No need for duplicate regulation of media ownership, CASBAA tells TRAI

TRAI Consultation — Indian Media Ownership

CASBAA made a detailed submission to India’s TRAI on proposed restraints on media ownership. CASBAA, backed by an authoritative report on international precedents from London consulting firm FTI Consultants, told TRAI that such rules were high-risk, and poor decisions now would warp the structure and development of India’s media industry for decades to come. Therefore, the potential risks and benefits of policy choices had to be carefully assessed – which had yet to be done in India. The consultants at FTI warned that in the absence of adequate analysis of potential policy impacts “there is a significant risk that India could embark on a regulation that is not fit for purpose and based on outdated market research. Far from correcting a market failure that has not been demonstrated, the result could be significant damage to markets.”

Other main points of the CASBAA submission:
The TRAI consultation paper was a solution in search of a problem – it jumped immediately into asking about details of solutions, without setting forth the nature of the issue which needed resolution. It never considered a range of possible approaches including “no change.” As such, CASBAA commented “we do not find the approach in this paper to represent an acceptable base for proceeding with a major regulatory intervention.”

The Consultation Paper was completely backward-looking; it took no account of the massive growth in online consumption of news and other media even in the four years since TRAI had last taken up this issue. Convergence is the future of the media industry, and regulations considered now must address convergence.

The TRAI proposals made no mention of the comprehensive competition policy rules administered by the Competition Council of India. “Indian law gives the CCI ample authority over this sector (and all others) and no case has been made that the media sector requires additional or different regulation,” said CASBAA.

The result of international considerations of media plurality issues, including an exhaustive consultation process by Ofcom in the UK, has tended to the conclusion that media plurality assessments must be based on a full view incorporating many measures. “Mechanistic” bars to ownership would risk stifling investment at a time when the media sector is vibrant and changing.

Discussion in the TRAI paper of a number of the international precedents was skewed. For example, the US FCC, having relied on “diversity indexes” to try to calculate plurality, moved away from these in 2006 stating it had concluded such an index “is an inaccurate tool for measuring diversity”. FTI Consultants observed that “the international media regulatory landscape as it affects ownership and plurality is far more diverse and complex than the selected examples presented by TRAI.”

India already has policies in place (e.g. “must provide”) to prevent vertical restraints that affect competition and India needs the efficiencies and economic benefits to consumers than can flow from vertical investments. TRAI has not presented a case justifying additional general restraints against vertical integration.

See the CASBAA complete submission here

See the Report by FTI Consulting here