Television

Home ministry comment on Star News uplink pending

NEW DELHI: Comments of the home ministry are still awaited on Star India's proposal to uplink from India for its news channel. It is only after this that it can be taken to the Cabinet for consideration, outgoing information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj said today.

Feedback from the telecom ministry on the draft note, has however, come in recently, Swaraj confirmed.

Swaraj also said that Star News and others like it, disseminating news and current affairs in India through the electronic medium, would have to adhere to any policy decision which the government takes whether on foreign equity cap or status quo or any other decision.

During a meeting with journalists today, Swaraj said she would have taken the Star proposal, now known as the uplinking case in the government, to the Cabinet even if all the other ministries concerned had not sent in their comments as it has already taken too long. "But now the responsibility of doing so rests on the new minister and may be he wants to have a look at the files before acting on the issue," she added.

Government sources have indicated that the chances of Star News proposal being taken to the Cabinet tomorrow are remote as the new minister of state for I&B, Ravi Shankar Prasad, is slated to take charge at the information and broadcasting ministry only tomorrow.

Asked what was the line of thinking of the ministries which have sent their feedback on the Star News matter, Swaraj said such things could not be discussed in public and is meant for the "Cabinet's consideration."

Further queried, on her personal views or the I&B ministry's views on the isue, she said, "My personal views are only for the Cabinet."

Though, according to some government sources, divergent views are coming on the issue. It is believed that the telecom ministry has suggested that in the news category in the electronic medium, foreign investment should be capped at 26 per cent at par with the norms for the print medium.

Star News Broadcasting, a Virgin Island-registered company, had applied to the Indian government seeking permission to uplink from India content meant to be aired on Star News channel, the full editorial control of which is also being taken over by Star from 31 March.

After the application was made in the second half of 2002, critics had said though within the parameters of existing inadequate laws, Star News' proposal would amount to 100 per cent FDI in news category in the electronic medium.

Swaraj then had said that since Star News, a news channel primarily meant for the Indian audeinces, case was a first of its kind - unlike BBC World or CNN - she would like to have "collective guidance" on the issue. The I&B ministry late last year had also circulated a draft Cabinet note on the issue to the ministries of finance, law & justice, IT & telecom, home affairs, defence and the Planning Commission, apart from the Prime Minister's Office.

COMMENTS FROM HOME AFFAIRS AWAITED ON DTH:

Asked about the status of DTH applications, Swaraj said that comments from home ministry and finance are awaited on the two applications in DTH.

The two companies that had applied for DTH licence are Space TV (an Star affiliate) and the Subhash Chandra-promoted ASC Enterprises Ltd, which is implementing India's first private sector Agrani satellite project.

BROADCASTING BILL & FDI IN NEWS AGENCY: 

Swaraj said that work is almost complete on the broadcast bill that seeks to monitor content on television, ahead of the formation of the Communication Commissiopn of India (CCI) as envisaged in the Communication Convergence Bill where about 70-odd amendments have been sought by an expert panel of Parliament.

"Our aim was to introduce the Broadcast Bill in the budget session of Parliament and I hope it is done and passed," Swaraj said.

On the issue of FDI in news agencies, she said a 1956 cabinet resolution on this matter, barring foreign investment in news agencies like the UNI and PTI, is being looked into and only after a debate could any decision be taken.

The government, however, has reviewed a Cabinet resolution of 1955 on foreign investment in the oprint medium and last year came up with a new policy and norms allowing FDI with riders.

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