TRAI Chairman Rahul Khullar’s statement on cross media ownership, made during an interview with The Hindu, has created a furore amongst media practitioners and publishers. Khullar had openly spoken about restricting cross media ownership. Experts cite that Khullar’s statement regarding confining ownership of multiple media platforms by one individual, proprietor or individual is inspired from the US, where the Government has stringent norms for cross media ownership.
Various media entities in India, such as Sun TV, Network18, Times Group, and so on, own multiple media platforms. Experts feel that such a decision is likely to hit such groups the most.
For the motion
Media analysts and experts who support Khullar’s point of view argue that in one jurisdiction, cross media ownership is lethal to the fundamental functioning of democracy. John Thomas, former Editor, Vijay Times, Bangalore remarked, “Khullar’s view on cross media ownership is apt and I fully support it. In one jurisdiction, if the entire media diaspora is owned by one group, it results in monopoly of news decapitation and curtailment of free opinion. There is also a possibility that the agenda of the owner or its parent body gets more weightage in distribution or reception of news. It already happens in many parts of the country. This should be definitely stopped.”
Agreeing with this view, Amin Shekhar, an independent media analyst, also said, “Cross media ownership is not good for the health of the democracy. A lot of channels and newspapers are already controlled by politicians and corporates. They have a huge control over distribution networks, which further influences their effect and influence over perceptions in the society. Khullar is absolutely right over the issue. This has been a long pending demand and should be put in action now.”
Industry experts also mentioned the fact that a lot of voices would be raised against this wish in the name of freedom of speech and egalitarian society. But the main reason for many publishers and media owners is the loss of ad revenue that they would face in case such a wish transforms into a norm. A lot of umbrella networks are already in place in the country today. But experts feel that media ownership should be confined to one jurisdiction only. If an individual owns a newspaper in one jurisdiction, he should not be allowed to own a TV channel or a radio station in the same jurisdiction. However, the individual can own a channel in other jurisdiction. They feel that media should not be treated like another profit generating business. Public stakes are high in such a scenario.
Some other industry experts also mentioned that apart from banning cross media ownership, there should be an angle of RTI that should be explored in this case. This means that all media houses should be brought under the ambit of RTI for the better and enlarged welfare of the masses. Experts feel that this would bring transparency in the system of information sourcing.
Against the motion
Meanwhile, another section of media experts feel that Khullar’s views are outdated. Not surprisingly, these experts belong to media houses which are already into cross media ownership. The Editor-in-Chief of a leading magazine, which is part of an umbrella network, on condition of anonymity stressed, “This viewpoint is wrongly placed. We are living in a free society and this also extends to the ownership of media. I don’t think it would be wise to control the ownership of media just on an assumption that the owners or the stakeholders try to promote their agenda through the platforms. I believe that this should best be left to market demands.”
According to the Editor, “News savvy audiences are intelligent and well read. They can easily differentiate what is black, grey and white. I think the correct and incorrect part here should be best left to the people and the masses and the society as a whole, rather than the Government on its part trying to act like a big brother. My simple question here is, aren’t Doordarshan and All India Radio Government-owned? Aren’t they fundamentally contradicting Khullar’s viewpoint?”
Some other experts also feel that US is a capitalist market and India should not try to imbibe their notion of media authority and work. A senior editor of one of the leading newspapers in the country, which is part of an umbrella network, sums it up by saying, “India is a mixed economy. We should leave the media alone and let self-regulation be the best way to curb it. In the long run, nobody can fool all the people all the time. People would eventually get to know what is being manufactured and what is original. Let the market forces be the best judge to interpret the media restrictions.”