In a radical set of recommendations that could change the way India’s media is organised and run, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Tuesday recommended that an entity that holds a 32% market share in both the print and electronic platforms must either exit from one of the mediums or reduce its stake to 20%. The 32% market share relates to a geographical area as also to languages.
For instance, if a television channel and a newspaper owned by the same group in say, West Bengal command a 32 % market share each, the group would need to reduce its stake in one of the two mediums, say the TV channel. A similar logic would apply to publications and channels across languages.
The 32% market share number has been arrived at by using the HHI Index of concentration of market power, Trai chairman Rahul Khullar explained. Any merger and acquisition would also be governed by the caps.
Trai has also recommended a ban on political parties and other public-funded bodies from owning TV channels and distribution platforms.
The broadcast regulator feels corporate ownership, as also loans and financial assistance to news media organisations, should be limited and that ensuring editorial independence should be ensured by creating a media regulator to be predominantly manned by eminent non-media persons.
It has said that under no circumstances should the government regulate the media.
Khullar said the recommendations are aimed at “curbing unhealthy media practices”. The recommendations will become law after the government’s acceptance and subsequent notification.
The suggested restrictions on cross-media ownership — where an entity owns a TV news channel as well as a newspaper and has dominant market share by way of viewership and circulation in various geographical markets and languages will be debated extensively since there are media houses that have a presence across platforms.
Ravi Dhariwal, CEO of Bennett, Coleman and Aroon Purie, chairman, Living Media Group, refused to comment on Trai’s recommendations. Both these groups are present in the TV as well as newspaper businesses.
TV and print would be considered as the relevant segments in the product market; only daily newspapers — business and financial — will be taken into account. Once private radio channels are allowed to air news generated on their own and become significant in the relevant market, a review of the cross-media ownership rules should be undertaken, Trai said.
On the issue of corporate ownership of media organisation, Trai has said that on grounds of inherent conflict of interest, ownership restrictions on corporates entering the media should be seriously considered by the government and the regulator. It has suggested the same by restricting the amount of equity holding a corporate can have in a media organisation or the extent of loan it can extend.
Coming down heavily on practices such as “private treaties”, Trai has said it should be proscribed immediately through orders of the Press Council of India or through statutory rules and regulations.
On “paid news”, it has said that both media organisation and persons like an MP or MLA paying for favourable news should be held liable and not only the politician. It also recommended that in case of “advertorials”, a clear disclaimer should be mandated, to be printed in bold letters, stating that the succeeding content has been paid for.
It has also said that media organisation must disclose to the licensor and regulator their top 10 advertisers, subscription and advertisement revenue, and advertising rates.
fe Bureau | The Financial Express