Corporate Capital, State and Mediated Public Sphere: A Case Study of Niira Radia Tapes

Corporate Capital, State and Mediated Public Sphere: A Case Study of Niira Radia Tapes
The corporate takeover of communication media and private business corporations’ intervention in politics has reached unprecedented scales in globalised India. Identifying this fact, the thesis analyses the interlinkages between corporate capital, the democratic state, and mediated public sphere. This interplay also gets elucidated by taking Niira Radia Tapes as an empirical case.

Niira Radia’s rise as a corporate communicator depicts the prevalent political-economic churnings of neo-liberal India. She was hired by the top business corporations of India and became instrumental in materialisation of their nexus with high-profile politicians, journalists, and bureaucrats. Radia’s influence extended even in the cabinet formation of the world’s largest democracy. The thesis brings out these collusions by analysing the leaked recorded tapes of the conversation of Radia with these different actors. The expose of these tapes is often compared with and even considered bigger than the Watergate scandal and called Radiagate.

The Radia case also shows how a huge growth in media, largely owned by private corporations, has redefined the relationship between media and democracy in India. The thesis analyses in-depth how media with its increasing power has been reconstituting the ‘social’ and subverting the autonomy of political institutions, showing the trends of mediatisation.

The thesis takes the public sphere as a key concept to dwell on this complex interplay between media, market, and democracy. With messages getting manipulated and twisted by media, the public sphere is increasingly becoming mediated. It argues that mediated public sphere in itself is not problematic, but its corporate takeover makes it undemocratic. Corporate media generates perception battles and spreads stereotypes, instead of critical, dialogic, and reflexive communication that is essential for a vibrant public sphere and democracy.

The development of mass media and the ideas of the public sphere and democracy evolved along with modernity. Unlike the western world, modernity came to India through colonial passage having some distinct features. The thesis traces this trajectory in order to trace the distinct trajectory of the development of media, specifically journalism, in India. It discusses the changes that journalism as an institution has passed through.

While doing so, it questions the previously established understanding of the history of Indian journalism. Bringing in a new perspective, the thesis argues that freedom of speech, an essential element of journalism, was possible only in independent India, and hence, journalism began as an independent field only in post-colonial India when freedom of speech was provided as a right.

The thesis also argues that liberal democracy has failed to live up to its rationale of the marketplace of ideas. Media concentration has curtailed media freedom. Instead of freedom of speech, rule of law, scientific rationality, and the vibrant public sphere, what gets manifested are manipulation of speech, deregulation, deceptive practices, and a polluted public sphere. Free and transparent elections, aware citizenry, and civil liberty, considered to be the basic features of democracy, could never materialise fully.

After Indian democracy took a neoliberal turn, the possibility of such materialisation has become more difficult. The space for participatory democracy based on due deliberations and dialogues has shrunk further. The thesis discusses how a “spectator democracy” has taken over the idea of participatory democracy, especially in the recent past, with the aid of the new media. People act as conditioned spectators, smitten by spectacles and jumlas (rhetoric), overlooking their lived realities for hyperreality. The corruption of language has disabled reason and argumentation and has restricted political imagination in the mediated public sphere.

Contemporary journalism is increasingly getting blurred with corporate communication. With the development of visual media, “star” or branded and celebrity journalists have emerged, who perform and do show business rather than informing and educating the public. The thesis shows how celebrity journalists perform as “corporate stenographers” violating all rules and regulations. The division between the star and common journalists, and other class, caste, and language-based and ethical-political divisions in Indian journalism are discussed to make a nuanced understanding of the public sphere.

The thesis elaborates upon how contemporary public communication has become a complex process with multiple mediators, with corporate capital and state being the two most decisive mediators. The neoliberal state promotes corporate culture and ideology and withdraws from welfare provisions. However, though it has weakened, policymaking still remains in its ambit. Thus, corporate invests in influencing state actors and public opinion to get favourable policies, mainly with the help of mass media and corporate communicators.

The thesis also argues that there are multiple public spheres. The counter-public sphere, constitutive of small media platforms, questions the dominant political economy and the corporate-mediated public sphere. It makes the liberal state negotiate with alternative ideas, adopt strategic action under pressure, and also find newer deceptive tools. Alternative discourse, meanwhile, struggles to survive in the highly marketised and mediated public sphere.


Bhupen Singh

Defended in

1 Jan 2022 – 30 Nov 2022

PhD defended at

Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University- New Delhi


Social Sciences




National politics