The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Paranoia regarding foreign investment makes politicians and media houses forget that a free media can only be established on the basis of a free market.

A very popular, if unrecognized, forum in India is the flat earth society. Its membership list is varied and full of surprises. In it people who believe that communism is alive and kicking, rub shoulders easily with capitalists who continue to believe that regulation of markets is the best mode for enhancing profits. There is one particular issue on which members of this society have a unique unanimity. This is about the need to regulate and restrict the entry of foreign capital into media in India. The most recent example of this is the coming together of 15 top Indian media houses to put forward a comprehensive media policy that seeks to restrict foreign investment in all forms of media to 26 per cent and also proposes that one family or group hold 51 per cent of the right. The latter clause would stop de facto control by a foreign company. These recommendations have been made under the banner of a new body calling itself the Indian Media Group. This is a policy recommendation that might even win the approval of the politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Swadeshi Jagran Manch.

There are many levels of doublespeak involved in the suggestions put forward by the IMG. The media barons seem to be following a bizarre logic which says that Indian capital is good but foreign capital is bad for the Indian media. If foreign investment in many other forms of business, even those producing commodities necessary on a daily basis, is considered beneficial for the expansion of business and for greater profitability, then why should the media not enjoy the same benefits' The answer is that media is sacred because it is the purveyor of information and culture. It is thus open to corruption by the ubiquitous foreign hand coming into India piggyback on foreign investment in media. Often foreign investment in media is seen as a potential threat to India’s national security. Behind all this is an almost obsessive prickliness and paranoia. There is also a consistent underestimation of the strength of Indian media.

It cannot be denied that there is an urgent need to have a comprehensive media policy. But such a policy can only have one thrust: bringing policy on media in line with the premises of liberalization which have become the cornerstones for the functioning of business and enterprise in India since 1992. In keeping with the removal of restrictions which began the process of establishing a free market, the conditions for the functioning of media should also be free of shackles and of interventions from the state. In fact, there are no logical grounds for arguing for any kind of cap on foreign investment. The extent of foreign investment should be a business decision by individual companies and should thus be free from governmental regulations. A free media can only be established on the basis of a free market. To argue against this in an era of globalization is akin to upholding Ptolemy’s conception of the universe in the era of Copernicus, Tycho Brahe and Galileo. Hence the reference to the flat earth society.

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