Media houses welcome FDI in print media, while politicians oppose it

The Union Cabinet decision this morning to open up print media to foreign investment has been rah-rahed by industry as a whole. Some professionals Indian spoke to were euphoric, while others said they had expected it to happen. "It's extremely positive," said Mid-Day Multimedia managing director Tariq Ansari.

"The momentum to allow FDI in print media was too strong," said Indian Express Newspapers (Mumbai) CEO & editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta. "It was expected. I am not surprised by the decision," said The Pioneer editor & managing director Chandan Mitra.

According to sources in The Times of India, its management had done a volte face on its position on FDI in print media. Sources say that Bennet Coleman & Co vice-chairman Samir Jain was in the Mumbai offices and an edit was expected to be out for tomorrow's edition of the paper welcoming the decision. 

This morning, the English language daily paper had an editorial entitled "Meddling with the Media" which stated that "both prime minister Vajpayee and information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj (who) had promised that the government would go by the recommendations of the Committee. It is not clear why they are moving now, and that too surreptitiously, to thwart its verdict. In adopting this stand, the Vajpayee government is treading a perilous path of ignoring the principle of consultation with not just cabinet and parliamentary committee, but the opposition as well, on matters of national importance. It is also setting the stage for undermining the country's security. Indians have long complained that the western media consistently skewed reporting on terrorism and its Pakistani connection till the attack on the World Trade Center. Ironically, this is a lesson that should have been best understood by a government that claims it has been hurt by the depiction of its prime minister by an American news weekly."

The Shobhna Bharatiya headed Hindustan Times has also been critical of the Union Cabinet decision calling it controversial saying that "the government decision comes in face of outright rejection of FDI in print media by a Parliamentary Standing Committee and stiff opposition from several political parties, including some ruling NDA constituents."

The Indian Newspaper Society president Pratap Pawar reportedly has decried the FDI policy saying that it will "sound the death knell for small and medium newspapers besides badly affecting the country's large newspapers." 

The chairman of the Mathrubumi group of newspapers and vice-president of the Indian Newspaper Society M P Veerendra Kumar has also trashed the decision, and has been quoted as saying "foreign investors will not care what we hold dear. They will be driven only by commercial considerations. We must oppose it."

However, financial daily Business Standard editor T N Ninan has being quoted as saying that that London-based pink paper Financial Times is extremely eager to pick up an equity stake in Business Standard Ltd.

On the political front, the Bharatiya Janata Party refused to comment on the issue, while the Congress (I) and the Left parties opposed the government's decision. The Congress (I) spokesperson said the party's position on the 1955 Cabinet resolution has not changed and that it would take an appropriate position on it when it comes up before parliament.

The Communist Party of India Marxist said that the government was playing a dangerous game by handing over the print media to imperialist forces which have been carrying out a malicious propoganda. Its spokesperson, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, has been quoted as saying that it will be harmful for democracy and would benefit foreign companies and other countries.

The stockmarkets, however, saw a lot of positivity in the government's decision and pushed up the prices of media shares such as Navneet Publications (up 11 per cent), Sahara Media, Mid-Day Multimedia and Tata Infomedia. This despite the dampening news of industrialist and Reliance Group founder Dhirubhai Ambani's ill health and hospitalisation. 

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