TV, print & radio companies oppose cross-media restrictions by government

IBDF, NBDA, INS, and AROI made comments in response to TRAI’s consultation paper on media ownership following a reference from the MIB

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Published: Jul 4, 2022 8:45 AM  | 7 min read

The Indian Broadcasting and Digital Foundation (IBDF), News Broadcasters and Digital Association (NBDA), Indian Newspaper Society (INS), and Association of Radio Operators for India (AROI) have unequivocally stated that there is no need for monitoring cross-media ownership and control as there is enough competition in the Indian media & entertainment (M&E) sector.

The IBDF, NBDA, INS, and AROI, who represent TV broadcasting, print media, and FM radio companies, have also said that there is no requirement for a common mechanism to monitor ownership of print, television, radio, or other Internet-based news media.

The industry bodies made these comments in response to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's (TRAI) consultation paper on media ownership following a reference from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB).

The TRAI had sought comments/views of the stakeholders on the need, nature, and level of safeguards with respect to horizontal & vertical integration in the broadcasting and distribution sectors and cross-holdings across various media sectors.

Enough plurality in the Indian M&E market

In its submission, the IBDF asserted that there is no need for monitoring cross-media ownership and control as a plurality of options exist for the consumer today. In fact, the plurality of content options has only increased since 2014, with new media and new vehicles within each media, it added.

Citing industry and TRAI reports, the industry bodies have highlighted that there are 909 TV channels, 386 private FM radio stations, 1,46,756 registered publications, over 40 digital content platforms in India, and 2100+ digital news platforms (apart from news on traditional media).

The presence of so many TV channels, newspapers, radio stations, and digital platforms ensures that there is enough choice for the consumers in the marketplace, the IBDF averred.

It also pointed out that the consumption patterns of content have changed since 2014 with TV reaching 892 million viewers, internet (500 million), print (407 million - IRS 2019), and radio (226 million - IRS 2019). This, the IBDF said, indicates that content consumption happens across mediums.

"As there (i) is an increase in plurality; (ii) change in consumption patterns and access of content to consumers across pipes and platforms; and (iii) are regulations in the existing legal framework which have controls on ownership, there is no need to monitor cross-media ownership further," the IBDF submitted.

Cross-media holding allows cross-subsidisation

The NBDA commented that the TRAI’s statutory and jurisdictional powers in conducting such a consultation that also impacts media segments other than broadcasting services are beyond the authority of TRAI.

It also termed the proposed restraint on cross-media holdings an attempt to regulate the business activities and freedom of speech and expression of the media, which would violate the constitutional rights of the media to disseminate information and will also affect the fundamental rights of all citizens to receive information under Article 19(1)(a).

"That in India, there is no reason to impose any restrictions/regulations on cross-media ownership, since media pluralism has not in any way been affected by any cross-media ownership of media entities. In fact, media pluralism is on the increase with the advent of new technologies," the NBDA contended.

The NBDA suggested that private radio stations should be permitted to create their own news content and be allowed to broadcast it in order to promote a plurality of views. It also stated that cross-media holdings allow cross-subsidizing for entities and bring in synergies between different arms of media entities that also allow them to operate in a free and democratic environment and not fall prey to solely commercial business objectives.

INS seeks protection against abuse of dominant position by tech cos

The INS reiterated that there is no need to monitor cross-media ownership and control for horizontally integrated Media whether conventional TV, Print, Radio, or Digital Media. It also urged the TRAI that media companies must be protected against the abuse of dominance by big tech as well as vertically integrated telcos and/or those telcos who own broadcasting assets whether in content or carriage.

It submitted that media companies must be allowed horizontal integration so that they can survive by owning different forms of Media like Newspapers, TV, Digital, and Radio as at present, most of which are in decline. Further, digital media companies must be protected against BigTech monopolies and abuse of dominance by them and digital media publishers must be protected against any abuse of dominance by owners of the distribution pipe;

"New age tech companies like Google including Google search & YouTube and Facebook including Instagram & WhatsApp control majority of market revenue share through their monopolistic power & stronghold in the supply chain. They use traditional Media houses' trustworthy content to distribute on their platforms without sharing adequate revenue with publishers. Indirectly, they are controlling and dictating traditional Media houses to follow their rules for content distribution & revenue," the INS elaborated.

AROI wants an extension of the 20% vertical integration cap for telcos

The AROI noted that cross-media curbs are a product of a bygone era and are being rolled back in the few countries with remnants. According to the AROI, any regressive policy controlling media ownership would have a negative effect on the media space in the country and not only take away the gains made by the industry in recent decades but would also result in de-growth and contraction of the industry.

It suggested extending the 20% vertical integration equity cap in broadcasting content/carriage to telcos as well, whereby a telecom operator would not be allowed to hold/own more than 20% of the total paid-up equity in a content company and vice versa, and will also not be allowed to hold/own more than 20% of the total equity share in any other kind of media distribution platforms like cable network companies and vice versa.

"Telcos are today one of the biggest distributors of content, data, and information in every form which has become a major activity and source of revenue. Their ownership of the content for different platforms as well as all parts of the broadcast media value chain from content to carriage raises hard questions on both dominance as well as possible abuse of dominance," the AROI noted.

It also pointed out that there are no regulations at present to put a check on such vertical integration by telcos and it is vital that TRAI look at this challenge that poses a serious threat to the media broadcasting segment.

No need for a common mechanism for monitoring media ownership

The four industry bodies have also submitted that there is a need for a common mechanism to monitor ownership of Print, Television, Radio, or other Internet-based news Media as there are already sufficient existing legal checks and balances

According to the IBDF, the industry is already operating under well-established grievance redressal and self-regulatory mechanisms through the BCCC, DMCRC, NBSA, and ASCI.

NBDA said that there are enough Authorities/Bodies like the Competition Commission of India (CCI) and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) and regulations to monitor ownership of print, TV, radio, or other internet-based news media.

INS noted that there is no vacuum in the legal regulation of Indian news Media and that robust laws exist to ensure plurality of views following low concentration of ownership, and that the system also has a robust appellate mechanism as well.

AROI noted that there already exists robust self-regulation mechanisms across the media sector relating to the content. "The need of the hour is to strengthen and give more power to the self-regulatory bodies rather than to formulate additional layers of regulations on the media sector."

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