flow must be based on "non-elite" sources and the dimension of participatory democracy.

The current caliber of journalism is decidedly unsatisfactory for a democratic society. Democratic journalism should provide a ruthless accounting of the powers-that-be and the powers-that-want-to-be, both in government and political circles and in the extremely powerful corporate sector. The approach to "reporting" practiced by corporate media today is not journalism. The mainstream media's regurgitation of what it is fed by corporate public relations specialists is why it's not news when bad things happen to working people - it's just the way it is - like when dogs and cats get run over, or when equipment malfunctions. It's not going to change any time soon.

If media workers want to feel like they matter, they will have to make their own. The tools to allow media workers to make their own media are available. And as technology advances, it will provide greater access to broadcast and to engage and prove that mainstream media far from being the best media by going beyond sound bites or info burps. Journalism "outside the corporate cage" has existed for a long time , media workers can add value to it and make it stand firmly on its feet.

“Being alone, media workers can't do anything. All they can do is to deplore the situation. But if they join with other people, they can make changes. Millions of things are possible, depending on where they wish to put their efforts.

Gopal Krishna


Legal landmine

Government support to Vedanta’s alumina project in Orissa creates more uproar; company pays token fine

15/09/2005

SATYASUNDAR BARIK


the recently concluded session of the Orissa legislative assembly once again witnessed a furore over the Rs 4,500 crore alumina refinery project of Vedanta Alumina Limited (val), a subsidiary of Sterlite Industries (India) Limited (siil), in the poverty-stricken Kalahandi district. Four youths from the district disrupted the house’s proceedings by shouting slogans against the venture from the assembly’s visitors’ gallery. In an earlier session, chief minister Naveen Patnaik had got his leg fractured when members of the opposition Congress party created a pandemonium in the well of the house opposing the deal. Many environmentalists and the civil society also charge val with violating forest laws and human rights. Both the Union ministry of environment and forests (moef) and the state government are accused of acting hand in glove with val, disregarding environmental concerns.

val had, on June 7, 2003, entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Orissa government to set up an alumina complex, comprising a one metric tonne per annum (mtpa) alumina refinery plant, a three mtpa bauxite mining facility and a 75 megawatt captive power plant at Lanjigarh. To feed its refinery, val signed a lease agreement with Orissa Mining Corporation Limited in October 2004 to jointly mine bauxite from Niyamgiri hills. Mining is to be conducted over a forest area of 672.018 hectares (ha) situated in Niyamgiri Reserve Forest of Kalahandi (South) Forest Division, Khambesi and Niyamgiri Proposed Reserve Forest and Jungle Block (Protected Forest) of Rayagada Forest Division. Orissa Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited has already acquired 313.8 ha land from six villages (Kinari, Borbhatta, Bandhaguda, Kothadwar, Bundle and Sindhabhal). The project would also cover over 26.1 ha of village forests.

Why the opposition? A study by Orissa-based forum Environment Protection Group (epg) points out that bauxite deposits are situated on the upper portion of hills as porous and permeable ‘caps’ that are good retainers of ground water. “Located at great heights, these deposits effectively act as overhead aquifers, similar to the glaciers in the Himalayas, feeding rivers with water…Mining of bauxite will destroy the aquifers,” it explains. The Central Empowered Committee (cec), created by the Supreme Court (sc) to deal with a range of forest-related matters, affirms this in its report: “The hills form the origin of Vamsadhara river. The rivulets coming across these hills are sources of water for local communities. Any mining in this area is bound to destroy its biodiversity and affect the availability of water for local people.” epg also seeks to underline that most of the 25 commonly found wildlife species in the area belong to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature list of endangered species.

Niyamgiri Hill is also believed to be the only abode of one of most primitive tribes, the Dongria Kondh, of which there are only about 7,000 people left. The project will deprive them of their livelihood. The tribes of Orissa already suffer a lot because the state has not settled their land rights. They are at the mercy of the forest department, which treats them as encroachers. In this, cec has equally hurt them. cec has earlier expressed grave concern on Orissa forest department not owning and controlling forest, thereby disregarding the non-settlement of tribal rights.

MoEF’s a party
The val project comprises mining and refinery. While environmental clearance for mining is pending, moef worked overtime to clear the refinery project on September 22, 2004. This violated the environmental impact assessment (eia) rules , under which projects can’t be cleared in parts. There are charges that the refinery’s construction commenced before September 22. “It is a clear violation of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 (fca) , as the area includes around 58 ha of forestland…The state machinery backed the scheme,” says Biswajit Mohanty, secretary, Wildlife Society of Orissa, an ngo.

