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Updated: June 19, 2013 10:56 IST

TRAI set to regulate corporate control of media

Prashant Jha
Comment (12)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
File photo of TRAI chairman Rahul Khullar. The broadcast regulator is planning to restrict cross-media ownership.
The Hindu
File photo of TRAI chairman Rahul Khullar. The broadcast regulator is planning to restrict cross-media ownership.

Restrictions on cross-media ownership in offing too

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is all set to recommend the creation of an ‘institutional buffer between corporate owners and newspaper management’ to the government. TRAI, which is also the regulator for the broadcasting industry, will also suggest ways to restrict cross-media ownership in line with practices in ‘most other established democracies.’

TRAI chairman Rahul Khullar told The Hindu his recommendations would be based on the principle that corporate ownership of media must be separated from editorial management, as “the media serves public interest”.

Mr. Khullar said he had no problem with corporates investing in or owning media houses for profits. “But the problem arises when the corporate wants to abuse the media it controls to project a coloured point of view for vested interests. There is conflict of interest here.”

Mr. Khullar plans to recommend a special organisational structure in which the corporate owner — who may have multifarious business interests — would have only a financial interest in the company, restricted to owning of shares. The editorial operations would be done under a different structure where the corporate owner would have little say.

TRAI has earlier flagged the issue of a “growing number of undesirables, including builders and politicians” acquiring media interests. Mr. Khullar pointed out that even Vice President Hamid Ansari had spoken out about the “paid news menace” recently.

“The idea is to create an institutionalised buffer between the corporate owner and newspaper management to ensure the independence of TV channels and the print media to articulate impartial, free and fair editorial policy,” said Mr. Khullar. He, however, admitted that the process was still “in the works”. The “creative challenge” for TRAI was evolving the precise design.

Recommendations on corporate control will form a part of TRAI’s suggestions to the government on cross-media ownership. In a consultation paper on the issue, the authority also flagged the issue of certain media houses having interests in all forms — television, print, and radio — which led to “horizontal integration,” and asked whether there ought to be restrictions.

Mr. Khullar categorically rejected objections from media houses that any such restriction would violate the right to freedom of speech under Article 19 of the Constitution: “All robust democracies have some restrictions on cross-media ownership. This is absolutely necessary to maintain the plurality and diversity of media. Let us see what form it takes.”

TRAI is understood to be contemplating a “two out of three rule”, whereby a media house could have interests in two of three mediums among print, TV or radio. But no decision has been taken yet.

It plans to submit a report in eight to 10 weeks. Over the past few months, it has held open house discussions on the issue across the country, sought submissions on its consultation paper and spoken to stakeholders. It submitted a report on the issue in 2009. But since no action was taken and the situation had changed significantly, the government asked the regulator to come out with a fresh set of recommendations last year.

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@Vijay
The question of "prerogative" should arise only in the interpretation of a Reader's
Letter being considered "abusive/derogatory" or not, in order to be published in
the columns of newspapers (apart from constraints of space etc). Otherwise, letters would only be commending whatever is opined in the Editorials or news reported. All that I am saying is, owner's guidelines do exist on the stance to be taken by the editors regarding political views, as is obvious from the manner in which varying degrees of "prominence/bias" are being given in different newspapers as well as by the anchors in TV debates. Inevitably, it has its fallout in the publication of "Letters to Editors" as well.

from:  KS Raghunathan
Posted on: Jun 19, 2013 at 18:39 IST

@K.S.Ranganathan ,
Publishing letters to the editor or any news item in the news paper is the prerogative of the concerned editor and no motives can be attributed if contrary to the views of the reader ,the editor acts .

from:  Vijay
Posted on: Jun 19, 2013 at 14:06 IST

I think, the idea to insulate the newspaper management (TV channels and print
media) from its corporate owners is a good one, but would remain in theory only,
unless the latter as a matter of policy do not interfere in the working of the former.
The crux of the matter is the personnel responsible for "news" are paid employees
of the owners and invariably carry their political flavor, though this flavor may
change from time to time. This is the reason why often "Letters to Editors" are not
published in some newspapers, even when they are not abusive or derogatory. The
other side of the story is in "paid news". If it "exists", this is managed with ease by
corporate owners with its amenable journalists. Otherwise, it would be free for all,
with the owners becoming silent spectators. Besides,in era of globalization and
open market philosophy, every activity is business oriented. Why would any
corporate body venture in journalism, if he has no say in what is going on in
balance sheet ?

