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STAR proposal prompts policy survey

New Delhi, Oct. 21: STAR Television’s application for permission to uplink from India for its proposed news channel has sent policy makers into research mode, with officials in the Union information and broadcasting ministry still examining global practice on allowing foreign satellite television to beam signals.

Information minister Sushma Swaraj said yesterday that she would brief the Union Cabinet on STAR’s request. Today’s Cabinet meeting was deferred because of the Prime Minister’s indisposition.

Swaraj also made it clear that since such a request was made for the first time, she will refrain from taking a unilateral decision and act on the directions of the Cabinet.

A senior official in the ministry, asked what the government’s stand was, said: “We will have to understand the international experience from various sources.” It is also understood that a survey of the policy followed in the US and UK has not led the ministry to reach a conclusion in black and white.

On the question of transmission of radio signals, for instance, the US Federal Communications Commission code of Federal Regulations is unambiguous.

The US commission does not authorise Direct Broadcast Satellite Service to “any alien or the representative of any alien; any foreign government or the representative thereof; any corporation organised under the laws of any foreign government; or any corporation of which more than one-fifth of the capital stock is owned of record or voted by aliens or their representatives”.

On the question of television signals, however, the rules are not immediately clear.

For instance, a request for uplinking can be considered by the US Federal Communications Commission not only on a case-by-case basis but also be subjected to stringent conditions.

While it is clear that some news channels alien to the US are definitely allowed to uplink inputs — for instance the BBC — whether 24-hour uplinking is allowed is yet to be determined.

In the Indian context, STAR’s request has ramifications beyond the cable television industry.

For instance, the Centre will have to tread softly because its recently announced policy on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the print media caps foreign equity in the news and current affairs sector at 25 per cent.

Should the government allow STAR or any other foreign news channel to uplink, there can be suggestions that the cap on FDI in print should also be removed.

While the information ministry is the nodal agency concerning cable television, a decision on such a policy matter as uplinking will involve other ministries, too. Clearances will be required from the Wireless Planning Commission, the telecommunications ministry and the home ministry.

“That is why we have thought it prudent to take a decision only after inter ministerial consultation,” a source said.

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