Government may decide all uplink cases together

NEW DELHI: Information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad seems to have set the cat amongst the pigeons when he informed the Indian parliament that there are at least four companies that are awaiting permission to uplink from India. It is being interpreted as that all the cases would be decided together without any one being preference.

The confusion has also been confounded by the fact that Independent News Service's Rajat Sharma today said he is not starting any channel at the moment as has been reported in the media, while BBC, another company waiting in the wings, indicated it has sought permission as a matter of routine and that its case should not be clubbed with those of Indian news channels.

Prasad yesterday told the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) that the India Today Group's English news channel, NDTV World, Star News are among the 24-hour news channels still awaiting government's clearance for uplinking from India. He also said in a written reply that proposals of BBC and Independent News Service (for a channel called India TV) are still under examination.

The government, of course, would take its own time as it is trying to fix a reworked policy for news channels uplinking for India and is attempting to have re-look at the foreign shareholding of various news channels.

Though TV Today Network, operating the Aaj Tak channel in Hindi and the proposed English channel, claims to be a fully Indian company, but the government, one is certain, would take a look at its various shareholders. TV Today Network last year got permission from the government to bring in some investments from GE Capital, a foreign financial institution, that holds a minority stake in the company.

Apart from that, the Sunil Bharti Mittal-promoted Bharti group also has a small shareholding in TV Today Network. The problem arises if Sing Tel's investment in Bharti is also regarded as an indirect foreign investment in TV Today Network.

It may be remembered that before the government opened up FDI in the print medium last year, no Indian company, which had investments in it by any FII or a foreign company, could invest in a print medium company. That is why, for example, Maruti (a joint venture between Japan's Suzuki and the Indian government) could not put its money in any Indian newspaper even if it wanted to.

The parent company of NDTV World, NDTV Pvt. Ltd, also has investments over 15 per cent from FIIs like Jardine Fleming, which was concluded some five years back.

BBC, of course is foreign company and so is Star News Broadcasting. Asked by, BBC attempted to make things very clear indicating that its application should not be clubbed with the likes of Star News.

"The BCC News application (for uplinking) is simply a technical application to provide interjects and reports for BBC's satellite news gathering activities across the region," Paul Danahar, South Asia Bureau Editor of BBC News said, adding, "It's (BBC's application) different from applications made by 24/7 ( 24 hours seven days a week) satellite news channel in India."

Amongst those waiting for the green signal from the government on uplinking, the only one that seems to be sitting pretty is Rajat Sharma's Independent News Service that is 100 per cent Indian-owned.

"But I am not starting any channel at the moment and the uplinking permission has been made to strengthen the news gathering activity," Sharma said today, refusing to divulge any further details. He even refused to comment on his probable future relationship with Star when the Rupert Murdoch company takes full control of Star News after 31 March, 2003.

Where does that leave the likes of Star, TV Today and NDTV World ? Again, amongst these, it would be Star that would worry more about delays as more uplink cases would mean the government is likely to take that much more time to take a stand on the uplink issue of channels from Indian and their shareholding pattern even as Star's deadline fast approaches. This despite the fact, that Prasad told earlier in the month that he is "aware" of all deadlines.

Among the 24-hour news channels already granted uplinking permission include Sun TV's four channels, Jain TV, Zee News and seven separate proposed channels from Sahara Sanchar Ltd.

The blips continue mar the uplinking issue signals.

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