For the last one week or so I have been writing posts about the FDI in multi brand retail policy. If you have been following my posts, then you would notice that I have been quite critical of the way in which this policy was pushed. Well it was not a surprise that it would come, it was expected to come as I have written in my previous post I have argued that the decision seems to have been heavily influenced by the corporate lobbying that has gone on for opening up of this sector, as also I have argued that international pressure has worked. I have tried to put up as many facts as I could to at least make my readers pause and think. Now I must ask my readers whether they have read any such criticism in the newspapers with large circulation and in the mainstream news channels that they are exposed to barring a few.
Well of course people have different opinion about this issue. It is expected that for any economic policy there will be divergent views. But have we been exposed to all these divergent views in the mainstream media? Another question is why this reporting only now what about in the run up to these decisions. What was the reporting like then? Was there enough debate about this issue, were all the pros and cons really presented objectively based on research and experiences, was it debated whether FDI investment was the only way to bring about the growth in our rural economy and to increase efficiency in the food supply as is being highlighted as its biggest benefit? Has it been debated whether the FDI investment alone will be enough? Won't we need investment in infrastructure like roads and power that Big Retail is not going to do? Had these investments in infrastructure been done by the country would we not have better efficiency or do we still need FDI in retail? We have heard about food wastage in the current dispensation but have we heard criticism of incumbent organized retail players as to what they have done to improve the situation? Why have they not been able to price their food products and specifically fresh fruits and vegetables cheaper? Do they really pay higher price to farmers? Have people not been suspicious as to why the private organized players who should have had reservations about foreign competition like in may other sectors, were delighted to have foreign investment? Do they have an interest in FDI because they want to sell some or most of their existing stake? Have we heard enough in the last 10 days that they have been struggling with debt? It has been reported earlier but why have we not heard about this in last 10 days and why has no one tried to draw a linkage?
Why have we not been hearing more about these issues in the main stream media? Why is the media hailing this decision wholeheartedly other than a few exceptions? When we see the same argument being made in media again and again we do not see the other side, because we have not been exposed to the other point of view, at least not by people we can trust. When politicians make an argument then we are mostly divided based on our ideological leanings and based on party lines. We are not always open to the views of a politician who belongs to a party we are ideological opposed to, even if he or she is making a valid argument. We fear that if we accept this argument from that person then we would end up being on his side on all the other issues, we do not agree with him on. So we are extremely cynical about the political parties. But what about the views of editors and the facts that journalist are supposed to write about?
There are many question, and well, here is the answer. We will not hear about these things in the media because the media is not exactly independent in these matters. The media in our country today has deep links with big corporations. They will not carry articles and opinions which are critical to them in a matter which is so important to them. The business men and politicians have long realized the importance of media. News media not only reflects the facts and opinions of the people it also influences the opinions of its readers. If they brow beat an argument enough, if they twist some facts and hide some other facts or if they promote one opinion more often than another divergent view, then they will be influencing their readers who will start believing what is being projected.
Since the early part of last decade media companies have been carrying paid news, they have also been entering into these agreements called private treaties. What is a private treaty? Well it is an agreement where by a media group makes equity investments into the companies that enter into this treaty with. They buy a substantial share into that company via private equity placement against guaranteed advertisement and though not mentioned explicitly but is well understood 'no negative coverage'. It has been reported that Rahul Joshi the editor or Economic Times had given instructions to his reporter to write about their treaty clients in a way that enhances “the value of these companies and ToI’s (Times of India’s) investment.”. Here is an example which is very relevant to the present situation. In 2002 Bennet & Coleman and company which owns The Times Group, entered into a private placement agreement with Kishore Biyani the owner of Big Bazaar a retail player which will benefit immensely from the FDI policy announcement made on 14th September 2012. Can anyone in the right mind expect any criticism of the FDI in retail policy in Times of India and Economic Times? When the beneficiary of this policy is not just your client but actually you yourself. Times Group is by virtue of its ownership of Pantaloon Retail, Future Value Retail Limited and Future Ventures India Limited a direct beneficiary of the FDI in multi-brand retail policy. No wonder we hear only praise of the government from Times of India and Economic Times for this policy move.
The Times of India in its editorials encourages the government to 'Stand Up', not to give in to "rabble rousing pressure from opposition". It has made tall claims that "retail reform is estimated to bring in $16 billion worth of FDI in the next 3 years". It has hardly carried any opinion article arguing against the policy nor has it carried crititical reader comments. In fact as I have mentioned in my last post. Government of India almost appears to be following the script handed out by the Economic Times. The ET view as they have mentioned in one of their articles was that the government should "..open up FDI in multibrand retail quickly, and eases the rules that have curtailed FDI in single brand retail. It should explain that the provisions for FDI in multi-brand retail are enablers. It is up to individual state governments to implement them or not". Now the readers would be in no position to suspect that what they have been writing is in good faith unless the reader is aware that owner of the newspaper they are reading is a direct beneficiary of this policy why will it be critical of this policy? They will make profit when Big Bazaar makes profit.
I am going to end this post with a youtube video speech of Mr P Sainath where he explains the current state of our media companies and a state of affair he describes( borrowing from Ben Bagdekian) as "Corporate Incest within, Corporate Incest".
PS: Here's link to another article by P Sainath on how (as per his article) Times of India manipulated news about Bt Cotton at a time when Biotech Regulation Authority Bill was to be tabled in 2011. Now you can choose what you want to believe. But it is again 'for the welfare of farmer' argument similar to the current FDI in multibrand retail policy changes. So I am pretty sceptical. You can draw your own conclusions.