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Free-Press; More like Caged-Press!

Created on 11 Sep 2022

Wraps up in 6 Min

Read by 6.3k people

Updated on 28 Jan 2023

“The media, like anything else, can be bought. Everything, it seems, has its price. Even the free press.”

The nation’s mirror cannot be represented any better than this quote by Lance Morcan. After all, the way media is structured today, it’s super hard to tell it apart from the system. 

Textbook explanations state that Media has two primary stakeholders - the advertisers who provide the content and the financiers who fund the house. But guess what’s happening in contemporary reality? The Government’s playing both these roles! 

How Politicians governs Media

The politicians virtually control the media’s purse strings. A number of India’s media houses are owned by either politicians (sometimes, even the government) or bureaucrats (with some kind of political influence). Here’s one excerpt from Media Ownership Monitor 2018 about the political ownership-

Data as of 2018​​​​​

Speaking of the ‘independent’ digital media space, this hasn’t been spared either. Sometime back in 2020, the Government placed a 26% limit on foreign investments in digital media. Even digital arms of legacy media houses (like NDTV, Times Internet, etc.) came out to support this move very loud and clear. In fact, some of them even asked the Government to expand the scope of digital media to include the likes of Dailyhunt, Facebook, Google, etc.

Sounds weird, right? Why would media houses support a decision that harms their own industry?

Let’s understand.

Is media running ads, or are ads running media?

Advertisement is the media’s bread and butter. Take newspapers, for instance. An English daily involves ₹15-20 worth of costs while earning only ₹2-5 at max. Clearly, they can’t monetize on circulation. The only other major source of revenue is advertising. And the biggest advertiser is, undoubtedly, the GOI. In 2019, for every ₹100 of TOI’s ad revenues, ₹15 came from the government. During the run-up to the election day in 2018, the GOI even surpassed the likes of Netflix to become the ‘top advertising brand’ in television, a research by BARC stated. 

The time you plan a world trip, add one more thing to your itinerary. In every country you visit, just read their popular newspaper and see if you find the entire cover page promoting a government scheme or representative. It happens only in India!

But you probably have no idea about the gravity of this matter. The government’s influence is so high that in 2019, the Indian government froze ads in three popular news dailies for reportedly publishing content against it. 

Even in the case of digital media, less than a quarter of Indians pay for digital news content, as per WEF. Hence, to be up and running, these digital content houses depend on advertisements and, consequently, on the Government. So, it intervened here too. The Press Information Bureau announced that only those media houses complying with the 26% FDI rule would get eligibility for Government ads. Classic case of the tail wagging the dog-advertisers controlling the media.

Amidst all this, there is one party that gets affected the most. You, the audience. No wonder, corrupt practices are rife today. When advertisers control what how & why something gets written, (the same advertisers who finance the media house’s operations), you can’t expect a true and fair view of the society, can you? When the media’s own (elder) brothers from another mother aren’t protecting their (press) freedom, you can’t expect it to be bold & fearless, can you?

A big NO.

Numbers speak for these blunders. Amongst the 180 nations in RSF’s survey, India ranks 150th in World Press Freedom Index 2022. What a shame!

Long story short, Indian media is sold. Those trying to resist it are doomed to go through a hostile surrender of sorts when legacy media houses and the government join hands against them. A good case in point is Moneylife.

Coz money is life for Moneylife…

Moneylife is a digital news platform. Founded by journalist couple Sucheta Dalal & Debashis Basu. It found its niche in financial fraud reporting and has undoubtedly been one of India’s most honest reporting firm. From Harshad Mehta to Ketan Parekh scam to the recently unravelled NSE’s yoga-se-(fraud)-hoga scam, Moneylife has been one of the first to report double-dealings and financial shenanigans for the past two decades. Acting as an outside whistleblower of sorts has brought adverse consequences for the firm.

If you weren’t aware, Moneylife had its print edition too. Until it published a whistleblower letter against ‘a leading stock exchange’ in 2015, alleging preferential access to some brokers, which invited a ₹100 crore defamation suit (later withdrawn). The circumstances forced it to close its print edition too. 

“A leading stock exchange made it clear within six months that we should either be ‘nice’ to them or forget about advertisements.”

Tbh, that’s the fate of Indian media. Like we said, sustaining print editions without revenue (government ads) is easier said than done. Because the message is clear- if you run a media house in India, either you will make money or enjoy freedom, never both. Because, sooner or later, they’re going to come after you and pull the strings on what you publish; they’ll choke you with a lack of funds and push the pro-government pill down your throat.

Is Rich content just for ‘the rich’?

With offline gates closed, Moneylife then became a complete digital-only media platform. It is doing pretty well in this mode as well. But journalism being its core business, it still needs funds to keep the words running. That’s why it sells premium digital magazines. Fair.

But, this brings us back to square one… less than a quarter of Indians pay for digital news content. So, the entire purpose of spreading awareness is defeated as many Indians either can’t afford it or are unwilling to pay for this rich content. Moneylife has been writing about NSE’s Mystery Baba and Management Ghotala for a while. But ask yourself, did you have any idea about it until the market regulator SEBI lifted the veil?

The Nation Wants Needs To Know

These concerns kept us worried for a long while, and we seriously wanted to do something about it. So, we chose to build an independent, sustainable and affordable news platform, something very few were able to figure out in the industry. 

To be independent, the platform had to be free from any kind of investors’ influence, ad dependency, etc. To be sustainable, the platform had to be monetised. To be affordable, prices had to be minimal. All these objectives were rather conflicting.

But after long deliberation, we figured out that we were pretty well-positioned to strike the perfect balance. We are a bootstrapped startup; self-funded, no outsiders’ influence, no investors’ turbulence. We weren’t looking at journalism as a ‘revenue centre’ per se, because we have various other products that could keep the reporting platform up and running. Ads meant nothing for us. Money isn’t our life. 🙂

In short, any external influence was kept at bay. As the revenue matrix was already accounted for, we could afford to distribute articles at a cost next to nothing and present news every single Indian could afford. Ad-free honest reporting at dirt cheap price, eh?

Presenting before you - “Insider”

Insider, as you might have guessed, is not just a news reporting platform. It’s a lot more than that.

Facts are our forte; investigation, our competence. Our content team is basically a research desk. From scrutinizing cooked books to peeping into business secrets, everything they wanted to keep from you will now be delivered in Insider’s quirky stories. Insider is bold. Like we said, none influences us and we don’t fear speaking truth to power.

Insider is your access to inside stories, delivered in a layman’s language. The Better Wikipedia/Moneylife. It’s your personal web of what they didn’t want you to know. No complexities, no biases, pinky promise.

Look beyond the obvious. Be an Insider.

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Abhishek Sahoo

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Abhishek has a love for numbers and words alike. With a passion for finance and interest in writing, he’s blending both as a Finance Content Writer at Finology. He writes to simplify the toughest of the technical stuff for readers and tries to make the reading exercise interesting. He is a CA Final candidate and aims to pursue a management degree from a top-notch b-school.

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