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Times Group MD against further acquisition in telecom sector; fears it will limit consumer choice
June, 07th 2018

The government must discourage further mergers and acquisitions in the telecom sector because that would drastically limit consumer choice and give the handful of players in the sector a monopoly over content, Times Group Managing Director Vineet Jain said today.

Speaking at the 15th Asia Media Summit here, he stressed for a media system in the country which remains healthy, diverse and competitive.

"Consolidation in the telecom industry has left just three serious players standing. With mobile becoming virtually the only screen, telcos will control what you watch, read, consume and transact - leading to a near-monopoly situation.

"The government must discourage further mergers and acquisitions in telecom sector because that would drastically limit consumer choice," he said.

The government, he said, should also bring laws against telcos owning and favouring its content over others - just as TV channels are not allowed to own majority stakes in cable networks.

Net neutrality was an important step, and Times Group supported this position to ensure that pipe-owners don't control the message and create walled gardens. And on TV, regulation ensured separate ownership of channels and carriage companies to avoid conflict of interest, he said.

Expressing concern over India's internet businesses being either entirely or heavily owned by American or Chinese companies, Jain feared this would have serious economic and political implications. He suggested that laws should be enacted to ensure "data stays within India and is governed by Indian law".

"Foreign companies and agencies will control valuable and extensive data about India, and that should worry us. The Cambridge Analytica-Facebook scandal has exposed how this data can be used to damage a country," he said.

Jain also strongly favoured bringing reforms in FM radio giving consumers have access to as many voices and choices as possible.

"A simple reform can spur exponential growth. The government can almost double the number of FM stations in a city by halving the spectrum separation between two channels. TRAI has already made this recommendation twice. Broadcasters will be able to offer much more variety in content, just like TV channels do," he said.

Highlighting the growth of digital media platforms, he said that while they have enabled a wide range of voices, they are also a hotbed of misinformation, propaganda and spread fake news. Hence, "India must take a more pro-active stance by holding digital platforms accountable for the content they propagate."

Focussing attention on the business model of newspapers which is facing a threat due to increased newsprint prices and cut-throat digital advertising, Jain stressed on innovating to maintain relevance.

"And the government must work with the industry to ensure that we maintain a strong and healthy press, which is vital for a thriving democracy," he said.

Advertising is a lifeblood of the media industry but ad spent as a percentage of India's GDP is the lowest among the world's largest economies at 0.33 per cent.

Therefore, for Indian media to realise its full potential, regulatory reforms are needed across the board - to make it easier to do business, remove anomalies in the system and ensure a fair marketplace that benefits the consumer, Jain said.

"A level playing field is a pre-requisite for healthy competition, and plurality of voices," he added.

The Indian media landscape, he said, is more dynamic than ever before. Successful media companies no longer think about print, TV, radio, digital, but simply about the consumer, he added.

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