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Summary: TRAI highlights issues related to media ownership in new consultation paper

The media and entertainment industry has changed significantly since TRAI last gave recommendations on the subject.

“In the recent years, many fictional as well as reality shows have come under the scanner of public criticism due to the inappropriate content and their influence on public perception. Therefore, it may be necessary to oversee the control of such entertainment media that has serious impact on value system and beliefs,” read the consultation paper by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on issues related to media ownership in which it seeks to promote media plurality, explore concerns around concentration of media ownership, and steps to mitigate such phenomena.

TRAI had first come out with a set of recommendations in 2014 but decided to reconsider its recommendations upon the request of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB). The ministry said that considerable time has elapsed since 2014 and the media industry has undergone drastic changes.

The consultation paper raises important questions surrounding viewpoint plurality which can only be ensured if concentration of media ownership is kept in check. The concentration of media ownership may impact freedom of speech and expression.

Comments can be sent to Anil Kumar Bhardwaj, Advisor (B&CS), Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, at advbcs-2@trai.gov.in along with jtadvbcs-2@trai.gov.in by May 10, 2022. Counter-comments can be shared by May 24, 2022.


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TRAI’s observations on media ownership

“The Media & Entertainment sector has undergone a drastic change owing to the technological developments, particularly those related in percentage to IP (Internet Protocol) technology and increased use of packet switched digital communications which have made converged services possible,” TRAI wrote in the consultation paper.

The regulatory body wrote that telecom networks provide access to internet and broadcast content in addition to telecommunication services currently. “For example, Jio Fiber, started to bundle varied OTT platforms like Disney+ Hotstar, Zee5, Amazon Prime Video, etc.,” TRAI said.

Diversity in genres of programming

“Within any medium, e.g. television, radio and newspaper, there are a variety of genres of the programmes. Each one of these genres is potentially relevant to media plurality. However, it is important to have clarity as to which of these genres should be included in the present exercise of devising ways and means to ensure viewpoint plurality.” TRAI said.

TRAI also pointed out that infotainment channels are gaining popularity and higher viewership in India.

“The peculiarity of infotainment programmes is that they are perceived to be factually correct and therefore, have the ability to influence popular perceptions. Consequently, any inherent bias in such programmes is bound to have adverse impact on the society.” — TRAI

“…it is proposed to re-examine the relevance of the genres in the formation of popular perception and the need to ensure viewpoint plurality,” it wrote before asking the following question.

  • What all genres shall be considered for the purpose of overseeing of media ownership to ensure viewpoint plurality? Please elaborate your response with justifications.

Ensuring media pluralism

TRAI observed that print media was in the process of embracing new technological innovations by launching e-versions of their print newspapers, magazines, and directories.

“Even though the print industry is adopting digital innovations, they are unable to tap the benefits of digitization due to the commanding share of tech giants like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram etc. One cannot deny that state interventions have played a significant role in addressing grievances of the news publishers and bringing the parties to the negotiation table. In future, new tech giants may also join the digital media. Consequently, certainty, stability and predictability in the regulatory regime is required.” — TRAI

TRAI further noted that “the consequences of rapid technological development for informational diversity and media pluralism are mixed. An increasingly digital media environment gives internet users access to information from more and more sources, increasing the opportunities for people to use diverse sources and encounter different perspectives.”

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“Digital media landscape is marked by the dominance of a limited number of very large players who have wherewithal to consolidate by acquiring smaller players. This can reduce media pluralism by undermining the diversity of new age portals and online media.” — TRAI

It noted that the existing regulatory regime is “sufficient to ensure fair competition” but it comes with its limitations. “In cases, where a non-abiding entity ignores such prescribed rules/ guidelines, there are no enforcement tools/ powers available to ensure corrective action. Therefore, self-regulation works at best as a ‘laissez-faire’ mechanism, applicable only to those who respect the guiding principles,” TRAI suggested.

It invited comments on the following questions:

  1. Media industry has expanded in an unprecedented manner. In addition to conventional television & print medium, the industry now comprises news & media-based portals, IP based website/ video portals (including You-tube/ Facebook/ Twitter/ Instagram/ Apps, other OTT portals, etc.). Considering the overall scenario, do you think there is a need for monitoring cross media ownership and Control? Please provide detailed reasoning to support your answer.
  2. Media has the capacity to influence the opinion of the masses, more so the news media. Should there be a common mechanism to monitor ownership of print, television, radio, or other internet-based news media?
    • If yes, elaborate on the Authority, structure and mechanism of such monitoring mechanism/ regime?
    • If no, should there be a self-regulatory mechanism by the industry? What should be the mechanism for defining and implementing such industry based self-regulatory regime? In case some players do not follow the self-regulation, what should be the procedure for enforcing such regulations?
  3. There are regulatory agencies like CCI and SEBI among others that monitor and regulate mergers, acquisitions, and takeovers. Is there a need for any additional regulatory/ monitoring mechanism? Do you think there’s a need to monitor takeovers, acquisitions of media companies, especially the news media companies?
    • If yes, which agency/ ministry should be entrusted with the task of such data collection, regulation & monitoring?
      • Whether such monitoring/ control be ex-ante as is the case with combinations in the Competition Act 2002?
      • What should be the procedure of reporting and monitoring? What should be the periodicity of such reporting?
      • What should be the powers of the concerned authority for enforcing regulatory provisions, inter-alia including imposition of financial disincentives, cancellation of license/ registration etc.?
    • If no, please provide an elaborate justification as to why there is no need for such a mechanism? Provide market data to substantiate your opinion.

