October 12, 2014

Labour, Capital and the Corporate Media

Archana Prasad

THE relationship between capital and labour is not confined to the material reality alone, rather it operates as much in the production and communication of knowledge. The penetration of capital into all non-material ideological spheres and the instruments of hegemonic control has become a norm under the neo-liberal regime. The privatisation of electronic media and its control by big and trans-national capital under neo-liberal globalisation is one such example of this phenomena. And the employees of this industry can be classified as ‘creative labourers’ or people whose skill to produce and reproduce knowledge and artistic work is exploited by capital for super profits. The workers of the Indian electronic media industry in general, and women workers in particular provide a good illustration of such creative labour.




The alarming rate of growth of the Indian electronic media and its control by big business is seen by the following figures on the Indian Broadcasting Industry. The figures show that subscriptions form a very small portion of the revenue in these channels:




Advertisement Revenue (INR Bn)

Subscriptions (INR  Bn)

Percentage of Revenue from Advertisements














Source: KPMG-FICCI Frames Report ‘The Stage is Set’, 2014, p.22

 The figures above show the influence of corporate advertising on the content of the media. Further the ownership patterns of media have ensured that large monopolies and promoters control the nature of reporting and create public opinion in favour of a depoliticised neo-liberal developmental paradigm. The hold of big business on electronic media has been particularly after the general elections of 2014 when the interests of Hindutva and corporate capitalism came together. Hence it is not surprising that this Dussehra saw a wide telecast of the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s speech on all private channels. The State-run Doordarshan justified its own telecast of the speech by citing the need to keep up with private competitors. This competition is driven by viewership and profit, rather than the basic values of the constitution. That the Bhagwat speech explicitly targeted minorities and advocated socially conservative values was of no consequence to the media. Such a situation is also symbolic of the way in which the media has influenced the rightward shift in the politics and depoliticised the polity by projecting ‘development’ as a politically neutral concept. Hence corporate led growth has been projected as the only model for India, and its co-existence with socially conservative values is seen in the resurgence of the right wing offensive against all progressive politics. It is therefore not surprising that Anna Hazare and his anti-corruption campaign got more media space than any trade union strike, even though the latter may have had a wider political significance and social base. This anti-worker stance of the corporate led media structures the character of reporting in the contemporary times. 




The character of news and reporting is seriously affected by the changing nature of the media industry. Big business ensures relatively high salaries, but is a highly exploitative system which is based on the contract system, albeit at the mercy of the company. Hence both electronic and print media companies are guilty of violating basic human rights and resisting any changes in wage structures and conditions of work. Hence it is not surprising that media companies have unleashed a campaign against the implementation of the recommendation of the wage board. It was argued that the recommendations would ‘cripple the industry’ whose profits would be severely impacted. The lack of social security and basic workers rights is even more accentuated in the case of women journalists who constitute a significant part of the workforce in TV and other electronic media. Contracts give no allowance for maternity benefits and pensions. For example a journalist in Zee news was terminated because she became pregnant. The journalist appealed to the Mumbai labour court and was reinstated with full maternity entitlements.

Given the high turnover and business interests involved in the media industry it is not surprising that contracts ensure that journalists toe the line of the company. In a recent case the Times of India modified the contracts of its employees directing them to have only one social media user account and hand over the passwords of that account to their employers. The contracts explicitly state that the company can post news or promotional items on personal social media accounts, thus infringing the personal freedom of their workers. As a senior journalist put it, the worker becomes an instrument of promotion of the company 24x7. Instances such as these show that the autonomy of the media workers or creative labourers has significantly decreased because of this contracted system.




It is obvious that the vulnerability of the media workers has increased with the corporatisation of the media. Within this, the women workers are even more vulnerable as shown in many recent reported cases. The social composition of the industry ensures that they face stereotyping and harassment.  A 2006 study by Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) showed that upper castes dominated the media. There were hardly any women and minorities in decision making positions, even though women formed the major portion of the workforce in electronic media. As one journalist put it, “there is a constant pressure to look younger, slimmer and prettier on women anchors. A woman with dental braces may be asked to go off camera, but a male with gutka stained teeth is a non issue” (Arfa Khanum quoted in the ‘Is Sexism in the 24x7 Channels a Reality? Indian Express, September 7, 2014). In another instance a “personality development counsellor” for a media training institute shares instances of journalists who lost 10 kgs to suit the job of an anchor (Preeti Dhingra quoted in the ‘Is Sexism in the 24x7 Channels a Reality? Indian Express, September 7, 2014). This accent on appearance rather than content and reporting is driven by the market and on a larger underlying depoliticisation of the masses by the media itself.

The contract squeeze and attractive jobs make young women journalists submit to this pressure. An extreme form of such pressure is the sexual harassment that has been faced by Tanu Sharma and other such women reporters. As a female journalist writes sexual harassment can take many forms “hacking into a female colleague’s computer to read her mails, making loaded comments, touching or feeling her up in cabs after night shifts, demanding sexual gratification in return for job related favours and sometimes there is a direct attack. Apart from their feeling of shame, lack of support structures, want of supportive colleagues and fear of loss of jobs can also contribute to women’s silence on this issue” (Anjali Deshpande ‘Women in the Media: General Introduction’, p.5). It is therefore a challenge for any women’s organisation or labour movement to provide a voice to these women.

From the case of the media workers or creative labourers, it is clear that the impact of adverse capital-labour relations is not confined to the working classes alone, but also to the workers within the ‘knowledge society’. Hence it is the responsibility of democratic labour movement to take up the issues of such classes and help them fight for their legitimate rights.