|Title||Rethinking media systems: insights from a case study of paid news in India|
This thesis examines whether and how an enhancement can be effected in the depth and accuracy with which media systems theory meets its proclaimed objective of understanding and describing the behaviour of media systems. It draws upon critiques of the applicability of media systems theory to non-Western media systems to ask whether the grounded study of media systems reveals additional variables or approaches to enhance its descriptive and explanatory power. It answers these questions by conducting an exploratory case study of the complex and relatively unmapped Indian media system, focusing on the system-wide phenomenon of paid news, of which the most egregious form is political advertising masquerading as news at election time. The case study draws upon a thematic analysis of rich empirical data from 47 in-depth semi-structured interviews conducted with top journalists, editors, owners, policy makers and heads of regulatory bodies, triangulated against a large variety of documents and statistical data.
The study constructs a map of the Indian media system to establish its commercial, organisational and regulatory contours, and produces an analysis of the forces and relationships that define the systemic behaviour that is manifest as paid news. Its theoretical contribution includes the suggestion of candidate variables and approaches to supplement existing macro-level factors used by models and typologies of media systems theory. It also sets out seven theoretical propositions: 1) The wider applicability of media systems theory is hampered by the adoption of Western media as a pivotal reference point; 2) Normative beliefs and macro-level structures are inadequate descriptors of media systems; 3) Dimensions other than politics and economics can be critical to defining media systems; 4) Variables that account for forces and relationships within the media are important in characterising media systems; 5) Media systems are not passively shaped by political, economic and other structures; they have agency and can act independently; 6) Grounded case studies can yield variables and approaches that help characterise media systems; and 7) System-wide ethical or normative fault-lines such as paid news can reveal critical characteristics of a media system.