| 12 Aug 2020
TRAI managed to give broadcasting as much importance as telecom in 2014

NEW DELHI: A decade after broadcasting was handed over to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), it appears to have given equal if not more time to the broadcasting sector. It can be attributed largely to convergence of technology.

Thus, issues like spectrum, marketing and even FM radio have got equal space during the Regulator's work as telecom, apart from the digital addressable system introduced in 2011.

TRAI also mastered the art of marketing during the year 2014. It developed Radio Jingles in Hindi, English and 10 Regional languages on VAS/UCC which were aired on various FM channels in 84 cities across the country.

Admitting in its annual report that it had failed to carry out periodic reviews to make inflation- linked adjustments, TRAI said it had finally done so in concurrence of the Supreme Court. Thereafter, TRAI issued two tariff orders on 31 March and December as far as broadcasting was concerned.

As far as FM radio is concerned, TRAI on the request of MIB made recommendations on the amount of migration fee to be charged from existing FM operators on their migration from Phase-II to Phase-III of FM radio broadcasting. The permissions for operating FM Radio as per Phase-II policy were granted by MIB during the period 2005 to 2009 in 86 cities. As per the Phase-II policy, the permissions were granted for a period of 10 years to each FM Radio operator and there is no provision for extension of permission in the Phase-II policy. Therefore, Phase-II permissions will start expiring from 31 March 2015 onwards. There was no great incentive for an existing operator to pay a migration fee and operate as per the Phase-III policy only for the balance period of Phase-II permissions. Accordingly, the Authority in its Recommendations on ‘Migration of FM Radio Broadcasters from Phase-II to Phase-III’ dated 20 February 2014 recommended a period of permission of 15 years after migration from Phase-II to Phase-III.

The salient features of the recommendations are:

TRAI reiterated early implementation of its recommendations on minimum channel spacing of 400 KHz for FM Radio broadcast issued on 19 April 2012, which will in effect increase the number FM channels in each city for auction. The period of permission to operate the existing FM channels on migration from Phase-II to Phase-III will be fifteen years.

Regulatory restrictions on cross-media holdings seek to ensure external plurality in the media market, while restrictions in vertical holding by any entity of a broadcaster and a distribution entity are important to ensure that the distribution channels remain open to all desirous of presenting an opinion or view to the public. Finally, content regulation is critical in a time when news is increasingly seen as an asset belonging to a media entity’s owners to be monetised for political/ business/ or pecuniary gain.

Recommendations on ‘Issues related to Media Ownership' were issued on 12 August 2014. The key issues addressed and the concerned recommendations included defining who owns a media entity and controls it. In brief, an entity that possess not less than fifty per cent of voting rights in the media entity or can appoint more than fifty per cent of the members of its board of directors will be deemed to control it. The Recommendations also take into consideration control through debt, and has recommended the loan threshold that will deem the lender to be in control of a media entity.

The restrictions recommended on cross-media ownership apply on media entities that cover news and current affairs genres in the television and print segments only, as impact of radio and internet in India on opinion formation is marginal. In the print segment, only daily newspapers, including business and financial newspapers, should be considered.

The MIB had sent a reference to TRAI seeking recommendations of the Authority on extension of permission granted to Community Radio Stations (CRS) in India. According to the 2006 Policy Guidelines for CRSs, the period of validity of Grant of Permission Agreements (GOPA) is five years and the guidelines contain no provisions for the renewal/extension of permissions. The validity of the GOPAs issued under these Guidelines for some of the CRSs, had expired on completion of five years, requiring them to stop operating. The Authority, therefore, in an interim reply suggested continuation of the GOPAs on the same terms and conditions.

CRSs are an important medium for empowerment and social development of local communities. Therefore, going beyond the terms of reference from MIB, the Authority in a pre- consultation process sought inputs from CRS permission holders on the issues relevant for the growth of CRS in the country based on their experiences over the past decade.

In addition to the issues highlighted, the Authority also noted the important role, the CRS play in serving the local communities by providing relevant information/alerts during natural calamities and emergency situations. The Authority, after analysing all issues comprehensively, sent ‘Recommendations on Issues related Community Radio Stations’ to MIB on 29 August, 2014. The salient features of the recommendations included initial permission for operating a CRS to be five years; extension of permission for five years at a time, to be allowed following performance evaluation; and CRS to be allowed to broadcast locally relevant news and current affairs content sourced exclusively from AIR, in its original form or translated into the local language/ dialect.

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