[cr-india] CR and TRAI's recos on media ownership

Ram Bhat ram at maraa.in
Fri Aug 15 07:40:37 CDT 2014

I agree with all that Vickram has said. One small misunderstanding:
it is government's privilege to license spectrum, as being developed from
the fact that originating broadcast (or emission) from within any national
boundary is the responsibility of the government of that nation.

It is govt's privilege not because emission or for that matter reception
takes place in politically defined boundaries (or at least not solely
because of it)
Simply because the British put in place four pieces of legislation designed
to retain total control over all communications infrastructure - of which
the crown jewel is Indian Telegraph Act 1885. (For reasons well documented)
The Indian govt chose to uphold those and the same are now codified into
laws, constitution etc. Doesn't necessarily mean it is logical or even
makes sense. How often does one see laws that correspond closely to lived
experiences? For law and policy makers it is an eternal project of playing
catch up. The law is more often than not a source of amusement and in this
case despair
On 14 Aug 2014 12:46, "Vickram Crishna" <v1clist at yahoo.co.uk> wrote:

> I must confess, I was quite puzzled to see the conclusion, that it is
> government's privilege to license spectrum, as being developed from the
> fact that originating broadcast (or emission) from within any national
> boundary is the responsibility of the government of that nation.
> Please understand: these two are not the same thing. We are talking about
> electromagnetic radiation, a vastly varying feature of which is its impact
> upon our human senses. We can feel, for instance, infra-red, but cannot see
> it, we can see the visible spectrum, and with the help of various devices,
> we can sense more precisely far greater spreads of spectrum. By some chance
> of market dynamics and industrial direction, some frequencies are far
> cheaper to access than others, and some are used so widely as to be almost
> ubiquitous.
> By international agreement, to which most countries subscribe, the ITU
> provides guidelines of spectrum usage. For the kind of spectrum that
> travels well, naturally the ITU and its supporters are most engaged and
> keen on international consensus about its deployment, because of
> interference, not from TRAI or the industrial media lobby, but between
> modulated signals. For signals that don't travel well, ITU also tends to
> prefer that locals take care of local issues.
> We have not seen much evidence of such good handling. Even the junk
> frequencies are treated oddly in India, and about FM it's just chaos, truly
> the powerful running amok while a few pious words are pronounced from
> ivory-tower pulpits - by government officers, some of whom are really just
> serving time.
> Several of us here were involved at different times with Mana Radio. Its
> NGO, the local self-help group (not that the law at the time needed an NGO
> or anything in fact, it didn't even cover the unique kind of radio station
> then available as an option for the country) was being funded and assisted
> by a state-sponsored NGO, SERP, which was at the time, with a funding
> support of some Rs 2,200 crore, the largest NGO in India.
> I am sure it could be argued that, government or no government, the
> largest NGO in India has clout, independent of whether a government backed
> or non-government backed NGO currently heads this ranking. It would be
> equally true if such an NGO is backed by some religious group. Or a
> political group, or a panchayat, or even a local self-help group, say, in
> Sainik Farms. The labels are just quibbles, in a country as vast and
> complex as ours. Every situation may be unique.
> We can argue that any kind of power group is likely to want control of
> some media. With our marvelously precise regulatory regime, we seem to
> ensure that *only* the power groups are getting to control media, rather
> different from what might have been the objective. Obviously a more open
> approach, with oversight rather than barriers, needs fostering, and perhaps
> this TRAI paper is some sort of attempt to raise the issue. The word
> control needs to be delinked from media.
> As was suggested already, it would be great to get more views on this
> development.
> Vickram
> http://communicall.wordpress.com
> http://vvcrishna.wordpress.com
>  On Wednesday, 13 August 2014, 23:30, Hemant <hemant at nomadindia.net>
> wrote:
> Dear Ram,
> Unfortunately we are caught in a situation where we are forced to explore
> the spectrum issues in a limited space that constitutionality provides. And
> this is a global scenario and not limited to India. It seems extremely
> difficult, if not impossible to find any satisfactory, revolutionary or
> even lasting solution in the given space. The real need is to look beyond.
> The Open Sepctrum movement in Europe, which seems to have strong
> technology backing but extremely poor political support could be one such
> direction to look at. There has been a lot of thinking on Spectrum Commons
> Theory. Though many say it is impractical but it is certainly a ray of
> hope. Open Standard based approach to spectrum management sounds much
> better to me than state controlled spectrum management or even worse the
> market driven spectrum management.