Examination of media segments

TRAI wrote that it considered only TV and Print as media segments earlier given that private radio companies are not permitted to air news and online media did not have a sizeable audience in 2014.

“The development of digital media has made the news and information more accessible to the public. However, it comes with a rider of ‘fake news’ which has come up as one of the biggest issues of the modern world. The business model pursued by social networking platforms and search engines encourages the production of information that is ‘click-worthy’, independently of its accuracy or public interest.” — TRAI

It further observed that in contemporary society “while information is becoming more diverse and easily available, many individuals seem less likely to access material that challenges their pre-existing views. The algorithms used by social networking platforms and search engines to provide users with a personalized experience based on their individual preferences represent a challenge to pluralism, restricting individuals’ exposure to differing viewpoints and newsfeeds.”

“Thus, in the contemporary world, the internet hardly forms a segment which can be ignored in any aspect of societal administration, be it data privacy, convergence of services or access to plurality of information and viewpoints.” — TRAI

TRAI sought to examine the relevancy of various media segments in ensuring viewpoint plurality with the following question:

  • Which media segment amongst the following would be relevant for encouraging viewpoint plurality?
    • Print media viz. Newspaper & magazine
    • Television
    • Radio
    • Online media/Digital media/OTT
    • All or some of the above
  • Please substantiate your answer with appropriate reasons.

Inclusion of television in the word ‘media’

TRAI remarked that the television segment consists of “important players” in the television distribution chain. “These are broadcasters, Distribution Platform Operators (DPOs) and Local Cable Operators (LCOs). Each one of these players can influence the viewpoint plurality,” it said.

“The broadcasters have the direct ability to influence public perception as they control the content. However, the influence of DPOs is more indirect in nature in the sense that they can influence the reach of the content produced by the broadcaster thereby influencing the viewpoint plurality.” — TRAI

  • Should the word ‘media’ include television, print media, digital/online media, and other media entities? Alternatively, whether ‘television’ as a media segment should include only DPOs (including LCOs) or only Broadcasters or both for ensuring viewpoint plurality in the television segment? Please justify your answer.

Metrics for evaluation of competition

“The mere presence of an entity in a market does not by itself provide a correct picture of market concentration. To quantify the presence in a market sector into the contribution in market concentration, it is necessary to calculate the level of consumption of a product,” TRAI asserted.

It laid down the following metrics:

  • Reach: It means the percentage of people who are exposed to a media outlet, at least once, in a given period of time. It is generally measured with the help of data collected by rating agencies.
  • Volume of Consumption: It takes into account the frequency, or the time spent by consumers in consuming media content in a relevant market.
  • Revenue: Media industry is a dual market with two major revenue streams— advertising revenue and subscription revenue. Revenue is considered as a measure of consumption.

“Digital media is marked by the absence of a few dominating entities as far as content is concerned. However, if the stakeholders suggest inclusion of the internet in the relevant market segment, as a next step, there will be a need to define the metric to be used to calculate the consumption and to measure market share of a particular entity.” — TRAI

It said that “digital platforms, particularly for news content, can be broadly divided in two categories: subscription-based platforms and free platforms. In the case of subscription-based platforms, the number of subscribers can be taken to be a measure of the level of consumption. However, in the case of platforms which are available without the payment of a subscription charge, some other metrics need to be developed.”

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  • Which of the following metrics should be used to measure the level of consumption of one type of media (media outlet) in a relevant market?
    • Volume of consumption
    • Reach
    • Revenue
    • Any other

Please elaborate your response with justifications. In case you find “any other” metric to be suitable for the said purpose, you are requested to support your view with a detailed methodology.

This post is released under a CC-BY-SA 4.0 license. Please feel free to republish on your site, with attribution and a link. Adaptation and rewriting, though allowed, should be true to the original.

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Written By

I cover several beats such as Crypto, Telecom, and OTT at MediaNama. I can be found loitering at my local theatre when I am off work consuming movies by the dozen.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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