Tag Archives: Media ownership

Striving for plurality in Media – The promises and shortcomings of TRAI’s recommendations on media ownership: Smarika Kumar

Guest post by SMARIKA KUMAR

TRAI published a set of recommendations on issues relating to media ownership on 12 August 2014. A summary of the key points of these recommendations may be found here. But what do these recommendations imply for the freedom of speech and expression in India? This post is an attempt to contextualise TRAI’s recommendations against this question.

From No Regulation on the Business of Speech to Some Regulation on the Business of Speech

In its introductory chapter, TRAI says that the objective of its recommendations is to achieve plurality of views and opinions in media. It states:

The objective of these recommendations is not, in any sense whatsoever, to curb the media or deprive it of its rights – that, in fact, would be a disservice to the Indian citizen – but to put in place suitable safeguards that would ensure citizens the right to obtain objective, unbiased and diverse views and opinions.” (para 1.5)

This is a remarkable move because the idea of media plurality has remained contested in the understanding of Article 19(1)(a) of our Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression to Indian citizens. The whole dance began in 1961 with the judgment of Sakal Newspapers v. Union of India, where the government sought to regulate the number of pages a newspaper could carry. Since such regulation would make newspaper prices of smaller newspapers comparable to big newspapers, the government argued that it would enable the smaller newspapers to secure larger circulation. One can clearly see how this was an attempt at enabling plurality in the newspaper business, so that the smaller voices are not stifled by the big voices.

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Chit-funded media

With the Sarandha chit fun scam in West Bengal, a side-effect has been the going bust of its media investments. Seema Guha, Delhi bureau chief of the recently shut down Bengal Post writes in The Hoot:

The executive editor Ranabir Roychowdhury and several of the core journalist team were known to us, but none of us had ever heard the name of Sudipta Sen, the owner. We in Delhi were far away, but our colleagues in Kolkata too did not know anything about him, except that he was a real estate tycoon with a land bank of 100 acres or more. He was also into chit funds. It was much later that we came to know that this was his main business, our money was basically derived from the collections Saradha made from the poorest people in Bengal and other eastern states. He had business in the north east as well as in Odisha. [Read the full article]