> The reality is that there is a lot of time before we could have open
> spectrum practices that is backed entirely by technology and supported by
> the polity. In the meantime my approach would be to demand more and more
> de-licensing without the fear of chaos. It feels easier to deal with chaos
> than constitution backed dictatorial spectrum management.
> regards
> Hemant
> On Wednesday 13 August 2014 05:11 PM, Ram Bhat wrote:
> Hi Geeta,
>  The use of spectrum can only be controlled by government as per
> Constitution and subsequent laws. Thus if any category of persons/bodies
> are to be allowed or denied its use, then it is to be done by policy. The
> default position is that one is not allowed use of spectrum unless
> government specifically licenses you to - and for that to happen there has
> to be a link to public interest, and the subsequent allocation of this
> resource has to be non-discriminatory. I suppose one could argue that
> licensing religious groups could disrupt law and order, but on the other
> hand, one could also argue that to not license religious groups would be
> discriminatory. I don't know. A media lawyer would be able to give a much
> better scenario.
>  On the topic of a level playing field - it has been a term with some
> semantic baggage over the last few years. Many have conveniently
> interpreted it to argue for neoliberal free market policies. Yet others
> have interpreted it to mean non-discrimination, or in some case cases
> obligations (e.g. must-carry clause).
> In the context of ownership, the notion of level playing field is a
> complex one. For those areas of media which depend on spectrum, the field
> itself is limited. Within that field, the government can provide a
> first-come-first serve policy, or have a discretionary policy which
> prioritizes certain kind of players or have a bidding process. Each of
> these models (and there are others) can mean a certain kind of level
> playing field - it all depends on which side of the fence on stands on I
> suppose.
> Then there are other areas where more players can be allowed (e.g. DTH).
> Here the field restrictions are in terms of audience segments and markets,
> not so much in terms of technological limitations(generally speaking).
> Unfortunately, this is relatively a nascent idea in India. Telecom has 22
> circles and radio licenses are distributed in phases for A+ and smaller
> cities etc. But this is not necessarily looking at the audience segments or
> the capability of the market to handle a number of players, or diff kinds
> of players etc. There is a strong temptation to oversell the number of
> licenses - either because of egalitarian concerns or because of the revenue
> in license and spectrum fee. Unfortunately, if the balance is not right,
> the market collapses and getting people to re-invest is hard in the short
> term.
>  I of course know nothing or very little about these matters. We should
> get Vibodh from Jamia to give us a better perspective on the TRAI report-
> at least on the concentration, vertical integration and cross-media
> ownership aspects.
>  best,
>  ---
> Ram
> On Wed, Aug 13, 2014 at 3:27 PM, geeta seshu <geetaseshu at gmail.com> wrote:
> hi Ram,
>  I do agree on issues of disclosure and scrutiny. I definitely share your
> misgivings about allowing religious bodies use of public resources for the
> same reasons as you cited. While religius organisations should definitley
> not get public funds and should face the same taxation laws, how will you
> prohibit the use of spectrum?
>  Suppose for the sake of argument, we do agree there must be freedom of
> ownership in all the categories you mentioned, what about the creation of a
> level playing field? Will restrictions, however limited, on cross-media
> ownership, serve the purpose?
>  geeta
> On Wed, Aug 13, 2014 at 2:33 PM, Ram Bhat <ram at maraa.in> wrote:
> Dear Geeta,
> The report has in fact touched upon at least three aspects of commercial
> and private media:
> media concentration, vertical integration and cross-media ownership.
> I'm in fact quite happy to see the detailed disclosure norms recommended
> by TRAI as well.
>  Political parties are already deeply invested in public, commercial and
> community media - often through indirect means. NGO and educational
> institutions - as structures have been very convenient vessels to further
> entrench political control over community radio. This has been observed in
> various other countries as well.
> In my view here are some possible things to improve the situation:
> - have detailed mandatory disclosure norms for community radio (in order
> to excavate political ownership, cross-media ownership etc)
>  - govt must distance itself from licensing. Govt cannot become guardian
> and beneficiary simultaneously (of spectrum for e.g.). In its place, an
> autonomous and independent regulator should be instituted.
> - public media should have complete autonomy - not just from the govt, but
> also internally - thereby increasing localization possibilities
> -any entity that receives public funding (be it Panchayat or a NGO) should
> be open to public scrutiny - financial, programmatic and management - this
> should be a pre-cursor to whether they can have control/access to airwaves
> - political parties should open their accounts and sources of funding to
> public scrutiny, and come under RTI
>  On another front, elected representatives, through public bodies have
> access to public media and often use it to air their views. In a spectrum
> scarce environment, why give political parties and public bodies another
> option for direct ownership? This question would hold good without
> privileging NGOs or campuses. Further, public bodies and govts can
> articulate their communications as serving public interest, and I'm sure
> even community media channels will happily oblige with some airtime. In
> fact most CR stations want press card and other affiliations in order to
> get the govt voice on their station more frequently.