from:  KS Raghunathan
Posted on: Jun 19, 2013 at 13:44 IST

With great power comes greater responsbility. Media is in an enviable position of forming and influencing opinions. Through unbiased and fact based reporting they do a great service to the nation and society. However, when they start coloring the facts with their views, they have the potential of creating mischief. Already there have been various issues which have arisen in the recent past:

1. Menace of paid advertisements (especially during elections)
2. Blackmailing by TV channels (in case of a mining company)
3. Biased reporting of issues

In my opinion, while media has the fundamental right to free speech, it is bound by a fundamental duty of serving the interests of public at large. Sadly, corporate pressures and competition stand in the way of this. It is therefore essential that some regulation must be effected on the holding structure of corporates and control of editorial activities. However, it must not lead to stifling of voice of the press. Balance must be maintained.

from:  Gaurav
Posted on: Jun 19, 2013 at 12:47 IST

The most recent media like Internet and mobile platforms must also be considered. Also, what if an editorial team owns a media house, such as Pranoy Roy's NDTV or Rajdeep Sardesai's IBN?

from:  Sajith N
Posted on: Jun 19, 2013 at 12:45 IST

What about the political control of media? I think that is much more
rampant than the corporate control of the media.

from:  Arjun
Posted on: Jun 19, 2013 at 12:31 IST

Venktaramanaiah, though you have made a pertinent point, it is not always the case. The discerning audience you mention about are but a small section. In the interest of wider public, this needs to be monitored. Moreover, we might not be aware of the full rot of the system. Until P. Sainath came up, paid news was never paid any attention. What we know could be the tip of the iceberg and hopefully TRAI can find the entire truth and cleanse the system in the interest of public.

from:  Venkat
Posted on: Jun 19, 2013 at 12:29 IST

TRAI's recommendations to put an ‘institutional buffer between corporate
owners and newspaper management’ and to restrict cross-media ownership are
excellent ideas and should be supported to maintain the independence,
plurality and diversity of media in India.

Let us hope these measures lead to a more "free, fair and independent"
press in India - essential to preserving and strengthening a fair, just
and democratic society in India.

from:  D Mahapatra
Posted on: Jun 19, 2013 at 12:27 IST

Looks like we are finally going to have some much needed restrictions on cross-media ownership in a world dominated by media conglomerates. Hope to have more plurality in terms of opinions and content.

from:  Urvi Arora
Posted on: Jun 19, 2013 at 11:57 IST

Welcome The Hindu. This app is excellent. If the color of the font is in black it will be easier to read.
I also miss the crossword. Why can't it be here? !

from:  Gopinath
Posted on: Jun 19, 2013 at 08:33 IST

It's a welcome move! Media is the mirror of the society and hence, the
news has to be free from any sort of fabrication. Media houses are
getting increasingly biased towards a certain political parties which is
indeed alarming. TRAI's initiative would be a good step towards neutral
media.

from:  Jagatjit Sahu
Posted on: Jun 19, 2013 at 08:10 IST

The apprehensions of the chairman, TRAI appears to be slightly on the
higher side of the reality on the issue. In India, the situation is not
so alarming that the readers would get biased on what the print/visual
media just puts in. People view not only one print or visual media and by
and large habituated to view more newspapers, view more no. of TV
channels, in such a situation,the views projected by one newspaper or one
TV channel is not going to make so big an impact that it would change
anything.Even if a buffer is created, question arises as to under whom
the buffer would work technically and under whose management it would
perform etc., If still TRAI has any apprehensions, it could create a
monitoring cell within itself and pull up the concerned editorial board
of that media for the content if any is found to be objectionalble or
found to be projecting/propagating the corporates's view on any subject
etc.,

from:  venktaramanaiah rami
Posted on: Jun 19, 2013 at 07:50 IST
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