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Others Stakeholders send their comments on media ownership to TRAI

Stakeholders send their comments on media ownership to TRAI

Author | Puneet Bedi Bahri and Pallavi Goorha | Friday, Nov 28,2008 6:21 AM

Stakeholders send their comments on media ownership to TRAI

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on September 23, 2008 issued a paper and had stressed on the need to lay down a holistic and clear cut approach towards cross-media and ownership restrictions for the future growth of these sectors. It had at the same time noted that there was no general policy on ownership and cross-media restrictions in the country as far as restrictions between print and electronic media were concerned. Comment from some of the stake holders have been received on November 27, 2008.

The Consultation Paper has been released at the instance of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, which had on May 22 asked TRAI to give its recommendations on the need for cross-media and ownership restrictions for radio, broadcasting and print media. Some of the comments of the stake holders are given below:

KVL Narayan Rao, NDTV, Group CEO, said, “As a principle we request that no restriction be imposed on cross media ownership as media projects involve long gestation periods, and large investments in untested territories. We at NDTV have consistently brought to the attention of the authority the problems of huge carriage fees being paid and often these carriage fees are paid by us to the companies who are vertically integrated with competitor’s broadcasters. We would request that appropriate safeguards be built in with respect to ownership by broadcasters of platform and vice-versa, and ensure non-discriminatory access to platforms.”

Mammen Mathew, Editor, Malyala Manorama group, said, “No restrictions should be imposed on concentration of control/ownership across media. Any such restriction would be against interest of this media sector and its growth. The need of the hour is consolidation because as the consultation paper mentions, consolidation offers significant benefits to media companies in terms of economies of scale, improved access to oversea capital, better news management, gathering, editing and disseminating technology.”

Network18 believes - That it is imperative that market-driven solutions for issues related to media ownership be actively pursued to ensure the continued progress of the industry and enable it to effectively compete in the global market. We do not believe that any restrictions should be imposed on cross-media control/ ownership across print, radio and television media since the current market environment ensures plurality of views and news. Introducing cross-media restrictions will only stifle the growth of the industry by having an adverse impact on investments in new services and technology. Media companies create and look at monetizing the same across different platforms and media. This allows them to leverage economies of scale and scope, defray costs, attract superior talent and access capital and other resources at attractive terms. In addition such restrictions will only make the regulatory environment needlessly complex and restrictive.

While Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) believes - many countries do have cross media restrictions. However, in such countries the print and electronic media had evolved over a long time whereas in our country the electronic media is still evolving, albeit at a very rapid pace, and in such early phase not only the business mechanisms have evolved within the television media but the television and print media have come together both for news content and economies of scale. There is no restriction in terms of percentage holding by broadcasting companies in the cable companies and IPTV, restriction on broadcasting companies holding up to 20 per cent in DTH makes the present policy lop - sided. Such territorial dominance is therefore almost completely inconceivable in the highly large, fragmented and pluralistic Indian media environment.

V. Shankar, Officiatiang secretary general, INS, said, “Looking at the increasing trend of the print media entering into broadcasting sector and in order to lay down a holistic and clear cut approach towards cross-media and ownership restrictions for the future growth of these sectors, in the present context, the TRAI Authority has been asked to include print media also, while examining the need for any cross media restrictions vis-à-vis broadcast media. We would like to submit that in our considered view there is no need and in fact any talk of cross media ownership restrictions/rules/regulations is ill conceived, out of place and premature. No purpose is going to be served by introducing any such rules/regulations.”

Annie Joseph, Secretary General, News Broadcasters Association, said, “As a matter of legal principle, business in India must be left free of governmental control, except where reasonable restrictions or regulations are absolutely necessary in public interest and in the interests of growth of the business itself. The NBA submits that this whole issue of cross-media control/ownership amounts to a restriction being placed upon dissemination of information by different means and using various technologies. It is the NBA’s submission that this ought not to be done since it amounts to controlling the technologies that a media company may use to disseminate news and information.

Moreover, since there is no real or demonstrable abuse of a dominant position by any entity, no restrictions are required to be imposed on cross-media control/ownership. In any case, as we have said above, no monopolies exist or are likely to arise in the media business. It is also evident to any objective observer that in India there is an abundance and plurality of views; and therefore, no such monopolistic situation exists.”

Comments of Star India Pvt Ltd- A quick fix on TRAI’s proposed final recommendations on cross-media ownership issues will not guarantee plurality or diversity nor will it be in “public interest”. An empirical study will tend to set the benchmarks and will help define an audiovisual policy which addresses the current needs of the Indian Media Industry and its consumer. This will need to include strategic connections and relativity between digital television policy, the inclusion of new and emerging media, a modern content regulation, the future role of public broadcasting, clear-cut and exclusive regulator for the broadcasting media and further development of India’s indigenous and community media sectors. In order to initiate any meaningful discussion on the subject, there is a need to do more data and information collection to get a comprehensive view on the need or otherwise of any cross-media restrictions.

M. Vasudev Rao, General Manager-Legal and Company Secretary, Times Global Broadcasting Company Limited, TIMES NOW, said, “Putting restrictions on ownerships and cross media holding will not ensure plurality but will stifle growth. This step was required so as to ensure orderly growth and avoid creation of monopolies. But with the exponential growth of media, both in terms of content and delivery, no such apprehensions and dangers exist. Any restrictions sought to be imposed will also infringe upon freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under the Constitution. Any restriction on media ownership will also infringe upon the fundamental right of a citizen to pursue any business.”

G. Krishnan Executive Director & CEO, “There is no need for any restriction on cross-media ownership. Rather the need is to have a broader vision, more liberal approach to encourage spread of media and not to restrict its growth. India is not a one media market. India for instance has also govt. controlled media (Prasar Bharti- terrestrial TV), besides private players. Since Terrestrial TV in India (unlike in some parts of the world) is open only to DD/Government, there cannot be any cause for concern for any private channel to control any significant mindshare or any other bench mark for cross media control etc. No Indian TV channel rules the market in a dominant way. In India, even in the print media, the leading English News paper perhaps does not command even 5 per cent of the market share. The fear of major TV stations taking control of print, or vice-versa seems unfounded.”

Amitabh Kumar, Head of Broadcasting Functions for the Zee network in India and overseas, “The justification advanced for imposing cross media control/ownership is with ostensible motives to prevent the monopolies across different sections of the media as well as within the Broadcasting segment and to ensure diversity of news and views. However these restrictions/controls in effect would restrict the growth and development of the Broadcasting sector and media as a whole. The concern about plurality and diversity are misplaced. The Broadcasting sector in India is still at a nascent stage and has not reached at such a level so as to warrant the stipulation of ownership restrictions.”

Bennett Coleman and Company Limited - The reason why Print, TV and Radio categories of broadcasting did not fall under the ambit of Cross Media restrictions was because their viewership was scattered and fragmented. Hence, may we submit that the TRAI has failed to start with the basic premise: That Cross Media Restrictions arose in developed democracies because Print players went into Terrestrial TV, but in India, this is impossible, because for the last 60 years, Terrestrial TV has been the monopoly of state-owned Doordarshan. Further, short wave/medium wave radio is again wholly in the hands of All India Radio. Hence, the very logic of extending Cross-Media Restrictions to India dies out.”

Also read:

TRAI releases consultation paper on media ownership

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