ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Press’s Curious Response

TRAI Report on Media Ownership

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India recently released its report on media ownership to a studied indifference from the print media which otherwise debates this issue vigorously. Why have the newspapers avoided a serious and vigorous engagement with the report's consequential recommendations?

Given the general tone of public discussions on the media, there could be a prize reserved for any statement that avoids the term “fourth estate”. In its report on media ownership released on 12 August, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) fails to resist the cliché, resonantly pronouncing in its very first line that the “fourth estate” plays a “crucial role in a democracy”.1

TRAI’s exploration of media ownership stays true to form here, but reserves an element of surprise in the recommendations it puts forward. At issue are two among the constitutional rights: property and free speech. Property may have been demoted in the reigning constitutional orthodoxy from being a fundamental right to merely a “legal right”, but it remains an entitlement protected with greater zeal than life itself. And free speech is of course a right of very wide amplitude which has in much public discussion been reduced, unfortunately to merely a matter of the media. These are difficult knots to cut through and after placing all its thoughts on the table, TRAI leaves the task of unravelling the multiple complexities involved, to a future body, perhaps a commission “headed by a retired Supreme Court judge”.

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