Free market media, democracy and partisanship : a case study of Kolkata’s newspapers’ coverage of anti-industrialisation protests
Date of Issue2016
Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information
The dominant model of the media is that of market-driven media. The dependence on advertising revenues is supposed to ensure financial and therefore political independence. Such market-driven media, however, are inadequate in fulfilling the goal of democracy because they show less interest in reporting the causes of the poor and other disadvantaged groups. An alternative model proposed is that of a partisan media system in a pluralistic market, affording a diversity of political views including those of marginalised groups. Although conceptually different, the partisan and the commercial models of the news media are known to co-exist in many societies. Under such conditions, the news media’s partisan interests, the goal of making profits and the norms of professional journalism, traditionally associated with the commercial model, intersect. This thesis studies how the intersection of the partisan and commercial models of the news media alters the partisan media system’s ability to represent a diversity of views in a pluralistic setting. Pluralistic market conditions are essential for the partisan model to fulfil its democratic potential but tend to be less common in highly concentrated media markets in advanced, industrial settings. Hence the thesis looks at news coverage of anti-industrialisation protests in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata, a city that has pluralistic market conditions for the media. Drawing on the theoretical approach of political economy of communication and qualitative thematic analysis of newspaper articles and qualitative interviews with journalists and senior editorial staff, this thesis found that the differences of the partisan system blur in a pluralistic setting even though the goal of profits does not neutralise diversely-owned, commercially-run dailies’ partisan interests. Rather professional journalistic norms such as news values, the need to convey information and the watchdog role defeat their partisan interests and thus blur the differences of the partisan system. “Hybrid” forms of professional journalism in a partisan system thus combine the contradictory goals of advocacy and conveying information and remain central to the partisan model’s ability to represent differences or “external pluralism” when partisan and commercial models co-exist. This thesis proposes the conceptual framework of “hybrid” partisan model to account for the changes of the partisan system when norms of professional journalism intersect with and affect commercially-run entities’ partisan interests.
Nanyang Technological University