Regulators

I&B says Star will have to apply afresh for news uplink clearance

NEW DELHI: The Indian government has fired a twin salvo at Star News.

The information and broadcasting ministry today maintained that Media Content & Communication Services India Pvt. Ltd. (MCCS) will have to apply afresh for uplinking if there are changes in the shareholding pattern (read Kumarmangalam Birla pulling out of the venture). Simultaneously, the Press Information Bureau (PIB) has asked for several clarifications from the company if its journalists are to be accredited with the government.

"I think so," a senior I&B ministry official told journalists today when asked whether MCCS would have to apply anew in the wake of reported changes in the shareholding pattern, adding that a fresh memo has been sent on Monday.

The official further said that the government has asked for "certain clarifications from MCCS based on media reports" that Birla has withdrawn from MCCS, the news venture that was to supply content and uplink it from India for Star News channel.

However, the official added that "channels, especially news channels, are not switched off arbitrarily," and it would be in MCCS' favour if it gets back to the ministry as soon as possible with answers to the government posers.

Pointing out that the government won't be unfair to MCCS or Star News where uplinking is concerned, the official said, "The weekly permission (for uplinking) cannot be open-ended. If Star applied late, then the ministry cannot be put at fault. Moreover, it seems that since their structure is not in place, it may lead to further delays."

The present stridency in the government's approach is in sharp contrast to the softening of its stand just 10 days back when officials had maintained that they see no reasons why MCCS' application could not be processed fast.

Contacted by indiantelevision.com, the official spokesperson for Star India, the single largest shareholder of MCCS with 26 per cent stake, said, "We have not heard from the government today, so we cannot comment."

Though the I&B ministry maintained that till 5:45 pm it had not heard from MCCS or Star India, sources in the Rupert Murdoch-owned company admitted a formal reply to various government clarifications cannot be formulated because the company itself is not "officially aware" whether Birla has exited the news venture or not.

AFTER I&B, IT'S PIB'S TURN TO SEEK CLARIFICATIONS

The PIB, which is responsible for giving accreditation to journalists, now has joined issues with its parent body, the information and broadcasting ministry, and asked for several clarifications from MCCS before a final decision can be taken on the application for accreditation of two journalists from the organisation.

The PIB, which is responsible for giving accreditation to journalists, now has joined issues with its parent body, the information and broadcasting ministry, and asked for several clarifications from MCCS before a final decision can be taken on the application for accreditation of two journalists from the organisation. MCCS is a company in which Star holds 26 per cent stake, while the rest of the shareholding is divided amongst seven Indians in various proportions, including Birla.

The four points that have been raised by the PIB in a letter sent today to MCCS --- as also faxed to news director and a board member Sanjay Pugalia --- includes those relating to revenue earned by the company in the last one year and whether MCCS is a company more than one year old.

The last point is important because the PIB, government officials point out, does not give accreditation to journalists from those organizations that have not completed a year's operations.

According to a senior government official, MCCS recently applied for accreditation of two journalists with the government, including that for Pugalia, after an earlier application for accreditation, filed by Star News Broadcasting Ltd., had been withdrawn.

The PIB has sought clarifications from MCCS on the following four points: 

* Indicate revenue earned from sale of news and current affairs and other programming in the last one year (FY 2002-03) duly certified by a chartered accountant. 

* Supportive documents of payments received from Star News Broadcasting and others, if any, on account of sale of news clips and supply of news and current affairs (N&CA) programming. 

* Date from which MCCS is supplying N&CA content to Star News Broadcasting. 

*Clarify MCCS' position on claim of supply of news content to Star News Broadcasting from 30.5. 2002, while, to the contrary, NDTV had been the sole supplier news to Star News till March 2003.

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