Political Economy of Communications in India: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly/Negotiating Communication Rights: Case Studies from India/Digital India: Understanding Information, Communication and Social Change

By Stein, Laura | Global Media Journal, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Political Economy of Communications in India: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly/Negotiating Communication Rights: Case Studies from India/Digital India: Understanding Information, Communication and Social Change


Stein, Laura, Global Media Journal


Political Economy of Communications in India: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Pradip Ninan Thomas. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2010. 978-81-321-0449-0. 267pp.

Negotiating Communication Rights: Case Studies from India, Pradip Ninan Thomas. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2011. 978-81-321-0636-4. 252pp.

Digital India: Understanding Information, Communication and Social Change, Pradip Ninan Thomas. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2012. 978-81-321-0904-4. 205pp.

Communication in India through Three Lenses

India is one the world's largest democracies, a rapidly though unevenly developing country, and an oft-cited IT industry success story. Its diverse population is also amongst the most economically unequal in the world. In comparison to Europe or North America, however, India's communication landscape is neither well documented nor well understood, leaving its citizens at a disadvantage when it comes to assessing the role and influence of information, communication and media in political, economic and social life. Pradip Thomas blazes a trail through this landscape with his trilogy of books on Indian communication. The trilogy addresses Indian communication through three different, but overlapping, lenses: political economy, communication rights, and the digital. The political economy approach, most evident in the first and third books, is marked by: a view of communication systems as vital institutions shaped (but not determined) by political and economic forces; attention to the views and activities of industry, state and civil society actors in the communication realm; and a focus on norms and values associated with communication as a public good. The communication rights approach considers civil society claims about the communication values and principles deserving state protection, including those expressed in the right to information, community radio, and open source software movements. The third lens takes in digital media developments in India, examining their animating forces and resultant social tensions. For readers wanting a critical take on the history, topography and fault lines surrounding media and communication developments in India, this trilogy will serve as an excellent starting point. In order to do them justice, I will discuss each book in turn.

Political Economy of Communications in India

The first book lays out Thomas's political economy approach, discusses the defining political economic features of modern Indian communication history, and examines a number of contemporary communication issues through the political economic lens. Thomas draws normative assumptions about emancipation, equality and the public good as social policy goals from the political economy approach, as well as a research agenda aimed at understanding how power structures shape media industries in their interests. In India, national politics, domestic private industries with ties to international markets, transnational organizations, and US and EU interests are the primary actors shaping Indian communication systems, practices and policy regimes. Nevertheless, the public (made up of non-state and non-market actors) has a stake in media and communication because these symbolic goods affect their understandings of the world and influence their social, political and life choices. While there have been important homegrown communication movements in India, most notably around the right to information and open source software, such groups have been less effective at influencing communication policy or practice. Thomas identifies as areas for further study several issues around which tensions exist between dominant practices and the public good. These include issues of concentration, commodification, control, privacy, trade and governance at play in the production and circulation to information, media and culture.

Thomas divides Indian communication history into colonial (late 1700s to 1947), post-colonial (1948-1985), and new India (1986-present) periods, and tracks the shifting relations between the state, civil society and market actors in each period. …

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