The fact that the refinery would cover forestland was suppressed in the application for environmental clearance. Neither moef, nor the state government bothered to verify; otherwise, the project would have required clearance under fca, which would have delayed it and also necessitated payment of compensation. moef is also accused of violating its own circular that prohibits permission to projects requiring diversion of forestlands in Schedule V areas, which enjoy special constitutional protection to benefit tribal populations.

Also, as per fca guidelines, if parts of a project involve the use of forestland, construction work of even those parts which involve the use of non-forest land cannot begin unless complete clearance is acquired. moef, then, shouldn’t have permitted the company to start work on the refinery, even if the company claimed it did not involve the use of forestland. Even when legal proceedings, to which moef was a party, started in the cec , the ministry did not try to halt construction at the site, which still continues at a breakneck pace.

The state government too
The state government’s complicity is evident in that the district collector in his notice to acquire private lands had categorised some plots as “village forest lands”, annulling the possibility of private ownership. Eyebrows have also been raised over the way the state government and val treaded to get the scheme implemented. At the time of the October 2004 pact, neither of the two possessed even a single mine. “How can anybody enter into an agreement to deliver property which it does not own?” questions Mohanty.

In December 2004, three public interest litigations were filed in the sc against the state government: one by Mohanty, another by R Shreedar of ngo Mines, Minerals and People, and a third by Prafulla Samantra, a tribal rights activist. sc’s cec sent a two member fact-finding team to the site on December 19, 2004. The team submitted a report pointing out that an alumina refinery could damage the area’s rich biodiversity and affect the source of two major south Orissa rivers. val approached the sc in May 2005 to quash cec proceedings. But the court held that the proceedings would continue; it also directed moef to file its pending affidavit with the cec and asked cec to submit its final report by July 2005. cec chairperson and a member inspected the site again on June 14-15, 2005. Their report is awaited.

During the cec hearing, the petitioners alleged that moef and state government had acted in haste to help the company at any cost, due to several factors. While the incremental demand for alumina in 2004-2005 was estimated at 5.4 million tonnes, the supply was just 2.7 million tonnes. Also, metal analysts had predicted that metal prices would touch Rs 16,280 per tonne and further increase to Rs 19,360 per tonne in 2005. In addition, siil’s alumina refinery in Chhatisgarh was short in bauxite ore supply and siil had also embarked on a major expansion of its Korba refinery — hence more alumina requirement.

Damage control
The state government has been trying to appear impartial ever since cec’s initial report that mentioned violation of forest law. In a change of stance, Patnaik recently admitted that val had illegally felled 35 trees on village forestlands at Lanjigarh. Four encroachment cases have been booked against val and a fine of Rs 11,471 collected from it. “It’s a cruel joke. The state government, which has all along been taking the side of val, is trying to present its impartiality by imposing a fine of a mere Rs 10,000,” thunders Daitari Naik of Niyamgiri Surakshya Samiti, a local ngo .

Meanwhile, val has already invested over Rs 2,200 crore for the refinery. “It is trying to quickly finish construction so that it can plead before the sc that it should be allowed to go ahead with mining too,” explains Ritwick Dutta, counsel for two petitioners. But the court held that the proceedings would continue; it also directed moef to file its pending affidavit with the cec and asked cec to submit its final report by July 2005. cec chairperson and a member inspected the site again on June 14-15, 2005. Their report is awaited.

During the cec hearing, the petitioners alleged that moef and state government had acted in haste to help the company at any cost, due to several factors. While the incremental demand for alumina in 2004-2005 was estimated at 5.4 million tonnes, the supply was just 2.7 million tonnes. Also, metal analysts had predicted that metal prices would touch Rs 16,280 per tonne and further increase to Rs 19,360 per tonne in 2005. In addition, siil’s alumina refinery in Chhatisgarh was short in bauxite ore supply and siil had also embarked on a major expansion of its Korba refinery — hence more alumina requirement.

Damage control
The state government has been trying to appear impartial ever since cec’s initial report that mentioned violation of forest law. In a change of stance, Patnaik recently admitted that val had illegally felled 35 trees on village forestlands at Lanjigarh. Four encroachment cases have been booked against val and a fine of Rs 11,471 collected from it. “It’s a cruel joke. The state government, which has all along been taking the side of val, is trying to present its impartiality by imposing a fine of a mere Rs 10,000,” thunders Daitari Naik of Niyamgiri Surakshya Samiti, a local ngo .

Meanwhile, val has already invested over Rs 2,200 crore for the refinery. “It is trying to quickly finish construction so that it can plead before the sc that it should be allowed to go ahead with mining too,” explains Ritwick Dutta, counsel for two petitioners.

Down To Earth

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