Government comes in for flak over FDI in media

NEW DELHI: The Indian government came in for flak from a certain section of policy makers in the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) of the Indian parliament who criticised the coalition government for taking decisions on foreign participation in the electronic media without consulting Parliament.

The contentious issue of foreign direct invest (FDI) investment and foreign equity in electronic media ventures in India again reared its head --- at a time when the likes of Star News and CNBC India are in the process of restructuring themselves to seek government clearances -- as policy makers wanted answers from the government as to what was being done to safeguard the national, cultural and security interest of the country even as foreign participation has been allowed in news channels too.

In a calling attention motion on the foreign equity issue in electronic medium on the last day of the budget session of parliament today, a communist party of India (Marxist) parliamentarian Manoj Bhattacharya also criticised the government for not seeing the obvious --- that foreign companies are circumventing or bypassing existing rules to start operations in the media.

In this regard, the CPM MP also cited the example of Radio City where, he alleged, the Rupert Murdoch - controlled Star India has made a backdoor entry into the restricted area of FM radio broadcasting where foreign investment is not allowed.

Bhattacharya, in a letter also sent to information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in this regard, has mentioned that if foreign companies like Star can make backdoor entry into the FM radio broadcasting, it can happen in other segments of broadcasting too.

Radio City is the brand name under which licence holder, PK Mittal's Music Broadcast Pvt Ltd., operates FM radio stations in cities like Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai and Lucknow. Bhattacharya's contention was that it is Star 

which controls everything in Radio City under a content and marketing agreement with Music Broadcast.

I&B minister Prasad defended any government decisions to open the media sector to foreign participation saying that all safety measures had been 

taken into account before such policy decision were taken by the government. He also said that allowing foreign equity in electronic medium is also in tune with the fast changing technology.

Prasad, however, assured Bhattacharya and others who participated in the discussion that any specific case cited by parliamentarians and Bhattacharya would be examined by the law ministry and suitable action taken on the advise given by the law ministry.

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