FDI for news channels must be at par with that for print, says GoM

NEW DELHI: The group of ministers (GoM) panel looking into the matter of Star News, aka uplinking issue, feels that the foreign investment guidelines for news channels need to be amended to be brought at par with the FDI guidelines for the print medium in the wake of "contravention" of guidelines by the Rupert Murdoch-controlled news channel.

According to a source in the GoM, which met here for the first time, "The panel was unanimous in its view that Star News' application shows conclusive contravention of guidelines through a series of interesting financial arrangements with backend companies."

Pointing out that one of the views in the GoM was to bring electronic medium foreign direct investment (FDI) guidelines at par with those for the print medium, the source said, "If compliance needs revisiting the guidelines, it would be done."

The GoM comprises information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, law and commerce minister Arun Jaitley and finance minister Jaswant Singh.

It was set up last month to look into the issue of Star News, which was allegedly not following the existing guidelines in letter and spirit and contravening them by setting up a shell company and having Indian shareholders who do not really have much powers.

A section of the domestic media companies have also come together to put pressure on the Indian government on making media rules more stringent and not allowing Murdoch to ride rough shod over policies. The source in the GoM also said that the ministers have "taken note of the fact" that Media Content Communications India Pvt Ltd (MCCS), the company that has sought uplinking permission for content on Star News, is actually controlled by Star (only a 26 per cent shareholder) that has the power to veto editorial and financial decision taken by a clutch of Indian shareholders.

After the GoM has deliberated on the issue, the source said some changes in the guidelines may be instituted. This includes the possibility of having a clause insreted wherein a single Indian shareholder would need to have at least 51 per cent holding in the company that is desirous of uplinking content for a news channel.

Other changes that may be effected is likely to dwell on the rescinding of the veto power of Star in MCCS in matters pertaining to editorial and hiring and firing of personnel. However, the source in the GoM was at pains to underline the fact that the government does not want to shut down any on-air channel and Star News/MCCS would be given 'ample time" to adhere to any new guidelines if they are amended.

The GoM has met after an inter-ministerial group, comprising secretaries of the department of company affairs, and ministries of law and I&B, deliberated on the Star News issue and submitted a report few days back. Still, contrary to expectations the IMG report has not made many recommendations and instead listed out the highlights of the Star case and the existing set of rules and regulations.

See Earlier report:

GoM panel set to meet, Star News tops agenda

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