Regulators

FII investments: I&B buys news channels' line

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NEW DELHI: A ministerial note being given final touches at the information and broadcasting ministry may bring smiles on the faces of listed media companies running news channels as a contentious issue of investment by foreign financial institutions (FIIs) would get addressed. A relaxation in investment norms is in the offing, provided the new Cabinet okays it.

But the same may not be true for the private FM radio companies as the information and broadcasting ministry feels that the players concerned have "complicated" the matters further by moving courts on the issue of annual licence fee, which became payable on 30 April.

The I&B ministry's note on FII investment in TV news channels would be put up before the new minister on a priority basis so that various concerns raised by the likes of Zee Telefilms and Television Eighteen Ltd and stumbling investment blocks related to the likes of NDTV Ltd and TV Today Network Ltd get addressed for the smooth functioning of the companies concerned even while conforming to the existing laws of the land.

According to ministry sources, the issue of FII investment and whether it has to be treated as foreign investment or not is something that needs to be addressed quickly by the new government as the restructuring process of various companies running news channels depends on that.

At present, the I&B ministry treats FII investment as foreign investment in TV news companies, which has been making life difficult for various news channels to adhere to the existing foreign investment cap of 26 per cent andstill continue uplinking from India.

The contention of the likes of Television Eighteen has been, ministry sources told indiantelevision.com today, that it is difficult to keep track of every FII investment (read buying of shares) in publicly traded media companies, though the Companies Act, which would otherwise over-ride any other guidelines, is more liberal in this regard as long as sectoral caps are adhered to.

"We have sought information from the finance ministry on the FII investment angle and the issue is likely to be put up before the new minister as soon as possible," a source in the I&B ministry said, pointing out that if the Companies Act does not treat FII investment as foreign investment in listed companies, then an amendment would be made in the uplinking laws of the country after Cabinet approval is obtained.

But the sources, however, ruled out any immediate relaxation in the foreign investment cap of 26 per cent in TV news ventures, saying, "these things, if at all they happen, would take a longer period of time for the government to decide on."

CAS LIKELY TO BE DUMPED

Another opinion that is firming up in the I&B ministry amongst bureaucrats is that the issue of conditional access system (CAS) should not be pursued by the new government.

"Our advise to the new I&B minister would be to steer clear of issues like CAS that are simply nothing but a political minefield," a senior government official said, adding that the effort would also be to "distance the I&B ministry as much as possible from CAS."

The feeling in the outgoing government towards the end was also that law should not have mandated CAS and the technology should have been allowed to be evolved naturally via market forces.

Considering the stiff opposition to CAS in the two main states where CAS was being sought to be implemented --- Union Territory of Delhi and West Bengal --- government officials feel that the new government would prefer to steerclear of the CAS issue letting the regulator take an initial stand on the issue.

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