TRAI flags challenges for digital media

New Delhi: In a recent consultation paper, India’s telecommunications regulator highlighted concerns over monopoly in the digital media market, the unfair control of tech giants like Google and Facebook over digital advertising revenue, and the growing problem of fake news content.

The newspaper, published by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), published on April 12, is now open for public comment.

In particular, the paper points to “cross media ownership,” a phenomenon in which one company comes to own multiple media companies, leading to a monopolistic market.

The document indicates that the media has changed in recent years – not only in terms of consumption but also from the point of view of ownership – and suggests a regulatory body to control the market monopoly.

The document cites the case of Jio Fiber as an example of cross-ownership. JioFiber is a high-speed Internet service offered by Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited, a telecommunications company and a subsidiary of Reliance Industries by Mukesh Ambani.

According to the newspaper, Jio Fiber’s decision to bundle OTT platforms such as Disney+ Hotstar, Zee5 and Amazon Prime Video with its telecommunications and internet services could lead not only to a monopoly, but also to challenges in terms of media regulation and verification of fake news.


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Problem with printed publications

TRAI also pointed to the steady decline in revenue from print publications and raised concerns about Google and Facebook’s monopoly on news content.

The newspaper cites accounting firm KPMG’s report on the steady decline in print media revenue since 2014 – data, according to TRAI’s consultation paper, shows print media revenue growth was negative 9% in 2019-20 , compared to the positive growth of digital media 17 percent.

This shortfall, according to the newspaper, occurred despite digital innovations such as electronic newspapers and the creation of digital platforms.

Additionally, TRAI cites print publications as having complained about the monopoly of tech giants like Facebook, Google, Twitter and Instagram on ad revenue. Print publications accuse these organizations of unevenly distributing ad revenue and unfairly profiting from their news content.

According to the newspaper, print publishers claimed that “these tech giants make money by advertising on the strength of their news content, although Facebook and Google say they are essentially helping publishers by directing traffic to their websites”.

Given the role of tech giants in delivering digital content, the paper proposes a regulator to enforce revenue sharing in digital media advertising.

The TRAI also provides a mechanism to help understand how public consumption is determined for print media. He points out that while bbroadcast channels have a way of determining who watches their content, when and how much, thanks to BARC data, for newspapers, it is not possible to determine how many articles a reader is interested in each day.


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Monopoly and media bias

The media, according to the TRAI, is a “capital-intensive sector” – a sphere that requires large investments for its survival. Therefore, investors with specific political leanings or business interests could affect media advertising revenue.

“Corporate media interests have been justified to meet the financing needs of this sector,” the newspaper said. “In a market economy, the right to invest in a business is the choice of any business entity. However, in such a scenario, a counterparty guaranteeing a hedge favorable to the controlling entity can never be excluded.

Therefore, it is “necessary to ensure the independence of the media from political and commercial influences”, the newspaper says.

The phenomenon of fake news

The consultation paper notes with concern the increased role that fake news content has played in shaping public opinion since the rise of social media.

“The horrific effects of fake news have manifested themselves before society in recent incidents of mob lynching, riots and cases of sacrilege,” the newspaper said.

Currently, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is seeking help from intelligence agencies and nodal officers from some ministries to help identify fake news online and on TV news channels.

TRAI states in its article that with an increase in digital media organizations, there is a “lack of precision among some online players” about their content.

“There have been a number of instances of fake/saved videos going viral on social media platforms,” ​​TRAI says in its post. “Such bogus/retained content sometimes leads to serious repercussions.”

TRAI also denounces the lack of authenticity of digital media content which, according to it, “challenges and sometimes contradicts traditional media organizations, leading to a state of confusion and misinformation in society”.

For context, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has banned 78 YouTube “news” channels so far, citing security concerns.


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Understanding the “relevant market”

Although the newspaper expresses concerns about the monopoly of the English media market, it notes that this trend may apply to regional media with fewer competitors.

“For a person who only knows the Telugu language, only Telugu publications and TV channels are most relevant and not all the publications and TV channels available in the country,” the newspaper claims. “In order to identify actual competitors in various media markets, it would be appropriate to invoke the concept of ‘relevant market’.”

One would have to define the “market” to understand “market concentration,” the paper says.

Who regulates?

The document states that in India, the Competition Commission of India (ICC) is one of the market regulators which “prohibits anti-competitive agreements and abuse of dominant position”.

The body, the document says, has its limitations: while it ensures that mergers and acquisitions do not unfairly tend to satisfy private interests, the body does not focus on “capturing cross-shareholdings and direct/indirect control of different organizations by a common entity”. “, indicates the newspaper.

The growth of transnational organizations – companies that hold shares and legal persons in more than two countries – in the Indian media space makes it imperative to build a new system to “see the restrictions based on corporate control that can be easily reversed by creating another set of companies by the same entity”.

This means there should be a mechanism to help prevent companies from cornering a market not just on their own but through their subsidiaries, the paper said.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)


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