Does the broadcast sector need a separate regulator?

Functions of TRAI, MIB and ASCI should be merged to create one super regulator so that the sector reaches its true potential, say experts

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Oct 22, 2021 9:08 AM

The uncertainty created by the New Tariff Order (NTO) 2.0 has led to calls for having a separate and dedicated broadcasting sector regulator. The demand for a broadcasting regulator is not new, however, the Telecom Regulator Authority of India's (TRAI) micromanagement of broadcast tariff has led to renewed calls for creating a dedicated regulator for the industry.

The ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) is the nodal ministry and looks into content. TRAI looks after the carriage part of the sector by fixing tariff and framing regulations. The broadcasters also have to comply with Advertising Standards Council of India's (ASCI) guidelines.

“There should be a dedicated regulator for the broadcasting sector, as was envisaged when the Broadcast Content Code was supposed to come out in the 90s, but that finally didn't go through. The nuances of broadcasting are very different from telecom. There should be a separate and distinct regulator for broadcasting who understands the broadcasting sector. The TRAI does not understand the broadcasting sector. Over a period of time, they would have acquired the knowledge that is required for the broadcasting sector. Unfortunately, that knowledge is not being utilised adequately. Even now when tariff orders come out there is absolutely no input whatsoever from an economic standpoint. There is no learning that the TRAI is exercising. They are just randomly framing tariff order and regulations,” says TMT Law Practice Managing Partner Abhishek Malhotra.

According to him, the TRAI has messed up the sector through its micromanagement of tariff. “When you apply principles of Interconnect which were valid for telecommunications sector and even assuming that they are valid for the broadcasting sector, they need to have a separate application. They came out with a tariff order in 2004 because of a knee-jerk reaction as they were suddenly thrust upon with a responsibility, but over a period of time, you ought to have some learnings from it. But they kept fixing a rate and then subjecting it to inflationary increases. The real exercise that was carried out to ascertain what should an MRP be was in 2017. There, too, they just randomly fixed the MRP cap at Rs 19. Why and what is the basis of Rs 19? Didn't they have a data to figure out as to why it should be Rs 19?”

A senior legal officer with a leading broadcasting firm said that a super-regulator for broadcasting is the need of the hour. “Broadcasting sector is heavily regulated by multiple bodies like MIB for content, TRAI for carriage, and ASCI for advertisements. There is a need to merge all of these functions and create one super-regulator for broadcasting. The broadcasting sector is suffering because MIB's vision doesn't coincide with the TRAI's vision. TRAI has always been an overzealous regulator and that has proved detrimental for the entire ecosystem,” the officer said.
A senior executive with a broadcasting company said that the TRAI and TDSAT need more members who understand broadcasting. He also said that the TRAI behaves more like a telecom regulator rather than a broadcasting regulator.

“The need of the hour to save the broadcasting industry is to either create a separate regulatory body with a focus on copyright and IP proration or amend the TRAI act to recruit members with knowledge of the broadcasting sector. TRAI has two full-time members, two part-time members and a Chairman. Why can't you have a member from broadcasting side? Similarly, TDSAT is a tribunal with a retired judge as the Chairperson and two members. How come both the members are from telecom?” the executive asserted.
A veteran media professional said that the TRAI is an accidental regulator for the broadcasting sector. It was roped in as a stopgap arrangement to clear the mess created due to the shoddy implementation of the Conditional Access System (CAS). He also said that the TRAI was given this responsibility until a proper broadcast regulator was created.

“TRAI was given the task to manage broadcast tariff by the Delhi HC for temporarily managing the debacle which CAS had turned into. The MSO Alliance had gone to Delhi HC saying that broadcasters are not cooperating in the roll-out of CAS. The Delhi HC did not know who would be able to oversee an activity like this, and as a stopgap arrangement the only regulator that was available which knew something about technology and content was TRAI,” the media veteran said.

TRAI started getting its teeth into broadcasting regulation after the Broadcast Regulation Bill didn't go anywhere due to opposition from the broadcasters. “In those days, TRAI Chairman Pradip Baijal had said that the authority will regulate with a light-touch. He had also stated that once there is competition for last-mile, the regulator's job will be limited because pricing will be determined by market forces,” the person said.

He also stated that the TRAI has failed in its duty to protect consumer interest, and the mess created by NTO 2.0 is a testament to this fact. “Ever since it became the regulator for broadcasting sector, the TRAI has failed in its duty to protect the consumers. There is no case for price regulation when the government is deregulating prices in other sectors like petrol, diesel etc. Broadcasting is a far more competitive market than telecom, with multiple players. The TRAI should follow light-touch regulation. The only concern they should have is how much are consumers paying for what they want to watch.”

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