TRAI holds talks with CCI to avoid regulatory overlap on cross-media ownership issue

The two regulators have already held one round of talks and want to iron out issues before CCI comes out with recommendations on media ownership

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Published: Sep 22, 2022 8:20 AM  | 4 min read

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has initiated a dialogue with the Competition Commission of India (CCI) to avoid regulatory overlaps on the issue of cross-media ownership.

The TRAI issued a consultation paper 'Issues relating to Media Ownership' back in April after receiving a reference from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB). It has received 29 comments and 10 counter comments on the consultation paper.

Industry bodies across TV, print, radio and digital segments have categorically stated that the TRAI doesn't have the jurisdiction to hold a consultation exercise on the issue of cross-media ownership.

"We are in talks with the CCI on the issue of cross-media ownership. We have already held one round of talks with the CCI. The two regulators are willing to work together to ensure there are no overlaps or regulatory gaps," TRAI Advisor (B&CS) Anil Kumar Bhardwaj told exchange4media.

Bhardwaj added that the TRAI wants to iron out issues with the CCI before it comes out with recommendations on media ownership. He also stated that the MIB should implement the TRAI recommendations in a time-bound manner since the media landscape is changing rapidly. 

A case in point is the recent recommendations issued by the TRAI on cable monopoly. The MIB had asked TRAI to relook at its 2013 recommendations since a lot of time has elapsed and the market has undergone a lot of changes due to the emergence of 4G, broadband, and over-the-top (OTT) platforms.
In 2013, the TRAI recommended that there is a need to impose a 50% cap on the market share that a cable company can own at the state level. However, in its fresh recommendations recently, the TRAI suggested that there is no reason to impose any restrictions on the cable TV market.

Bhardwaj noted that the TRAI recommendations reflect the prevailing market reality. "We didn't see any need to impose any restrictions in the cable market since there is enough level playing field," he added.

The Indian Broadcasting and Digital Foundation (IBDF) has submitted that the present exercise should have been restricted only to matters related to broadcasting services as envisaged in the TRAI Act 1997.

It further stated that the CCI has been designated as the subject matter regulator to regulate, investigate and act upon any anti-competitive activity across sectors. It added that the competition watchdog has already examined and evaluated multiple matters relating to ownership and competition in the media sector. It also averred that the current regulatory regime is adequate to address all anti-competitive issues.

The News Broadcasters and Digital Association (NBDA) noted that the TRAI doesn't have the statutory and jurisdictional powers in conducting a consultative exercise that impacts mediums other than broadcasting. It added that the issue of cross-media ownership is beyond its regulatory purview.

The Indian Newspaper Society (INS) submitted that the print media is outside the purview of the TRAI Act 1997. "We wish to reiterate our stand communicated to you earlier that the Print Media is not to be included within the scope and ambit of the Telecom Regulatory Authorities of India Act, 1997."

The newspaper body also stated that there are well-functioning entities like CCI and the Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) that regulate all aspects of relevant activity in the country. "Hence, introducing further regulatory oversight or a new regulatory oversight body will only lead to instances of overlap of jurisdiction with the existing regulators, impinging upon the ease of doing business," it added.

The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) said that there are already many agencies, authorities, and ministries regulating different aspects of ownership and other issues of media entities such as CCI, SEBI for listed media companies, Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), Foreign Investment Promotion Board (under Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance), MIB, Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY), National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) and National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT).

The Association of Radio Operators for India (AROI) said regulators such as SEBI, DPIIT, and NCLT/NCLAT have sufficient powers under respective statutes to oversee and regulate M&A deals across sectors. "It is our view that there exists viewpoint plurality and healthy competition in the Indian media sector and hence there is no need to impose additional restrictions on M&A in media to achieve this objective."

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