Television

'China market is 10 years ahead of India' : Rupert Murdoch- News Corp chairman

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India would take about 10 years to catch up with China as a market, but the political and social vibrancy of the country and the zeal of Indians make it one of the most attractive destinations for investments.

Is it the World Bank chief holding forth on investment environment in India? No. It’s News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch venting his feelings on India and its various aspects in a fashion that he knows best: straight from the heart, without pulling any punches.

Sample yet another indicator of Murdoch’s frankness, which also speaks volumes of his understanding of business and the local social milieu.

Asked by Star News whether he feels that India as a business destination for News Corp has proved right or not, Murdoch says, "It’s always very complicated here. There is a lot of bureaucracy, the rules change from time to time, but we have to step into it. It’s a wonderful market; we have had a good experience. We believe we are just beginning. Media is changing all over the world and in a country like India it is a great and huge opportunity."

Some people may think that he needs to be protected from prying journalists, but Murdoch, one of the most powerful media barons in the world, doesn’t pull his punches when quizzed and deals with even uncomfortable questions with such panache that one cannot but admire him.

Here’s an instance of his dexterity at making the uneasy questions look easy.

Quizzed whether politicians are responsible for pulling back India’s march to stardom, Murdoch told Star News in an interview, "Some of the things that hold India back are the best aspects of it. That it is a complicated democracy. In this stage that means a certain amount of stop (and) go, but its taken a long time. Perhaps, it started 10 or 15 years ago but still has to go a long way. In China there are fewer barriers, government has central planning, they release the people in many ways to start their own business."

"You go to Shanghai, which I have been going to, and to Beijing for 20 years and every couple of years that I go there I am amazed at their physical growth. But when I come to Mumbai, it still looks the same. The policies over the years of the different (Indian) governments, the complications arising because of the different political parties have slowed down the progress."

Murdoch also ruled out entering the print medium as that would mean "stepping into the political arena as a foreigner." He explained: "I don’t think that it would be wise particularly in India. I am a bit libertarian in nature. I let it all happen."

The News Corp chairman also hinted at the business opportunities his company, Star, would like to exploit here in the future --- digital-led convergence leading to newer technologies like broadband.

Here we carry excerpts from an exclusive interview with Murdoch that Star News aired today. Of course, Murdoch owns 26 per cent of the company that manages Star News.

Mr. Murdoch you are among the few media barons who first spotted India as a destination where you could expand your business. Looking back, do you feel your confidence was absolutely justified, placed well and correct?

Oh Yes! It’s always very complicated here. There is a lot of bureaucracy here, the rules change from time to time, but we have to step into it. It’s a wonderful market. We have had a good experience. We believe we are just beginning, but we have a lot to do. Media is changing all over the world and in a country like India it is a great and huge opportunity.

You said India is a wonderful country with great opportunity. What is so wonderful about India?

Well, there are over a billion people, increasingly educated (and) they are young. From the economic point of view, it’s a working democracy; there are a lot of things.

How do you find that reflecting as a business opportunity?

It is possible to go forward now. India is a proud country. Though it is slow to accept the idea of foreign investment, I think its changing. Naturally, as with all politically lead governments, foreign investment is the slowest in the media section. Politicians are somewhat paranoid about the media but we still think it’s worthwhile.

If we are talking of the industry globally, where do you think the broadcasting industry is going?

Well, the broadcasting industry is converging (with) television and the computer (coming together). It will take time but we are going to see broadband coming, which will deliver television, movies as well as fast Internet services and, of course, almost free telephony. All this is being linked with Entertainment and News. The other fact which is coming in now is that a huge amount of time is being spent by the young people on the Internet playing games and not just kids people in their thirties also. Its a real competition.

If you have to talk about India, what is the potential of the broadcasting industry in India?

In India, television sets are only in half the homes. So with full electrification, higher education, better standard of living, all of which are coming fast, the television market will at least double in this country.

You are just coming back from China & you are one of the few media barons to have access to China. If you are to compare India and China, how will you place the two countries?

India is a big one party state, I think it is very ably run. It’s a stunning country. China has been the flavour of the month for a long time now. China is a much more advanced market in television; it has 300 million television homes, many more mobile phones. They are further ahead in a lot of things, but India will catch up very fast. Both are very different countries, with different traditions and with very old respected civilizations, which is an extremely educational experience, given most countries I have lived in have a very small history.

'With full electrification, higher education, better standard of living, the television market will at least double in India'

How long do you think India would take to catch up with China?

Technology in India is coming up so fast, it will catch up in ten years, not in terms of GNP but in terms of communication system and infrastructure. India has its paradoxes and complications which are more so than China and China has grown a lot in the last twenty years.

We are talking of contradictions. What actually do you think holds Indian potential back?

I don’t know. It worries me because when I see Indians in America or UK they are all doing extremely well. They work harder than the other people. In UK the Indian migrants, particularly in the newspaper business are doing extremely well, setting up number of shops and running the Englishman out of the business. An Indian migrant in four to five years has set up at least six shops and has a Rolls Royce, that’s admirable and wonderful, but when you come to India you don’t see Indian people making such fast progress. So you wonder what it is. Is it politics, history, religion, different languages?

Is it the government, the resources or the technology that holds the Indian potential back?

Some of the things that hold India back are the best aspects of it. That it is a complicated democracy, in this stage that means a certain amount of stop go, but its taken a long time, perhaps it started 10 or 15 years ago but still has to go a long way. In China, there are fewer barriers, government has central planning, they release the people in many ways to start their own business. You go to Shanghai which I have been going to and to Beijing for 20 years - and every couple of years that I go there I am amazed at their physical growth. But when I come to Mumbai, it still looks the same. In the road from the airport to the city, you see so much of poverty and people living in conditions that really make you feel ashamed.

There is a very severe indictment about India, who do you think is responsible?

The policies over the years of the different governments, the complications arising because of the different political parties have slowed down the progress.

'I am very happy with the people who are running Star. They've done a fantastic job'

If you were to talk about the media business, broadcasting particularly, what are the factors that are holding back India. Is it the resources, technology or the legislation?

A little bit of all of them, standard of living, ability of people to buy a television set. Most importantly, the education system needs to be advanced tremendously. A lot of countries may have low literacy rate, but in India it is alarmingly high at 40 per cent. This needs to go if the country is going to progress.

When you are in India there is a lot of speculation, you are always in News, people anticipate things would happen, Star would do something new. What do you think would happen this time?

I am very happy with the people who are running Star. They have done a fantastic job. It’s profitable; they have the most popular programmes and the most advertising which is natural to the numbers which follows.

Is there some investment you are looking into, say other media opportunities? May be print?

No. To go to newspapers would be fascinating but the truth is you would be stepping into the political arena as a foreigner. I don’t think that it would be wise particularly in India. We have seen in Britain, I was able to go in there, Americans can go in there and publish magazines and there are no restrictions. Publications that are too American or are not English enough fail. I am a little bit of libertarian at that. In theory if you say let it all happen and if you don't make good Indian programs you fail, its not good enough to bring good American programs because there is no taste for them. On the other hand I do understand the natural feeling of people and politicians about not wanting their culture damaged by foreigners.

When Star News started the government legislation was such that it could not be a 100 per cent Star India owned operation and Star News had to liquidate its shares and its holdings then there were rumors that you might wind up the news business. But you stayed on? What made you stay on?

I love News. We have wonderful partners that control it. We have very good relations with them. We are proud of the channel. I think it does a great job. It can always get better. It’s competitive. Its part of media and life, it’s not just enough to entertain, you also have to educate them.

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