The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released a consultation paper on media ownership.
The ministry of information and broadcasting, vide a letter dated May 2008 had sought TRAI's recommendations on the need for cross media and ownership restrictions in India for radio, broadcasting and print media, under Section 11(1)(a) (ii)and (iv) of the TRAI Act.
The paper highlights the need for cross media ownership, be it a limit to the number of channels per broadcaster, geographical reach, market share or how much of a television or radio channel a newspaper can own. It also focuses on the kind of restrictions on such ownership.
The objective of the exercise is to provide for ''competition, diversity and plurality of players, news and views.'' TRAI has, in the past, advised cross media ownership in individual segments; it is now undertaking a comprehensive exercise.
Government of India has provided for restrictions in ownership of companies seeking licenses, permissions, and / or registrations under various policy guidelines issued periodically for electronic media. For now, such restrictions are in place with respect to DTH services and Private FM radio.
TRAI has also, in the past, recommended similar restrictions in its various recommendations on private terrestrial TV, Headend-In-The-Sky (HITS) and Mobile TV. These have come at different times and stages of growth. Therefore there is a need to lay down a holistic and clear cut approach towards cross-media and ownership restrictions for the future growth of these sectors.
The Ministry has identified the issues that are to be deliberated more widely and deeply as:
- The need for cross media and ownership restrictions, and whether the existing laws are adequate to address the concerns or a separate legislation is needed.
- With more and more broadcasting and telecom companies entering into delivery of service, whether there should be restrictions on ownership of cable/DTH/IPTV/Mobile TV companies by broadcasting/telecom companies or vice-versa.
- Study the policy structure and restrictions in other parts of the world.
The ministry clarified that looking at the increasing trend of the print media entering the broadcasting sector, to examine the issue in its entirety, the Authority in the present context should also include print media while examining the need for any cross media restrictions vis-à-vis broadcast media.
Media ownership has been the subject of an intense debate and government review in both developed and developing countries around the world. Almost all of the developed democratic countries like US, UK, Canada, Australia, France etc. have restrictions on common and cross media ownership.
A number of these countries have recently reviewed the media ownership rules. The main concern is regarding having effective control/ownership of radio, TV and print media. A prevalent practice is to restrict the control to two out of the three media. Also there are restrictions in the broadcaster controlling the delivery services. The control is measured in terms of equity participation, geographical area (coverage), viewership / circulation, number of licenses etc.
The issue of cross media restrictions have been addressed in an inclusive manner in the consultation paper, covering broadcasting services, print media and other miscellaneous ownership within the fold of telecom, information and broadcasting.
Issues under consideration are:
- Cross media ownership across different segments of media such as print/ television/ radio (horizontal integration).
- Cross holding restrictions to prevent consolidation including 'vertical integration' within a media segment such as television or radio.
- Market share in the city/state/country within each media segment.
- Cross control/ownership across telecom and media segments.
The consultation paper gives a snapshot of the Indian media market giving the present scenario in the various sectors such as television, radio and print media, the extant policies and relevant recommendations.
The international scenario, giving the comparative policy structure with respect to similar restrictions in other countries like Australia, Canada, European Union, France, United Kingdom and United States has been provided. The media ownership rules and control, the methodologies to measure concentration and plurality and the specific issues for consultation are also discussed.
The TRAI has invited stakeholders to send their written comments on the issues raised in the paper, on or before 24th October 2008.