The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) consultation paper on the National Broadcasting Policy arrives at a critical juncture coinciding with the emergence of new content delivery platforms, technologies and business models. The growing convergence between broadcasting and digital media has brought into focus a fragmented regulatory framework, posing challenges in maintaining a level playing field for service providers.

Traditional broadcasting services are subject to the provisions of TRAI and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB), while digital media platforms are primarily governed by self-regulatory mechanisms as outlined in the IT Rules 2021. The disparate regulatory regimes necessitate an evolutionary approach, ensuring fair competition among stakeholders. The paper sheds light on the low TV adoption rate in India. With over 100 million households still devoid of television access, there exists untapped potential in expanding the reach of broadcasting services. Addressing barriers such as high ownership costs and escalating subscription fees is crucial to unlocking this latent demand.

Content regulation emerges as a critical area necessitating regulatory intervention. While the proposed Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023 grants extensive powers to the Centre to censor content, it is disappointing that the TRAI consultation paper remains silent on this aspect. Balancing freedom of expression with the need for responsible content dissemination requires a nuanced approach that safeguards creative freedom while upholding ethical standards. Any ambiguity in policy formulation risks stifling innovation and impeding India’s aspirations of becoming a global content hub. Another critical missing piece is the issue of cross-media ownership. While the paper rightly emphasizes revamping audience measurement systems, it overlooks the need to assess the extent of media consolidation. TRAI itself has previously highlighted the significant cross-ownership between print and broadcast media. There are companies that own content, distribution and broadcast channels. Media pluralism, or diverse ownership, is essential for a strong, healthy democracy. In the marketplace of ideas, the readers, viewers, and listeners seek to read, view and listen to diverse opinions. TRAI itself had earlier called for necessary safeguards to be put in place. A robust policy is needed to ensure healthy competition within the sector.

The need for a consolidated ‘National Broadcasting Policy’ is undeniable. TRAI’s consultation paper offers a valuable starting point for discussion. Policymakers must prioritise the harmonisation of regulatory frameworks, promote accessibility and affordability, uphold freedom of expression, and address issues such as content regulation and cross-media ownership. As India strives to assert its position as a global leader in media and entertainment, a progressive policy framework will serve as the cornerstone of an inclusive broadcasting ecosystem.