>  I'm in agreement that we must not block political parties looking at the
> current quality of political parties and politicians. In principle to block
> political parties and allow other ideologically strong entities, is double
> standards. The solution is not to support licensing for govt
> bodies/political parties because NGOs are allowed or even NGOs are suspect.
> The solution would be to increase scrutiny on the NGO sector instead, and
> retain distance from political parties and public bodies as far as media is
> concerned. I'm with Hemant that the NGOisation of media should be resisted
> as much as anything else. We need to extend the disclosure norms to
> community media. TRAI has already recommended detailed norms for private
> commercial sector. We should argue that the same be extended to CR/CM as
> well. I had already recommended this to TRAI for the CR consultation -
> strong disclosure norms for CR on ownership and finances.
>  We will need to, on a parallel track, focus more on how the notion of
> community translates into an entity capable of receiving a license. If we
> support all kinds of entities to get licenses, (even if spectrum
> considerations are sorted out somehow), I'm sure they couldn't all survive
> in a single market - it would be too fragmented. There have to be some
> limitations through some checks and balances. It has been through years of
> consideration and debate that there has been consensus to arrive at three
> categories - public, commercial and community. To the best of my knowledge,
> public bodies and political parties don't configure in any of these three
> categories.
>  I'm uncomfortable with use of public resources (funds, spectrum etc) for
> religion. The latter is a private and personal matter of faith. To
> broadcast about such things would be asking for trouble. We have seen the
> Amit Shah model being successfully replicated and scaled across UP. No
> doubt, smaller parties and other riff raff will soon follow. In any other
> situation, I would have been for it, but in India especially, our bloody
> history and its intimate connection with religion and communal politics
> just cannot be ignored. I'm not sure if the prohibition on religious bodies
> would stand judicial scrutiny though. Its just my personal opinion.
>  best,
>  ---
> Ram
> On Wed, Aug 13, 2014 at 1:58 PM, geeta seshu <geetaseshu at gmail.com> wrote:
> Thanks Vinod, for putting in a nutshell my reactions to this provision of
> the TRAI report.
>  I do feel this will be against Art 19 of the constitution - while it
> doesn't explicity mention media, it gives every individual and group the
> freedom to express themselves in any way possible.
>  what we should be seeking is full disclosure from every media owner and,
> I would argue, even those who run news websites or blogs...though
> annonymity is celebrated on the Internet for good reason.
>  Then, perhaps Hemant's worry about accountability for NGOs and
> crony-ngoisation can also be addressed.
>  geeta
> On Wed, Aug 13, 2014 at 1:05 PM, Hemant <hemant at nomadindia.net> wrote:
> Dear Vinod,
> I tend to agree with you. There must be a distinction between the state --
> the power-that-be-- and political party, or religious body. A blanket ban
> on the latter effectively mean that group of people or body representing an
> ideology or a stated position on issues cannot qualify to own media. In
> that case no one should qualify --corporate India which has a thought on
> political economy (also known as crony capitalism) or an NGO which has a
> set ideas on Development-- none of them.
> With the NGOisation of the world the meaning of the term political party
> has undergone an unwarranted change. If one joins a political party it is
> known as pursuit of power but if one joins an NGO it is seen as a
> contribution to development of human kind. This was not true even at the
> time of independence. Young idealists did join political parties to bring
> about a change. But gone are the days. Today the intellectuals are in a
> hurry to celebrate failure of initiatives like AAP.
> I thinks this is the background in which the TRAI is thinking and most of
> us as well.
> regards
> Hemant
> On Wednesday 13 August 2014 11:44 AM, Vinod Pavarala wrote:
>  Dear Sajan:
>  My thoughts precisely, as I read the papers this morning. I am yet to go
> through the entire TRAI recommendations on the subject. There is no doubt
> that TRAI has been consistently progressive in many of its media related
> recommendations for the last 10 years.  Corporate media are already
> trashing its recommendations on cross-media ownership as 'anachronistic'.
>  It certainly challenges presumptuous government initiatives
> (well-intentioned though they may be), especially at the state and district
> levels, to 'start' community radio stations. I have always been surprised
> by the Vanya licenses.
