India to Limit Media Monopolies

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Jun. 19 – The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is set to recommend that an “institutional buffer between corporate owners and newspaper management” be created to better guide the country’s media industry and to prevent monopolies by way of cross-media ownership restrictions.

The recommendation is based on the principle that corporate ownership of media must be separated from editorial management, as the TRAI has noticed the issue of a “growing number of undesirables, including…politicians” having stakes in media companies to presumably spin stories in their favor.

“The idea is to create an institutionalized buffer between the corporate owner and newspaper management to ensure the independence of TV channels and print media to articulate impartial, free and fair editorial policies,” explained TRAI chairman Rahul Khullar.

As such, he plans to recommend an organizational structure in which a corporate owner can only have a financial interest in a company, but little to no say on its editorial operations.

Khullar added that he has no problem with corporations investing in or owning media houses for profits, “but a problem arises when the corporate wants to abuse the media it controls to project a colored point of view for vested interests.”

The TRAI has also noticed that certain media houses have interests and a presence in all three mediums: television, print and radio. To combat this, the TRAI is suggesting a “two out of three rule” in which a media house may only have interests in two out of the three different mediums.

In defense of objections noting that such regulations would violate freedom of speech rights, Mr Khullar answered: “All robust democracies have some restrictions on cross-media ownership. This is absolutely necessary to maintain the plurality and diversity of media.”

India’s media and entertainment sector now contributes about one percent to India’s total GDP, with combined revenues of Rs.80,500 crore (US$17 billion) in 2011 and projected annual growth of 17 percent. There are over 840 officially registered channels (out of which 300 are news and current affairs channels), and over 82,000 registered publications (out of which 14,000 are daily newspapers).

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