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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Trai & TDSAT may get to monitor print media for cross-ownership

By-Ashish Sinha
New Delhi: To check the growing instance of cross-media ownership and resultant accumulation of interests in the hands of a few in the media, a government panel has proposed bringing the print media also under the relevant regulation.If the proposal is implemented, both the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) and the Telecom Disputes Settlement & Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), which currently have jurisdiction over broadcasting and cable television, will look at the ownership of print media also from this perspective. The idea is to minimise the likely adverse impact of concentration of ownership on the consumers in terms of price and content.

The panel commissioned by the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry has also rooted for changes in the legal framework to allow Trai and the Competition Commission of India (CCI) to work together in close coordination in order to deal with all instances of violation of cross-media ownership norms. It has also called for the formulation of cross-media restriction norms across print, television, radio, cable and new media after a detailed study of the relevant markets of each of the mediums.

Currently, the cross-media restrictions are only imposed on direct-to-home or DTH and private FM radio companies.Broadcasters, cable operators and publishing houses have no such restrictions even though there are enough examples of print companies operating in broadcasting, internet and radio, and vice-versa.

These recommendations have been given by the Hyderabad-based Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI) at the behest of the I&B ministry and based on the recommendations of Trai three years ago. "It would appear rational for the government to extend Trai's jurisdiction in the arena of economic regulation, ie, the accumulation of interest to the print media as well so that the economic regulation of the entire media canvas would rest with one regulator. TDSAT's jurisdiction could also be extended to cover the print media," the ASCI report said.

Armed with the report and its recommendations, now the I&B ministry will soon make a reference to Trai to initiate a detailed consultation process followed by recommendations. "We will be making a reference to Trai in this regard soon. The stakeholders, in the meantime, can send in their comments on the ASCI report to the I&B ministry," a senior government official said.
The ASCI report finds intense competition in regional markets (Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam) leading to accumulation of interests and growing instances of cross-media ownership as opposed to the Hindi and English markets (including print, television, radio, etc). It uses the Herfindahl Index to measure market concentration and effect on competition in a market. The ASCI report studied major media houses including Sun TV, Essel Group, Star India, the Times Group, Eenadu, India Today, ABP, Jagran, Malayala Manorama, Rajasthan Patrika, Bhaskar, HT Media, Network18, Reliance ADAG, NDTV and Malar, among others, and found cross-media ownership in most instances.

In February 2009, Trai had submitted its recommendations on media restrictions, vertical and horizontal integration. It is these recommendations that called for the I&B ministry to conduct a detailed study on media ownership, resulting in the ASCI report. Trai had recommended in 2009 that broadcasters should not have "control" in the distribution and vice-versa. Trai had also called for putting safeguards for horizontal and vertical integration for broadcasters and distribution firms. Trai suggested a separate merger and acquisition guidelines for the sector to prevent media concentration and creation of significant market power. Most leading media houses had opposed Trai's role in probing print companies having ventured into television.

Elaborating on some of the suggestions made in the ASCI report, the official said while the current law does not allow Trai or TDSAT to look into the accumulation of interests or cross-media restrictions for the print media sector, appropriate changes in the law can always be made."Remember, even the Press Council of India, which regulates the print media, has called for inclusion of functioning of TV channels, etc, within its fold," the official said. (Financial Express)