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Guest Column: TRAI recommendations: No cause for celebrations

18-August-2014
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Guest Column: TRAI recommendations: No cause for celebrations

The Minister of state for Information and Broadcasting, Prakash Javadekar is a man in hurry. By release of Telecom Regulatory Authority Of India (TRAI) recommendation on Cross Media Ownership, we have once gain been shown a dream.  One day this may find its own destiny.

Truth is that nothing has changed, the wheel of life continues. COMMISSIONS after COMMISSIONS after COMMISSION deliberate to give us  RECOMMENDATION pey  RECOMMENDATION pey RECOMMENDATION. Let’s not so early celebrate – it’s just the recommendations like many others in past.

Important to note at the end, it says ‘The Authority, therefore recommends that a commission, perhaps headed by a Supreme Court Judge, be set up to comprehensively examine the various issues relating to media, including their role and performance of various existing institutions, and the way forward.’

But, TRAI acknowledges the delay. ‘It’s been five years since the earlier recommendation on media ownership was made on 25th February 2009 and hence the new commission must be given clear time lines.’ 

The timing of recommendation points towards a simple truth, no one wanted to take action. And it remains to be seen if it is just a message to some industrialist. You need the will and the drive to make it happen, what has been proposed this time, unless executed through an executive order.

Presenting HERFINDAHL HIRSCHMAN INDEX (HHI), something cross media owners will have to watch. It recommends that they do not collectively cross 1000 HHI on any media front. To calculate it all sub media in that genre will be counted and monitored in a 2-year dynamic cycle.  Enough gaps for a anyone to sleepwalk. HHI is just the ‘sum of the squares of the market share’ of individual units of that entity in that media and is a reflection of market concentration. 

Now, the recommendations are on only Print & TV. Understood that Radio will be included when it starts carrying privately generated news, but being blind to impact of Internet is more myopic than surprising.  It’s a tough case.

For HHI calculation in TV GRP will be considered for market share measurement. In print just the circulation would define the share. ABC Zindabad. Heritage DAVP mentality prevails. I can see many media owners objecting to it and real time manipulation of circulation figures on the lower side being promoted. Oh by the way, it can only be implemented when there is an agreed measurement, which is miles away.

But, it does in some ways support a regional daily wanting to go national on TV and  national TV wanting to get local in print. You can do your own math. It is still open to interpretation of market (geographically) in terms of language and the state(s) in which that language is spoken in majority. Impact of this in Hindi media need to be considered. Not sure, weather this in true sense would promote consolidation or further fragmentation thus weakening media houses. 

Applaud TRAI’s dreams to be strict on paid news and advertising in exchange for favorable coverage or exclusive rights in exchange for favorable coverage.  Yet, it needs to be seen how it will be implemented and tracked. I can imagine the pages of a well-known title filled with disclaimers; printed in bold for paid news. Oh, we will find loopholes and trust me it will be misused to threaten many an honest publications.

Now here is something that comes with conditions applied; ‘to be seriously considered by the Government and the regulator’ – the subject of corporates owning or providing funds / loans to media, as it shows inherent conflict of interest.  Something does not seem to be going right for someone. Personally I believe there should not be any restriction. If ownership is misused, the audience (viewer / reader) discounts the content and things balance out. 

More than welcome is the restriction on political parties, religious bodies, Govt ministries, undertaking and other publically funded agencies and their surrogates in media ownership. Now this is for the news media only and for entities as a whole. It purposefully avoids stating stance on political person or a person of senior politician owning media in personal capacity.  If, it took  a strong stance , the story may be different.

Sincerely speaking, can TRAI first change its name to something that represents the wide roles it is expected to handle? Can we start with one recommendation implemented immediately; single regulatory body for TV and Print to become reality and as recommended predominately be manned by non-media people.

The author is Head Catalyst, P1P2Solutions.

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