Television

Prasad says he still has to study Star News uplink issue

NEW DELHI / MUMBAI: Minister of state for I&B with independent charge, Ravi Shankar Prasad, at his first day at the office today, has said the Star News uplink issue needs to be properly studied, and the "guidance of the cabinet" taken, before he was ready to comment on it either way. 

Prasad, who spoke to journalists this morning, did not seem to be in a hurry to take the Star News uplinking proposal to the Cabinet. Repeating what his predecessor Sushma Swaraj has been saying, Prasad explained that it's a case which is unique and first of its kind for which he also needed the "guidance" of the Cabinet. 

"Comments from some ministries are awaited," Prasad said, when quizzed further on Star News' proposal to uplink from India, pointing out that only after all the comments have been collated would the case be taken to the Cabinet. "It may take some time," he admitted.

Prasad, while referring to the 24 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) cap in print news publications, said he was prima facie all for FDI (in television news broadcasting).

The question, he said was in what form and under what terms the channel would operate. The contours of the case still needed to be properly framed, he said.

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 2003.

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. The now former information & broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj, then had said that since Star News was a news channel primarily meant for the Indian audiences, the case was a first of its kind - unlike BBC World or CNN - and she would like to have "collective guidance" on the issue.

Prasad's initial comments on the case appear to indicate that he has taken a similar line on the case.

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.

PRASAD BACKS 'RIGHTSIZING' IN I&B:

Prasad, while coming out in support of downsizing (of the government machinery), however, made it clear that the recommendatuion of the Geethakrishnan report would not be "accepted in toto."

"It has to be a blend of downsizing and right sizing," Prasad said.

Swaraj had managed to convince the finance ministry that out of the 5000-odd posts which had been recommended to be abolished after shutting down some media units, only 1000 should go.

On Prasar Bharati, Prasad said that Doordarshan and All India Radio have to be the vehicle for spreading the message of development and communication and that the media, in general, also should help in spreading information for development.

Asked for his views on conditional access, which has been mandated to be implemnted from 14 July, Prasad said that a task force has been set up (where surprisingly Star does not find a representation, though Jayaraman of Hathway has been included) and it will be doing the work on the basic tier pricing and composition.

"I am still very new in this ministry. I'll take some time to study and understand issues like conditional access," he said disarmingly.

Also see:

Home ministry comment on Star News uplink pending

Outgoing Swaraj reminisces I&B tenure

CAS task force formed; to meet 7 Feb

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