New Delhi: Indicating that the government was not inclined to interfere either in the content or the business of media entities, information and broadcasting minister Arun Jaitley on Sunday said his government was not in favour of a cap on advertising for TV or print media.
Delivering the first J S Verma Memorial Lecture, Jaitley spoke out against the 12-minute-an-hour cap on advertising stipulated for TV news channels by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). He wondered how such a cap fit with Article 19(1)A of the Constitution that guarantees freedom of the press.
“It will be music to the years of media persons. My ministry a couple of years ago came out with a statutory law that no channel will telecast advertisements beyond so many minutes. I have been struggling, in my own mind, since then as to how this meets the challenge of Article 19(1)A,” Jaitley said.
“Is the government supposed to tell newspapers and channels as to how much advertisement and how much news. If viewers or readers find it monotonous, they have the power to switch on something else. Government getting into the business of how much news and how much ads is a bad precedent to lay down,” he added.
Media houses have been strongly opposed to this regulation as usurious carriage fees and falling advertisement rates have stifled TV news channels and broadcasters have been struggling to break even. The law has been legally challenged and the matter is pending in court.
Jaitley also batted for increasing FDI in media from the current cap of 26%, saying when foreign newspapers were anyway available online in India, there was no point opposing the move. He said, “The debate over whether foreign media should be allowed to establish in the country and the extent of foreign equity has been made irrelevant by technology. Today, sitting here, I can access any newspaper in the world over internet.”
Jaitley made these observations while talking about the financial pressure on modern media and the challenges it threw. “The financial model of most media organizations is becoming challenging. The cost of news distribution has become huge. Cost of circulation is high. Most are unable to sustain. This is leading to consolidations and mergers. Those with deep pockets are acquiring media,” Jaitley said, warning that the situation had led to conflict of interest.
The minister said the media, in the spirit of fairness, must carry a disclaimer with respect to news where there was a conflict of interest.
The minister also flagged the issue of financial pressure on media affecting the quality of news and, in turn, its credibility. “Because of this, media houses spend less and less on news collection, hire less reporters who are not paid well. All of this affects quality,” said Jaitley.
He stressed on the challenge posed by digital media to the traditional forms of news dissemination and pointed out how newspapers and magazines abroad were shutting down in favour of digital platforms. He, however, said the revenue model for digital media was not clear and it was still evolving.
He also raised the issue of cross-media ownership and said in his concluding remarks that it was an issue that needed to be debated. “Most jurisdictions world over ban cross-holdings in the media. Can all mediums be vested with one person? How is larger public interest going to be impacted by this? It should be debated,” Jaitley said.