Competition regimes are often related to the development strategy of the country. Just like in all other industries, media ownership and regulations are subject to competition law. It has become more and more relevant as competition has increased over the last decade or so with the arrival of digital, cable and satellite channels. In reality, competition law is used relatively occasionally in the media sector, as the regulatory process is laborious, complex and often the issues are hard to prove from an evidential point of view. The Competition Act 2012 contains our country's main competition provisions. The Act itself contains seven chapters and 46 sections. The primary objectives of the Act are aimed at encouraging, ensuring and maintaining competitive environment by prohibiting anti-competitive activities by restricting monopoly, oligopoly and misuse of dominant position. The basis behind media plurality is that the public should be exposed to a variety of sources of news, information and opinion. Indeed, it is true that media plurality requires choice and the ability for consumers to make informed decisions which is the fundamental principle behind competition law. The current Act is designed to promote competition by preventing dominance and ensuring new entrants are not exiled from the market. However, the Act itself needs to strike a balance between ensuring a degree of plurality on one hand and providing companies with the freedom to innovate, expand and invest. Multi-ownership is key to provide programmes of sufficient quantity and quality and indeed, plurality is continually increasing as a result of the digital expansion and the variety of platforms that are available.
In general, dominant companies have a special responsibility for not acting in certain ways that would harm the market. The abusive behaviour includes discriminatory behaviour (treating equivalent customers differently), predatory pricing (pricing below cost in order to drive competitors out of the market), excessive pricing (pricing significantly above cost price), refusal to supply (stopping competitors from accessing services or simply refusing to deal with certain customers) and margin squeeze (where a company that is present on both the upstream and downstream markets charges competitors on the downstream market prices whereby its competitors cannot sell the products profitably). Such abusive behaviour may result from organic growth or acquisitions and Bangladesh Competition Commission is obliged to keep a close eye on the sector to ensure that consumers' rights are not harmed.
Nevertheless, the Competition Act prevalent in the country is not premeditated to deliver diversity and plurality in the media. The Act cannot guarantee that a significant number of different media voices will continue to be heard or prospective new entrants to the market will be able to add to their voice. The task of the Government is to find a middle ground that safeguards both competition and democracy. In other words, we should act to encourage a dynamic market whilst at the same time guaranteeing plurality, diversity and quality for the consumer.
Mushfique Ahmed Chowdhury is a postgraduate student at the Faculty of Law, University of
Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.