Should TRAI regulate the broadcasting industry?

TRAI & the broadcasters have been at loggerheads as the latter considers TRAI’s regulations archaic. The industry should be regulated by market forces, say experts

e4m by Abhinav Trivedi
Updated: Apr 2, 2013 7:45 PM
Should TRAI regulate the broadcasting industry?

Recent controversy between Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and the broadcasters has opened a can of worms. TRAI imposed a 10+2 cap per hour advertising limit, which did not go well with the broadcasters.

Industry experts and broadcasters have long been arguing that the industry should be self regulated. Sample this: Governed by Cable Television and Network Rules 1994, a norm of the advertising code says that “all advertisements should be clearly distinguishable from the programme and should not in any manner interfere with the programme viz. use of lower part of screen to carry captions, static or moving alongside the programme”. The norm has been violated since the day it has been incepted as the broadcasters feel that it is not practical.

This brings us to a pertinent question. Should television be regulated in terms of creativity through TRAI, just on the fact that the platform involves signals and transmission?

Arvind Sharma of Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) shared, “As long as the entertainment industry is regulated, things will only get worse. I believe there is no need for this industry to be regulated by TRAI.” He further added, “Entertainment industry should be regulated and modified by the market forces. The media and entertainment sector is much as like other sectors. Such regulation notices not only curb revenue models but also hamper the growth of the channel. When newspaper advertisements are not regulated in terms of quantity, why this regulation should apply in broadcast media? There should be no regulation like such.”

Pertinently the entertainment and the media is a sector that caters to the secondary needs of the human being: information and entertainment. The broadcasting industry came under the ambit of TRAI in the year 2004, when it was observed that broadcasting involves transmission of signal which was controlled by the telecom regulator. Industry experts allege that the regulator has been since governing the industry through archaic and irrational reformative structures.

“Free competitive spirit within the media should define what will be the advertisement time duration or style of advertisements in any particular channel or programme. If TRAI wants to render services in this arena, instead of focussing on controlling the duration and type/style of the advertisements, it can let the channels offer the templates that work best. Also the viewer is evolving and is becoming a discerning customer, as earlier claimed in the consultation paper itself. With fragmentation and freedom in the media, the channels also may further evolve over a period of time,” said Bharat Patel, Immediate Former Chairman and current Member of the Executive Council of the Indian Society of Advertising (ISA). He further added, “TRAI should refrain from bringing in new regulations to restrict advertising time whose need is not established by either research or public good. In the best interest of all, such regulation with cap of 12 minutes should not be instituted at all.”

Ashok Shekhar, an independent media pundit stated, “Government regulators seem to live in oblivion. I am not against regulation but media regulation should be best left to the market forces, and not a Government authority. Media and entertainment is about creativity, spontaneousness, rationality, out of the box thinking, and consistent change. The Government regulators are firstly too slow and operate in a different environment all together. There regulation of the sector seems like governing today’s organisation with an approach of the 80s.”

He substantiated his theory by mentioning that such regulations should be imposed post digitisation. “Thinking consumer benefit does not mean that you squeeze the broadcaster,” said Shekhar.

Media analysts feel that if print media is not regulated through TRAI, why should broadcast be? They feel that content cannot be regulated by the telecom regulator and this should best be left to a creative regulator which should govern all the platforms of media simultaneously. Shekhar said, “If the regulator feels that there is a violation of advertising code, then they should first put the revenue models in place. They are too slow in that. You have to see the other side as well while framing such regulations. The self regulation model is the best way to govern this. Content regulation has been doing well, and so would advertising regulations. The industry needs to buy some time.”

As Sharma of AAAI mentioned, entertainment should best be left to the market forces and not a regulator. The time has come for I&B Ministry to intervene and think of a completely different approach.

TRAI could not be reached at the time of filing the report.

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