The issue of cross-media restriction is back in focus. With media platforms, services and players showing tremendous growth, the government is in a mood to set the ball rolling on ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of ownership patterns. But, it wants to check out the international models first. The latest government initiative is a survey on cross-media restrictions across the world. The information and broadcasting ministry is in the process of getting the study conducted, according to sources.
The Broadcasting Bill 1997, which was drafted by I&B minister S Jaipal Reddy in his previous tenure, but was not enacted, had a clause on cross-media restrictions. It had provisions to check broadcasters from becoming cable operators and vice versa, for instance.
Restrictions in the bill were meant to prevent accumulation of interest in licenced services.
It stated: “A person will be allowed to hold licences in only one of the following services — terrestrial radio broadcasting, terrestrial television broadcasting, satellite television, radio broadcasting, direct-to-home broadcasting, local delivery services and any other category of services which may be notified by the government.” Also, it had said no proprietor of a newspaper would either be a participant with more than 20 per cent interest in or control a body corporate which was the holder of a licence to provide a licenced service under this Act.
As for international models, in the US, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently revised its limits for broadcast ownership. The Commission raised the national television ownership limit from 35 per cent to 45 per cent; revised the local television multiple ownership rule and the definition of local radio market.
In the UK also, changes are likely in cross-media ownership rules. An extension of the ‘3-plus the BBC rule’ is being recommended. The current rule requires that in any locality there should be a minimum of three owners of local commercial services, plus the BBC. But, extending this principle to cross-media ownership would mean that a national newspaper or national TV channel should be allowed to own only one independent national radio (INR) station. Thus allowing two other INRs in separate ownership, plus the BBC. That’s only one of the recommendations of Richard Hooper, Chair of the Radio Authority.
Under these regulations, a person must not control television broadcasting licences whose combined licence area exceeds 75 per cent of the Australian population. A person must not be in a position to control more than two radio licences in the same licence area.
There are also limits on multiple directorships of both television and radio. The laws prevent one organisation from owning newspapers, television and radio broadcasting licences that serve the same region.