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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Govt. ownership of TV channels is against free and fair reporting of news

Broadcasting media is a
dominant factor in the
formulation of views and in
Influencing people at large. It is
therefore essential that the
viewers and listeners have the
possibility of getting an objective presentation of news
and views.
It is difficult to support the recommendations of TRAI
that government or its companies, local bodies, and
political parties be barred from owning or controlling
broadcast channels or infrastructure.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has
recently come up with recommendations which, among
other things, categorically suggest that no State
government or State-controlled body may be permitted to
have ownership of broadcasting or broadcast distribution
Broadcasting is a key instrument for sharing information,
opinion and debate -- vital to governance and lives of
citizens. A monopoly in sector, whether public or private,
goes against public interest in information or
Government owned media like All India Radio (AIR) and  Doordarshan (DD) is known to act as mouthpiece of the
government in power. The presence of private news
channels, with the advent of cable TV and DTH, has
provided the viewer a plurality of views but even today
its reach is limited. The reach of DD and AIR is
unmatched. Now even state governments are launching
their own channels. They are unlikely to ensure fair
reporting and plurality of views. This trend should be
discouraged and TRAI recommendations are appropriate.
However, government’s monopoly in this sector is as bad
as its deliberate exclusion. While the former suggests a
misplaced primacy of government in today’s complex
world of information, the latter questions its legitimacy as
even a possible source.
Other comparable democracies like the US do not have
government-owned media. Private channels there have
not only ensured diversity of views but also upheld the
national interest. The picture becomes even clearer when
one compares it with the situation prevailing in China
where government-controlled media presents totally
biased view of news events
Private players, however good, cannot possibly exhaust
all options that a truly informed citizen might need.
Indeed, it is both acceptable and desirable that
government and private sources of information compete
vigorously. Also private channels are driven by
advertising revenues and are not known to carry messages
of public interest like promotion of literacy, welfare of
the girl child, highlighting social evils like dowry and
various welfare schemes being run for the benefit of the

The Supreme Court has warned against monopoly of
information and views. Ensuring plurality of views,
opinions and a fair and balanced presentation of news and
public issues requires the regulator to make sure that
adequate competition exists, while minimising misuse
possibilities. In this regard, the Supreme Court further
implied that ‘government control’ of a broadcast media
was bound to colour and may even distort news, views
and opinions.
While private channels have proven their utility in
exposing corruption and other shortcomings in
governance and functioning of the government, they are
not beyond the kind of media misuse government-owned
broadcasting facilities are accused of. Pervasive
editorialising and mobilising, by private TV channels, is
not that far from propaganda, even if it is well-meaning.
The sector’s own self-regulatory body has reprimanded
several channels for inaccurate and irresponsible


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