The telecom and broadcast regulator will soon issue guidelines on how the extent of politicians’ links with some media houses could be toned down, as well as measures that should be taken to create a firewall between corporate investment in media and their editorial departments. The guidelines will also include the issue of paid news.
These are part of the recommendations on cross holdings in media that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) will send to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
“We are not suggesting any government intervention, but there should be some accountability mechanism to ensure these relations are kept at an arm’s length,” said a government source.
The TRAI is also expected to recommend that legislators should publicly declare their past or current relationship with media organisations that put out news or current affairs programmes. Similarly, media houses that have been financed by a business group should declare the details to the public.
On paid news, the regulator is likely to suggest that these be declared upfront for the readers to make independent assessments. A firewall between editorial sections and corporates who make investments can certainly be created, said the source.
“When there is a lot of noise about the extent of political and business influence on media, is it surprising that the sector regulator, while discussing cross- holding norms, will want to put guidelines,” said the source. Since this will be a consultation paper, the regulator will also invite comments on the report.
The guidelines will be largely voluntary, but the safeguards can be made mandatory, said the source. TRAI has looked into these issues as the sectoral regulator for broadcasting.
An independent source confirmed that TRAI would flag these issues in a forthcoming report, expected in early August.
TRAI has already held consultations on the subject with a cross-section of companies and media houses over the past few months. One recommendation is to merge the different media self-governing bodies into a composite one with more powers.
The cross holdings norms will also be expected to cover recommendations on “vertical and horizontal norms”. The former refers to the holding company structure that could straddle several genres of media. The subsidiary companies could be a newspaper or a news television, and also include a film production house among others. Horizontal norms refer to a situation where a company includes several types of media as an extension of its business.