Ad cap conflicts with fundamental rights: Arun Jaitley


NEW DELHI: Reiterating that the government is not inclined to interfere in the content or the business of media entities, Information and Broadcasting minister Arun Jaitley has said he is not in favour of a cap on advertising for TV or print media. 

In the first J S Verma Memorial Lecture, Jaitley wondered how a 12-minute cap could be reconciled with the fundamental right of freedom of speech.

“It will be music to the years of media persons. My ministry, a couple of years ago, came out with a statutory law that no channel will telecast advertisements beyond so many minutes. I have been struggling, in my own mind, since then as to how this meets the challenge of Article 19(1)A," Jaitley said. 

The ad cap law brought in by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has been legally challenged and the matter is pending in court. 

Jaitley was also in favour of increasing FDI in media from the current cap of 26 per cent, saying when foreign newspapers were anyway available online in India, there was no point opposing the move. He said, "The debate over whether foreign media should be allowed to establish in the country and the extent of foreign equity has been made irrelevant by technology. Today, sitting here, I can access any newspaper in the world over internet." 

Referring to the financial pressure on modern media, he said, "The financial model of most media organizations is becoming challenging. The cost of news distribution has become huge. Cost of circulation is high. Most are unable to sustain. This is leading to consolidations and mergers. Those with deep pockets are acquiring media." 


The minister said that the media, in the spirit of fairness, must carry a disclaimer with respect to news where there was a conflict of interest. 

Jaitley said financial pressure on media affected the quality of news and its credibility. Because of this, media houses spend less and less on news collection, hire less reporters who are not paid well, he said.


He stressed on the challenge posed by digital media to the traditional forms of news dissemination and pointed out how newspapers and magazines abroad were shutting down in favour of digital platforms. He, however, said that the revenue model for digital media was not clear and it was still evolving. 


He also raised the issue of cross-media ownership and said in his concluding remarks that it was an issue that needed to be debated. "Most jurisdictions world over ban cross-holdings in the media. Can all mediums be vested with one person? How is larger public interest going to be impacted by this? It should be debated," Jaitley said.

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