Reading "Newspapers and the Workers"

A good friend of mine sent me a message out of the blue. He was suggesting that it might be appropriate for Bodhi to republish a classic piece by Antonio Gramsci titled "Newspapers and the Workers". Not quite convinced that was the best use of my time, I played along and looked it up. The first line read "these are the days of the subscription campaigns."

Indeed. Corporations are busy snapping up print, radio, television or online properties. It's a major digital land grab in progress. Our favorite media conglomerate here at Bodhi, the Rs. 389-crore Mathrubhumi Printing & Publishing Co. Ltd. (MPPCL), has launched a high-definition TV channel. Mathrubhumi TV's CEO promises that the new channel's "unique selling potential is that we will be an independent news channel" and notes that it “completes the portfolio (of media businesses) for the group”.

Unlike many other countries, India has no regulatory controls on cross-media ownership. One can buy them as many you need at the market rate. Policy experts have been warning for a long time that a handful of people pretty much dictate what India gets to read, listen and watch. The noted media studies scholar Prof. Aravind Rajagopal has argued that recent regulatory changes will exacerbate the issue of corporate control. For instance, the recent Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Bill 2011, makes full digitization of cable television across the country mandatory in three years. Increased capital requirements will kill the local cable providers and smaller channels paving the way for large broadcasters and cable service providers to grab market share.

Writing more than a century ago, Gramsci couldn't possibly have foreseen the technologies that make this media convergence feasible, but he certainly understood the class dynamics that got us here. He probably didn't know about the wonderful trick of selling readers and audiences back to capital in the form of advertising and two-sided markets, but he certainly understood the hegemonic apparatus that legitimizes it. His conviction about the need to wage counter-hegemonic struggles and eventually building a socialist alternative is just as relevant today as it was back then.