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Channels get 3 months to limit foreign stake

New Delhi, March 26: Television news channels like STAR News and Zee News have said they will bring down foreign stake in these companies to 26 per cent after the government today announced the new guidelines on uplinking from the country.

STAR News president Ravina Raj Kohli said: “We welcome the guidelines and will comply with them. STAR News will undergo seamless transition to a 24-hour Hindi news service from March 31, 2003 onwards, when the contract with our current content supplier comes to an end.”

STAR News — which is wholly foreign-owned — and business news channel CNBC India will get three months’ time under the provisions of the new uplinking policy to bring their foreign stake within the 26 per cent limit. Channels like Zee, which already enjoy the uplinking facility, will be allowed one year to halve its foreign equity stake from the current level of 52 per cent.

CNBC India’s CEO, Haresh Chawla, said the company will work towards complying with the new guidelines. In CNBC India, Raghav Behl’s TV 18 holds 49 per cent equity, while the majority 51 per cent is held by CNBC Asia.

Information and broadcasting minister Ravishankar Prasad issued the guidelines of the new uplinking policy for channels that beam news and current affairs programmes.

Tilted in favour of Indian companies producing news and current affairs television software, the guideline permits the usage of facilities and infrastructure for live news and footage collection and transmission, (irrespective of the technology used), to only channels uplinked from India.

However, for a smooth rollover, content providers and channels currently using VSATs, RTTS and satellite video phone and similar other infrastructure — which lends itself for use of uplinking and transfer of content — will be allowed a maximum of three months to come within the framework of the guidelines.

These guidelines will apply to existing news and current affairs TV channels uplinked from India as well as to those proposing to uplink from India. An existing channel, permitted by the information and broadcasting ministry to uplink from India, will be required to conform to the guidelines within a year from today.

The new guidelines will also require a news channel that is applying for an uplinking facility to be registered in India. A majority of the board of directors should be resident Indians as also the head of the channel and those exercising editorial control, Prasad said.

He declined to answer specific queries about the fate of channels like STAR TV, whose application for uplinking from India for a 24-hour news channel with 100 per cent foreign equity is pending before the government.

“This policy is channel neutral,” said Prasad, adding that STAR TV had not approached the government after last week’s decision of the Union Cabinet. However, the channel has been given a temporary reprieve with three months’ switch over time to comply with the new guidelines.

The minister said the requests by channels uplinked from outside India for use of equipment for collection of news and current affairs for temporary duration will be entertained on a case- to-case basis in consultation with the home ministry among others.

However, entertainment channels will continue to be eligible to uplink from India, irrespective of their ownership, equity structure or management control. Only those with any news and current affairs content will need to adhere to a 26 per cent equity cap, which includes foreign direct investment (FDI) and foreign institutional investors (FIIs).

The FIIs are usually portfolio investors who are less committed to the company than FDI investors, who are in for the long haul.

Prasad said there were 100 channels in the country of which 47 were news channels and 16 were 24-hour news channels. Eight more applications were pending for news channels, of which five were 24- hour channels, he said.

The guidelines also require any company or channel to intimate the I& B ministry about the details of any foreigner or NRIs engaged or employed for over 60 days, to comply with the programme and advertisement code under the cable act and use transponder on a satellite in C-band only.

It will also have to keep a record of content uplinked for 90 days and produce it before government if needed and provide for necessary monitoring facility. Further, it would be obligatory on the part of the company to take prior permission from the ministry before effecting any change in the foreign shareholding pattern, the CEO or board of directors.

After receiving the clearance, the applicant company will be permitted to uplink its channels through an authorised hub or teleport. The period of approval will be 10 years. “The new uplinking policy will go a long way to make India an uplinking hub in the region,” the minister said.

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