Restrict corporate hold on media: Trai

Tags: News

Conflict of interest seen in cross-ownership

Restrict corporate hold on media: Trai
To protect the dissemination of unbiased information and maintain the plurality of viewpoints, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has suggested restrictions on corporate entities and political parties entering the television and channel distribution business.

The recommendation also suggests setting up a commission headed by a retired Supreme Court judge to evaluate the overall regulatory and legislative framework for the media and set up a regulator.

Trai in its recommendations said, given that about six years have elapsed without any concrete action being taken by the government, the authority strongly recommends that its recommendations of November 12, 2008 and December 28, 2012 may be implemented forthwith. It suggests barring from media ownership entities such as political bodies, religious bodies, urban, local, panchayati raj, and other publicly funded bodies, central and state government ministries, departments, companies, undertakings, joint ventures and government-funded entities and affiliates from entry into broadcasting and TV channel distribution sectors.

Even surrogates of these entities in the form of subsidiaries and trusts would be barred from entry into broadcasting and TV channel distribution sectors.

It further states that in case permission to any such organisations have already been granted an appropriate exit route is to be provided. Besides, the arm’s length relationship between Prasar Bharati and the government should be further strengthened and such measures should ensure functional independence and autonomy of Prasar Bharati.

Amongst the recent such corporate acquisitions is the Reliance Industries acquisition of controlling stake in the Network18 Group through a wholly owned trust.

All this should be controlled through a media regulator and not by government.

The recommendations, once implemented, will address the immediate objective of curbing unhealthy media practices. However there would still be need to evaluate the legislative and legal framework to establish a robust institutional mechanism for the long term.

Trai has recommended a commission headed by a retired Supreme Court judge to be set up to comprehensively examine the various issues relating to the media.

Hemant Joshi, director, telecom and media at Deloitte, said it is good initial step but the fact of the matter is that the recommendation was gathering dust for the last six years, which means there would be execution challenges.

There are various vested interests, including politicians, big business houses and even the underworld.

However, after the few harsh steps, things would fall into place. Given that the recommendations are more self-regulatory in nature and not an impediment in the free flow of information, the commercial and vested interests need to be tweaked a little to make it successful.

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