>  However, I am a bit curious about some of its other related
> recommendations. Just to play the devil's advocate .... Is it democratic to
> prohibit political parties and religious organizations from running media
> outlets? Is it not possible for them to run these outlets as explicitly
> labelled entities -- The DMK Channel, the TRS Channel or whatever -- and
> let people decide whether they want to watch them or give any credibility
> to their content. Similarly, if CR licenses cannot be given to local
> government bodies, is it possible for a municipality or a gram panchayat to
> run its own radio station under some other policy to connect with the
> citizens? There surely are many such radio stations in different parts of
> the world. Can they be barred from doing that? Or religious organizations
> whose job is to propagate (and, I dare say, proselytize) could run their
> own media units to communicate.
>  Love to have some discussion on this.
>  best,
> Vinod
>  On Wed, Aug 13, 2014 at 10:59 AM, Sajan Venniyoor <venniyoor at gmail.com>
> wrote:
> Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies says that, "As an online discussion grows
> longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler
> approaches". I was pleased to note that TRAI's "Recommendations on Issues
> Relating to Media Ownership
> <http://trai.gov.in/WriteReadData/Recommendation/Documents/Recommendations%20on%20Media%20Ownership.pdf>"
> (12 Aug 2014) gets in a Nazi comparison, suo motu, by Chapter 5.
>  "Should Government own media entities?", asks TRAI, and reminds us that
> in response to earlier I&B Ministry references on the subject, it had
> recommended (on 12 Nov 2008 and 28 Dec 2012) that (i) Political bodies;
> (ii) Religious bodies; (iii) Urban and local bodies, Panchayati Raj and
> other publicly funded bodies; (iv) Central and State government ministries,
> departments, companies, undertakings, joint ventures and government-funded
> entities; and their affiliates should not be allowed to enter into
> broadcasting and TV channel distribution activities.
>  "In case permission to any such organisations have already been granted,
> an appropriate exit route is to be provided," said TRAI
>  To drive home their reservations about government bodies being permitted
> "extensive and unrestricted presence in the media" and how their "influence
> in moulding public perception can be potentially deleterious to democracy",
> TRAI quotes Hitler's Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, propounding
> that if one told a lie big enough and kept repeating it, people will
> eventually come to believe it.
>  "As is well-known,", says TRAI, "this is precisely the method followed
> by the Nazi government to militarize and mobilize the German people. That
> is why all media, including the public broadcaster, needs to be independent
> of the government."
>  Dear me. I always assumed it was small non-governmental organizations
> that tended to broadcast hate speech, sowing confusion and despondency
> among deprived communities, provoking serious breaches of public order and
> generally causing their listeners to implode. Imagine government
> organizations lying to or instigating people!
>  Still, as a report in today's *Indian Express *("Media ownership: TRAI
> for restriction on corporates
> <http://indianexpress.com/article/business/business-others/media-ownership-trai-for-restriction-on-corporates/>",
> IE, 13 Aug) points out, "the Trai recommendations could have an impact on
> the guidelines for community radios which are in the works as several rural
> and urban local bodies have shown interest in the sector."
>  I have news for the *Indian Express*: several rural and urban bodies are
> already in the CR sector, not to mention religious bodies, publicly funded
> bodies, "Government ministries, departments, companies, undertakings, joint
> ventures, and government-funded entities and affiliates," as well as their
> surrogates. Good luck with providing them "an appropriate exit route".
>  (In violation of the CR Guidelines, and against the recommendations of
> their own Screening Committee, the I&B Ministry had granted a CR license
> to Vanya
> <http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2012-05-10/news/31655753_1_fm-channel-radio-station-language>,
> a 'society' under the Tribal Development Dept of Madhya Pradesh, and at
> least five other 'educational institutions
> <http://www.ummid.com/news/2011/July/20.07.2011/first_tribal_radio_to_be_launched.htm>'
> associated with Vanya. These radio stations "would help in popularising
> various government schemes, and also work as a bridge between the people
> and the government," said the Tribal Welfare Minister, no doubt
> paraphrasing Joseph Goebbels).
>  Sajan
> Join the Community Radio Forum.
>  --
> Dr. Vinod Pavarala
> Professor of Communication &
> UNESCO Chair on Community Media
> Sarojini Naidu School of Arts & Communication
> University of Hyderabad
> Gachibowli, Hyderabad 500046
> Phone: +91-40-23135501/23011553
> http://www.commuoh.in/
> http://www.uccommedia.in/
> http://www.communityradioindia.org/
> Join the Community Radio Forum.
> Join the Community Radio Forum.
>  --
>  *Geeta Seshu*
>  9892214601
> Join the Community Radio Forum.
>   --
> *Geeta Seshu*
>  9892214601
> Join the Community Radio Forum.
> Join the Community Radio Forum.
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