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Rumours abound that Reddy may be relieved of I&B portfolio

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NEW DELHI: Is information & broadcasting and culture minister Jaipal Reddy being relieved of one of his portfolios, notably I&B?

The Capital is abuzz with rumours that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is likely to undertake a reshuffle of his Union Cabinet this week and Reddy may be eased out of the I&B ministry, which has compelled the minister to cancel his US trip, that was to begin tomorrow, at the last moment.

Having lined up ministerial level meetings with some of the top media companies and organisations in the US like Disney, Sony and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and which significantly excluded Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, Reddy's backtracking has taken all the fizz out of the five-day "high-powered" working trip.

The official reason for Reddy cancelling his visit --- handed out very unofficially by his ministry --- is that the minister has been struck with an eye infection. The unofficial reason, being cited by political sources in Delhi, is that Reddy may be replaced at the I&B ministry by Prithviraj Singh, a minister of state with the Prime Minister's Office.

It now transpires that a relatively junior official of the I&B ministry, joint secretary (films), would attend the meetings lined up for Reddy in the US. How the American media companies and organisations react to the replacement remains to be seen?

Why the removal of Reddy from the I&B ministry, if at all it comes through?

Various theories abound.

First, Reddy himself had never wanted the I&B portfolio from the beginning, admitting in private that he is too senior a politician for the I&B portfolio. A second explanation could be that the present government's conscience keepers --- Left-oriented political parties who support the Congress-led government from the outside --- have never been comfortable with Reddy's liberal approach to issues like de-toxifying the government and bureaucracy of people appointed by the previous regime.

In this regard, Censor Board chief Anupam Kher's example is given. It is said that though the Left parties wanted him removed, as also Children Films' Society of India chief actress Raveena Tandon, Reddy refused to summarily dismiss these people, letting events take their own twists and turns. The Left parties also allege that Reddy's `inefficiency is reflected in his inaction against right-wing sympathiser and senior journalist MV Kamath, who also happens to be the chairman of Indian pubcaster Prasar Bharati.

Reddy's US trip, comprising some senior officials and media and entertainment industry representatives, had a packed schedule, beginning with a meeting with top Disney bosses in LA the same evening Reddy arrived from Mumbai on Thursday.

On 5 November, Reddy and party were scheduled to meet representatives from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Columbia Tri-Star and Sony to discuss various issues relating to development of the films market and piracy of entertainment products. Issues related to the TV industry would have also cropped up as some top Hollywood studios, members of MPAA, spend billions of dollars on products aired on cable and DTH TV networks.

Interestingly, MPAA has some radical views on various industry-related issues, including cable TV and pricing of channels on an a la carte basis. In a note prepared earlier this year for the Federal Communications Commission (US cable TV regulator), MPAA came out strongly against pricing of TV channels on an a la carte basis, stating that in an a la carte world, the cable networks would have to charge higher subscription revenues and that the a la carte concept is a solution in search of a problem.

The Reddy schedule certainly did indicate the Indian government was attempting to woo big time investors in the field of media and entertainment. But missing from the list of high-profile meetings was Rupert Murdoch, who should have been anxious to discuss the apparent lack of progress on the Tata-Star DTH licence matter. Or, is it that Murdoch knows something that many Indians do not?

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