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TRAI’s attempt to regulate cross-media ownership meets opposition

Industry associations including NASSCOM, US India Business Council and Indian Broadcasting Foundation have criticized the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) for attempting to regulate cross-media ownership. Industry bodies mentioned in separate letters that there are already government bodies such as the Competition Commission of India (CCI) to regulate anti-competitive behaviour, and therefore, TRAI does not need to bring in new rules at this time.

This comes after TRAI has recently issued a consultation paper on the need, nature and level of safeguards on issues related to media ownership, especially cross-media ownership and vertical integration in the broadcasting sector.

‘No real evidence’
However, the apex industry body is unanimously that there is no need for regulation in this sector. NASSCOM noted that TRAI is citing the need for further regulation without anecdotal evidence of market failure, thus concluding that any regulation would, in fact, be premature. “We urge TRAI to refrain from recommending any additional regulation without any evidence,” Nasscom said.

Responding to TRAI’s questions about the need for another additional regulatory body other than SEBI and CCI to ignore industry consolidation, the US India Business Council said, “In our view, the concentration of media ownership is natural to the end users.” Not necessarily problematic, as concentration is not an automatic proxy for properly evaluating competition. One can have both highly competitive and relatively concentrated markets.”

The USIBC said that if there is an abuse of dominant position or anti-competitive practices in the media sector, the CCI is already empowered enough to investigate it and issue relevant directions. USIBC also noted that TRAI’s advisory questions are based on a lot of unfounded assumptions, which need to be explored further.

‘No space left’
The Indian Broadcasting Foundation asked the regulator to give due consideration to the fundamental right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the Constitution. “Initially, it is our view that it would be fundamental for this consultation to give due consideration to the guarantee of a wide scope of speech and expression against a very narrow specified / applicable scope to its regulation in any form, whether directly or indirectly. Stakeholders operate within a specific framework guided by these principles, and in the face of the broader framework, there is hardly any legitimate room for any additional regulatory intervention.”

Major DTH players such as Tata-Play noted that no cross-media restrictions are required, but rather restrictions regarding consolidation, especially vertical integration, should be removed from the DTH sector, which is subject to such regulations. The only vertical remains in space. Nixatube

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