Media industry opposes cross-media ownership restrictions

The Indian Broadcasting and Digital Foundation (IBDF), News Broadcasters and Digital Association (NBDA), Indian Newspaper Society (INS), and Association of Radio Operators for India (AROI) have all stated unequivocally that there is no need to monitor cross-media ownership and control because the Indian media and entertainment (M&E) sector is competitive enough.

The IBDF, NBDA, INS, and AROI, which represent TV broadcasting, print media, and FM radio enterprises, have stated that an unified method to oversee ownership of print, television, radio, and other Internet-based news media is not required.

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Following a referral from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the industry groups provided these remarks in response to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's (TRAI) consultation paper on media ownership.

The TRAI had invited comments/views from stakeholders on the necessity, type, and level of safeguards in the broadcasting and distribution sectors, as well as cross-ownerships across other media sectors.

Sufficient diversity in the Indian M&E sector

The IBDF said in its submission that there is no need to oversee cross-media ownership and control because consumers have a variety of alternatives now. In fact, they contend, the variety of content sources has only grown since 2014, with new media and new vehicles inside each medium, according to the report.

According to industry and TRAI data, there are 909 TV channels, 386 private FM radio stations, 1,46,756 registered publications, over 40 digital content platforms, and 2100+ digital news platforms in India (apart from news on traditional media).

According to the IBDF, the existence of so many TV channels, newspapers, radio stations, and digital platforms assures that consumers have ample choice in the marketplace.

It also said that content consumption habits have evolved since 2014, with TV reaching 892 million viewers, internet (500 million), print (407 million - IRS 2019), and radio reaching a combined total of 892 million viewers (226 million - IRS 2019). According to the IBDF, this suggests that material is consumed across many channels.

"There is no need to monitor cross-media ownership further because there is I an increase in plurality; (ii) change in consumption patterns and access of content to consumers across pipes and platforms; and (iii) regulations in the existing legal framework which have controls on ownership," the IBDF submitted.

Cross-media ownership enables cross-subsidization

The NBDA stated that the TRAI's legislative and jurisdictional authorities in conducting such a consultation that affects media segments other than broadcasting services exceed TRAI's authority.

It also described the proposed restrictions on cross-media holdings as an attempt to regulate the media's business activities as well as its freedom of speech and expression, which would violate the media's constitutional rights to disseminate information as well as the fundamental rights of all citizens to receive information under Article 19(1). (a).

"That there is no justification to place any restrictions/regulations on cross-media ownership in India, because cross-media ownership of media organisations has had no effect on media plurality. Indeed, with the introduction of new technology, media plurality is increasing "The NBDA argued.

The NBDA proposed that commercial radio stations be allowed to generate their own news material and transmit it in order to encourage a diversity of viewpoints. It further noted that cross-media holdings allow companies to cross-subsidize and provide synergies between different arms of media corporations, allowing them to function in a free and democratic atmosphere rather than being driven purely by commercial economic purposes.

INS seeks protection against tech companies abusing their dominating position

The INS emphasised that there is no need to track cross-media ownership and control for horizontally integrated media such as traditional television, print, radio, or digital media. It further requested the TRAI to protect media enterprises from abuse of dominance by large tech, vertically integrated telecoms, and/or telcos that hold broadcasting assets, whether in content or carriage.

It argued that media firms should be permitted horizontal integration in order to survive by owning several types of media such as newspapers, television, digital, and radio, all of which are now in decline. Furthermore, digital media firms must be safeguarded against BigTech monopolies and abuses of dominance, and digital media publishers must be protected from abuses of power by distribution pipe owners.

"Through their monopolistic strength and position in the supply chain, new generation tech corporations such as Google (including Google search and YouTube) and Facebook (including Instagram and WhatsApp) control the bulk of market revenue share. They disseminate trustworthy information from conventional media firms on their platforms without adequately compensating publishers. They indirectly control and dictate the conventional media organisations to fulfil their norms for content distribution and income "The INS expanded.

AROI wants the 20 percent vertical integration ceiling for telecoms to be extended

The AROI stated that cross-media bans are a relic of a bygone period that is being phased out in the few nations that still have them. According to the AROI, any regressive legislation restricting media ownership would have a severe impact on the country's media landscape, not only erasing the advances earned by the sector in previous decades, but also resulting in the industry's de-growth and shrinkage.

It proposed extending the 20 percent vertical integration equity cap in broadcasting content/carriage to telcos as well, whereby a telecom operator would be prohibited from holding/owning more than 20 percent of the total paid-up equity in a content company and vice versa, as well as holding/owning more than 20 percent of the total equity share in any other type of media distribution platforms, such as cable network companies, and vice versa.

"Telcos are now among the largest distributors of material, data, and information in all forms, which has evolved into a significant business and source of revenue. Their control of content for various platforms, as well as all aspects of the broadcast media value chain from content to carriage, raises serious concerns about both power and potential abuse of dominance "The AROI was noticed.

It further stated that there are now no restrictions in place to prevent such vertical integration by telecoms, and it is critical that TRAI look into this matter, which poses a severe danger to the media broadcasting industry.

No need for a centralised method to oversee media ownership

The four business groups have also stated that there is no need for a centralised structure to regulate ownership of print, television, radio, or other Internet-based news media because there are currently adequate legal checks and balances in place.

IBDF said that the sector already has well-established grievance redressal and self-regulatory structures in place, including the BCCC, DMCRC, NBSA, and ASCI.

According to the NBDA, there are sufficient authorities/bodies, such as the Competition Commission of India (CCI) and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), as well as legislation, to regulate ownership of print, television, radio, and other internet-based news media.

The INS contended that there is no vacuum in the legal control of Indian news media and that robust rules exist to safeguard the plurality of viewpoints in the face of low concentration of ownership, as well as a robust appeal procedure.

AROI observed that substantial self-regulation systems for content already exist in the media business.


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