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Indian print media looking for clear FDI guidelines

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NEW DELHI: The Indian print media is looking forward to an early announcement of the policy framework providing clear and positive guidelines for the foreign direct investment (FDI) approvals in the print medium.

This was reiterated at a panel discussion on "Living with FDI in Print Media", organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry here. The speakers included Chandan Mitra, chief editor, Pioneer; Dileep Padgaonkar, executive managing editor, The Times of India; TN Ninan, editor, Business Standard and Manoj Mathur, editor, Dainik Naidunia.

Highlighting the basic issues involved in the Indian print media, Chandan Mitra said that even after the government has allowed 26 per cent FDI, it still remained difficult for the Indian print media to access both foreign and domestic funds in the absence of clear cut media guidelines.

As foreign investors were not allowed to pick up shares, the value of shares fell automatically. Thus there was a problem in accessing equity as foreign companies were not allowed to float their shares and this issue still remained unresolved, he explained.

According to Mitra, at the helm of a financially beleaguered Pioneer which he took over from the Thapars a few years back, the Indian print media had so far been treated like a handicapped child because of attitudinal problems.

He said that the Indian print media should be allowed to function like any other commercial organisation in the country.

Mitra also said that the FDI in print media would avoid monopolistic situations and smaller newspapers would be able to survive. This, in turn, would ensure transparency and freedom of press with greater financial comforts, he added.

Dileep Padgaonkar said that a broad policy framework regarding the guidelines and the flow of FDI in the print media should at least be initiated in Parliament.

According to Padgaonkar, the Parliamentary processes were unnecessarily slow when compared to the leaps in the areas of technology. He also said that a regulatory mechanism should be set up to ensure the amount of money generated was spent appropriately and whether it safeguarded the interests of all the parties involved.

Padgaonkar was also of the opinion that as media was a sensitive subject which could mould and change opinion, there was a need to find out why certain countries have imposed regulatory guidelines to ensure the freedom of press and if necessary have such guidelines in India.

The Times of India, along with the likes of Hindustan Times and Hindu, had lobbied hard against the cabinet decision allowing FDI in the print medium. The same way as The Pioneer, Dainik Jagran, Business Standard and The Indian Express had lobbied hard for FDI.

TN Ninan spoke about the future of print media with the FDI. According to him, with 74 per cent FDI allowed in the non-news category serving food, travel, technology sectors, a number of smaller players would emerge in this category.

With 26 per cent FDI in the news and current affairs programme category, increase of monopolistic competition and situations where one company makes more profit than the entire publishing industry, as was being faced today by the print media, would be avoided.

Instead, a new element of competition would evolve where even smaller newspapers would be able to survive and the marketing strategy would be less monopolistic in comparison. This would also increase the professionalism in journalists and initiate a healthy competition in the profession, Ninan said.

Business Standard is expected to be the first off the blocks where getting FDI is concerned. BS has had a long content sharing relationship with The Financial Times of London and the relationship is expected to be formalised in the near future.

According to Ninan, with major international publishing houses coming into India and looking for partners in whom they have trust, the issues of corporate governance would also be addressed seriously. Thus the FDI in print would bring about a positive improvement in a situation where all the players and stakeholders would gain.

Manoj Mathur spoke of the historical perspective of the publishing and print media in the country. According to him, the print media in the country is not smaller than any other businesses and should be allowed to perform like any other business organisation.

Earlier, in his welcome address, Deepak Shourie, managing director, Discovery Communications India, said that the approval of FDI in the print media was a long overdue decision and provided a level playing field for all players.

The meeting was attended by eminent media representatives, CEOs of multinational companies and diplomats of various countries.

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