The Minister for Finance, Corporate Affairs and Information & Broadcasting, Shri Arun Jaitley has said that in the last two decades, the conventional contours of the issues pertaining to Freedom and Responsibility of Media had changed due to changes in the nature and content of media and the definition of news. News in the electronic media today was being defined by what the camera could capture. In the current paradigm, technology had become a driving force for these changes. The impact of technology was profound as information dissemination was taking place 24x7 across different technological tools and media platforms including the digital space. Shri Jaitley stated this while delivering the delivering the first Justice J. S. Verma Memorial lecture on the ‘Freedom & Responsibility of Media’ organized by the News Broadcasters Association in New Delhi on 18 January.
Elaborating further, Shri Jaitley said technological developments had defied the contours of censorship and the challenges for the media lay within, in the context of ownership patterns, financial sustainability and financial models which led to aberrations such as paid news. The Minister further stated that the challenges before media was to ensure Quality, Credibility along with the responsibility to play the role of an Educator in handling sensitive issues. The challenge also lay in maintaining high ethical standards on the issue of conflict of interest where media needed to be very careful. Regarding Digital Media, the Minister said the financial models would evolve as the medium matured. The digital platform also needed to evolve its own standards of responsibility as it had emerged as an alternative platform for information dissemination.
Avoid Parallel Trials
The Minister further mentioned that Media responsibility was critical in addressing matters related to security, social tension, privacy of the individual and the issues that involved a subjudice connotation. Media needed to avoid the conduct of parallel trials in reporting matters that were subjudice. Shri Jaitley also mentioned that constructive deliberations on all issues relating to media freedom and responsibility needed to be initiated amongst all stakeholders.
Ad cap on television channels.
Jaitley spoke out against the 12-minute-an-hour cap on advertising stipulated for TV news channels by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. He mentioned that the government was not inclined to interfere either in the content or the business of media entities and his government was not in favour of a cap on advertising for TV or print media.
It was surprising that as a Union Minister knowing well that the 12 minute ad cap regulation in each hour was introduced to protect the consumer interest, Jaitley spoke out against the cap on advertising stipulated for TV news channels by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India ( Trai). He even questioned if 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. He further elaborated, "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.
Broadcasters, particularly the news broadcasters have been strongly opposing this ad cap and have also challenged it in the
FDI in news Media.
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."
Financial Pressure on Modern Media
Carriage fees and falling advertisement rates have stifled TV news channels and broadcasters have been struggling to break even. 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.
Cross Media Ownership
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.
MSOs and LCOs are very upset with these remarks from the Minister who has not even spoken to them after taking over the Ministry. Vikki Chowdhury, an Independent MSO in Delhi says that how can a Minister with so much of experience talk against larger public interest, only to make a few broadcasters happy.