The Minister of Finance, Corporate Affairs and Information and Broadcasting (I&B), Arun Jaitley, said his government was not in favour of a cap on advertising for TV or print media.
Speaking on the ‘Freedom and Responsibility of Media’ at the first Justice JS Verma Memorial Lecture in New Delhi on Sunday, Jaitley spoke against the 12-minute-an-hour cap on advertising stipulated for TV news channels by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
The issue has been giving a nightmare to broadcasters for the past three years. TRAI took it seriously and imposed on all channels. News channels challenged it in the court. The next hearing on the issue is on January 21.
The minister said how such a cap fit with article 19(1)A of the Constitution that guarantees the freedom of press. “My ministry, a couple of years ago, came out with a statutory law that no channel would telecast advertisements beyond so many minutes. I have been struggling, in my own mind, since then as to how this meets the challenge of Article 19(1)A," he said.
The minister supported the freedom of media by saying that the government should not decide about the news and ad, the viewers can suggest better on it. Jaitley said, "Is the government supposed to tell newspapers and channels on how much advertisement and how much news. If viewers or readers find it monotonous, they have the power to switch on to something else. Government getting into the business of how much news and how much ads is a bad precedent to lay down."
Media reports suggested that Jaitley also batted for increasing FDI in media from the current cap of 26 per cent, saying that when foreign newspapers were anyway available online in India, there was no point opposing the move. He said, "The debate over whether foreign media should be allowed to establish in the country and the extent of foreign equity has been made irrelevant by technology. Today, sitting here, I can access any newspaper in the world on the internet."
The minister also flagged the issue of financial pressure on media, affecting the quality of news and, in turn, its credibility. "Because of this, media houses spend less on news collection, hire less reporters who are not paid well. All this affects the quality," said Jaitley.
He stressed on the challenge posed by digital media to the traditional forms of news dissemination and pointed out how newspapers and magazines abroad were shutting down in favour of digital platforms. He, however, said the revenue model for digital media was not clear and was still evolving.
The minister also raised the issue of cross-media ownership. "Most jurisdictions world over ban cross-holdings in media. Can all mediums be vested with one person? How is the larger public interest going to be impacted by this? It should be debated," Jaitley said.