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Uplink bad news for STAR

New Delhi, July 12: The government has all but shot down STAR’s application for permission to uplink for its news channel. It is also revising rules on foreign investment in the news and current affairs category for television broadcasters.

But the government has not asked Rupert Murdoch’s channel to stop direct telecasts in its news bulletins. It has given the broadcaster three days to respond to a dozen questions and allowed it to continue uplinking for another week.

The clamping down on STAR News is a victory for “swadeshi” media companies, six of whom — Living Media Group’s TV Today (Aaj Tak), Sahara, Sun, Eenadu, Prannoy Roy’s NDTV and Shri Adhikari Brothers (SABe) — demanded a “level playing field” yesterday and expressed concern that foreign broadcasters were “bypassing” the guidelines.

The I&B ministry has sent a lengthy notice to STAR, seeking clarifications that will force the media major to redraft its application. Also, the government is reworking the rules on foreign investment to ensure that “compliance in letter is not coupled with violation in spirit”.

The decision was taken today at a meeting convened by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It was attended by deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, foreign minister Yashwant Sinha, finance minister Jaswant Singh, law minister Arun Jaitley, I&B minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and principal secretary to the Prime Minister, Brajesh Mishra.

After STAR’s contract with NDTV ended on March 31, it needed to alter its shareholding pattern and apply for permission within three months to uplink for its news channel.

STAR floated Media Content and Communication Services Private Limited holding 26 per cent equity (the maximum FDI allowed in the news and current affairs category) and distributed the balance 74 per cent among Kumar Mangalam Birla, Merrill Lynch, Hemendra Kothari, Suhel Seth, Vir Sanghvi, Jeetendra, Rian Karanjiwala and others. But STAR’s holding was still the largest. (Birla is now reported to have offloaded his stake).

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