The telecom and broadcasting sector authority has said investment by the corporate sector in media houses should be restricted to ensure editorial independence of the press.
“On grounds of inherent conflict of interest, ownership restrictions on corporates entering the media should be seriously considered by the government and the regulator,” the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has noted in its recommendations on “issues relating to media ownership”.
The recommendations make a frank assessment of the risks faced by the Indian news media in print and television but conclude that those can only be tackled through self-regulation instead of through government control. The Indian Express had reported the details of the guidelines on August 1, 2014.
The Trai paper, issued under its chairman Rahul Khullar, notes that practices like “private treaties” should be immediately proscribed “either through orders of the Press Council of India or (even) through statutory rules and regulations”. To check the phenomena of paid news it notes that liability should be imposed both on the party that paid for the news and the media organisation that carried it to create an effective deterrence.
While there has been quite a few investments in media by corporate groups, the Trai recommendations, however, do not suggest any retrospective application. Furthermore, it has said all political parties, religious bodies, and government departments, including those at the Centre, stretching down to the panchayats, should be barred from entry into broadcasting and television channel distribution sectors. To ensure that the ban is implemented in ‘letter and spirit’, Trai suggests that front or surrogate organisations for these categories should be barred.
The Trai recommendations could have an impact on the guidelines for community radios which are in the works as several rural and urban local bodies have shown interest in the sector.
The suggestions could also create uncertainty for channels like Rajya Sabha TV and Lok Sabha TV, which have been floated by the secretariat of the two Houses of Parliament. “In case permission to any such organisation have already been granted, an appropriate exit route is to be provided,” it adds. Among other things, the regulator has advised the government that these restrictions should be implemented through set of “executive decisions by incorporating the disqualifications into rules, regulations and guidelines as necessary”.
On cross-media ownership, the regulator notes that those media houses which have breached the same should be given a year’s window to exit from them.