Industry divided on cross media ownership

Despite multiple media platform ownership by single families or business conglomerates, the industry cannot decide whether it is a boon or bane

e4m by Abid Hasan
Updated: Mar 13, 2013 7:59 PM
Industry divided on cross media ownership

The issue of cross media ownership is as old as India’s independence. The country has witnessed cross media ownership in the case of the Tatas, the Goenkas, and the Jains, among others. Some have initiated and carried it for a long period, while some stopped in between and some began expanding on to a wider platform in the last couple of years.

Despite cross media ownership being very much a part of the Indian media industry, the industry cannot decide whether it is a boon or bane.

Avijit Deb, Solicitor and Legal Adviser to the ABP Group remarked, “Media has grown over a period of time in the hands of some families. The only thing one has to do is to go to the Registrar of Newspapers for India and apply for a title, and once the title is approved, one can go ahead and print it.”

There has been tremendous growth in the industry in terms of newspaper publication, but today a paradigm shift in ownership can be seen. Today, it is not the families who have the reins in their hand, but a large chunk is riding on the back of internet, which includes social networking, online portal and so on.

“We need to look at it from a larger perspective,” said Hindol Sengupta, Senior Editor, Fortune India. He added, “What we understand in the media world today is changing very dramatically and we are beginning to ask very fundamental questions such as who generates content, who owns that content and how does that content move across the world, and what does content really mean.”

Sengupta further said, “These are fundamental questions whether or not a company owns multimedia platforms. But for me, the bigger question is – what exactly is media anymore?” He also called for a relook at what the industry meant by ‘media’ and ‘ownershi’.

Pulak Bagchi, Vice President, Legal and Authority, STAR India remarked, “When we look at media there are a few factors to it. These are content, pipeline and investment. For enabling differentiation for media as a whole, we need to recognise and synergise between these three variables. From an economic point of view, India has been regulated to some extent.”

Even as there is no common view on cross media ownership, there is no ambiguity as to the importance of media. Avnindra Mohan, President, Legal and Regulatory, Zee Network noted that there is a distinction between print and electronic media. He said, “It is an accepted fact that print media affects those who are literate, whereas electronic media affects all, that is why TV has become an integral part of everyone’s lives.”

According to Annurag Batra, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, exchange4media Group, the industry has seen convergence in terms of technology, advertisement and entertainment. “It is happening all the way and one need not to worry about ‘cartelisation’ of Indian media.”

Commenting on the consultation paper on cross media ownership released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), he said, “It is very theoretical. How will you pull back the ownership of companies? It won’t work.”

He maintained that what is worrisome is the business ownership of media companies.

Avijit Deb, Hindol Sengupta, Pulak Bagchi, Avnindra Mohan, and Annurag Batra were sharing their views on cross media ownership at a forum organised by Assocham in New Delhi on March 8, 2013.

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