Television

Govt permissions continue to elude Star News

NEW DELHI : The new year has arrived. From today, Star has 88 days before D-day dawns on April 1, 2003. And in the run up to unveil a new-look and completely overhauled Star News channel, the Rupert Murdoch company has to work out various logistics, including obtaining various permissions from the Indian government which are yet to come through.

The Cabinet note on Star News proposal was circulated by the information and broadcasting ministry to some ministries concerned in December, but the feedback and comments are yet to arrive. Before that happens, information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj would not like to take the proposal to the Cabinet for "collective guidance."

"We have sent reminders to the various ministries last Friday only on the Star News issue and are awaiting their response," a senior I&B ministry official told indiantelevision earlier today.

Asked when the ministry expects responses from other government departments, the official admitted, "We cannot hurry up other ministries on any issue. Especially this one as it is a sensitive issue and the (I&B) minister has made it clear that a thorough examination of all the aspects have to be done. Moreover, some issues also relate to security and the home ministry can take some time (on responding on Star News issue)." 

The Cabinet note has been circulated to the ministries of home affairs, defence, IT and telecommunications, law and finance, apart from the Prime Minister's Office.

Swaraj's contention on the Star News issue is that since it's a foreign company with foreign directors which wants to have a news channel for India, all aspects, including the editorial and financial control of the channel, need to be examined and for this, she would be needing the guidance of the whole Cabinet.

Although delays would not deter Star from starting the venture in whatever form it thinks fit, a clear idea of the government thinking would certainly help. Even if that means the government making a policy that foreign direct investment (FDI) in such news channels would be on the same lines as that in the news category in print - 26 per cent FDI, while the rest being resident Indian shareholding. 

Political sources indicate that Star needs to get all government permissions before the next session of Parliament (the Budget session) starts middle of February, because after that, not many in the government are likely to have time for most of the year to make policies on similar issues. Unless, of course, the big daddies in India and outside get into the thick of action.

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