Centre looking at tougher uplink norms for foreign news channels

NEW DELHI: The Indian government is planning to further tighten the screws on foreign TV news channels and electronic news agencies by bringing in regulation that would envisage such entities get their content, being uplinked out of India via Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd, cleared by the Press Information Bureau (PIB).

Apart from a sense of control creeping in, the proposed regulation is also likely to make it mandatory that all such news channels (like CNN, BBC and even ESPN and Star Sports) and news agencies (like APTN and CCTV) get themselves accredited to the PIB, a long drawn procedure.

These are part of a set of proposals prepared by the information and broadcasting ministry under revised uplinking norms that are awaiting a Cabinet nod. The issue was scheduled to be taken up by the Cabinet today, but was taken off the agenda at the last moment due to the absence of I&B minister Jaipal Reddy, who is away on an official foreign tour.

Ministry officials are attempting to play down the indirect control that they would wield over various foreign news channels, not directly uplinking from India, but using VSNL's facilities for sending news stories to their respective headquarters.

The proposed move would indirectly result in the handing of powers of censorship into the hands of the PIB, manned by officials of the I&B ministry. The designated authority would also have the powers to screen content supposed to go out of India for foreign news channels.

Most such news channels like CNN and BBC use VSNL's uplinking facilities to send news inputs on a daily basis, while taking special government permission for direct uplinking on special occasions.

Government officials also say that though ESPN Star Sports manage sports channels, they could also fall into this category because ESS air sports news bulletins.

Channels like CNN and BBC would ideally not like to uplink straight out of India as that would mean they have to conform to government guidelines for news channels and bring down the foreign shareholding in the Indian operation to 26 per cent.

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