Television

Govt ponders FDI cap in broadcasting sector

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NEW DELHI: The Indian government is exploring the possibilities of making some changes in the existing policies relating to foreign investment in the broadcasting sector.

A consensus emerging within the government is that FDI norms should be same for both the print and electronic media. More so if it pertains to news. 

The industry ministry, under whose jurisdiction the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) falls, has recently issued another set of detailed guidelines for FDI in various sectors, including broadcasting, reiterating the fact that FDI through automatic route, as is permissible in some sectors, is not permitted in the broadcasting sector. 

"If the FDI limit in print medium's news category, for so many years kept out of bounds for foreign investors, is 26 per cent, why should it be 100 per cent in the electronic medium?" a senior minister in the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government said when asked for an opinion on FDI in the electronic medium. 

Information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj too told a fellow parliamentarian in Rajya Sabha on December 10 that if they want, the government is willing to have a debate on the issue of FDI in the broadcasting sector. 

The issue of FDI in the broadcasting sector is gaining prominence because of a proposal from Star to take control of Star News channel completely through a company based in the Virgin Island, that will be indirectly controlled by News Corp. Swaraj too referred to this aspect in the Indian Parliament. 

Swaraj had also said that she would prefer to take the issue of Star News channel to the Union Cabinet. However, till today no apparent move in that direction has been made by her ministry. "Maybe the minister is waiting for the Parliament session to get over before she takes the Star case to the cabinet, " a senior government official told indiantelevision.com today. 

Parliament adjourns sine die on 18 December to be reconvened for the Budget session early next year. With the government having announced the guidelines for FDI investment in the print medium, a school of thought in the government that feels that FDI norms for the news category should be capped at print medium level is slowly gaining ascendency over the more liberal minded ones. 

In the print medium, FDI for the news category is capped at 26 per cent with one of the riders being that one single Indian shareholder should hold 51 per cent equity. In the non-news category, FDI up to 74 per cent is permitted. 

It is in the light of such developments that the recent industry ministry note gains significance. The note, while detailing FDI norms, states that in a TV software production company, 100 per cent FDI is allowed subject to the condition that a) all future laws on broadcasting and no privilege of protection by virtue of approval accorded and (b) not undertaking any broadcasting from Indian soil without government approval.

FDI, including FII/NRI/OCB/PIO, in hardware facilities such as uplinking and hubs is welcome in private companies incorporated in India within permissible limits, that is 49 per cent, inclusive of both FDI and portfolio investment. The uplinking facilities may also be used for hiring out the services to various broadcasters, the industry ministry says. 

The note further makes it clear that in cable networks, foreign investment up to 49 per cent (inclusive of both FDI and portfolio investment) is allowed of the paid-up share capital of the company. 

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