There is a comprehensive list of key recommendations made by TRAI on issues relating to media ownership ranging from cross-media ownership to vertical integration amongst media entities to issues affecting internal plurality and finally to paid news. In the course of this article, I will comment on the subjects of internal plurality and paid news.
1. Political and religious bodies and other public funded bodies to be barred from entry into broadcasting and TV channel distribution sectors: It has a huge intent, but one needs to see how it can be implemented as surrogates/ followers always are difficult to identify and often can be passed on as different entities. I am curious to know what TRAI feels about involvement of religious and political bodies in running newspapers across the country. However, the recommendations also include surrogates to be barred.
2. Arm’s length relationship between Prasar Bharati and the Government: Very critical for PB to be independent and autonomous without interference from the Government. But is it easy? Not all. Ask Air India.
3. Point 16 talks in detail about the conflict of interest arising from “private treaties”. The recommendation goes into details of covering all kind of treaties, including ads against equity and ads against edit coverage. I think it’s relevant as the basis of news media is to carry impartial news and any kind of tacit understanding with an advertiser to carry favourable news against ads should immediately be stopped. News and business media have a great role in shaping up public opinion and such blatant violation can be dangerous to the society at large. And how can you be unbiased about an organisation, whose shares you own?
4. The use of advertorial messaging has been touched upon and it has been clearly stated that liability is shared by both parties if “paid news” has been passed off as news. The situation is so alarming today that we all (both print and broadcast media) must take this issue very seriously and introduce strict internal policies not to deviate.
5. Point 21 also suggests the composition of the “media regulator”. While it clearly says that the Government shouldn’t regulate the media, it also says there should be a single regulator for TV and print media. The role of the media regulator will be huge and will entertain complaints on paid news, treaties and editorial independence. However, I have doubts if eminent “non-media” persons will be best choice to man the regulating body, as it is suggested. I think ASCI does a commendable job by being within the industry. Also, one needs to know a little more about how TRAI can suggest a fair and transparent appointment of the regulating body.
Summing up, there is a lot of detailed work that has gone into these recommendations by TRAI. And many look reasonably sound.
The author is President and Publisher, Chitralekha Group.