TRAI set to regulate corporate control of media

Prashant Jha
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Restrictions on cross-media ownership in offing too

Rahul Khullar
Rahul Khullar

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.

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.”

  • All robust democracies have some restrictions on cross-media ownership: TRAI chairman

  • TRAI mooting to allow media house to have interests in any two of the three mediums only

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