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Meet on STAR licence tangle

New Delhi, Aug. 9: The fate of STAR News’ application to seek a long-term licence to uplink will be decided by a group of ministers after an inter-ministerial meeting at the level of secretaries decided that it does not meet the requirements in its present form.

In essence, the bureaucracy sees the application as a political hot potato and the inter-ministerial group of secretaries is restricting itself to doing the spadework. It discussed making mandatory a 51 per cent equity holding by a single Indian entity in uplinking companies with foreign shareholders.

The series of questions put to STAR News over the past month, however, had convinced the information and broadcasting ministry that the company had stuck to the letter of the law without accepting it in spirit. The final decision will be taken by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his deputy, L.K. Advani, and only executed by the information and broadcasting ministry.

The deliberations at the level of the inter-ministerial group and the group of ministers achieve two things — first, time. Because the government has taken enough flak in Parliament, it would prefer executing a decision after the current session is over. Second, it would be able to present the decision as the outcome of a consensus. The group of ministers comprises Ravi Shankar Prasad (I&B), Arun Jaitley (law) and Jaswant Singh (finance).

In today’s inter-ministerial meeting, the department of company affairs agreed with its I&B counterpart that STAR News’ application does not meet the guidelines. The group was also understood to have considered if it would recommend a change in the policies governing foreign direct investment in television news companies.

The group noted that effective editorial control of Media Content and Communication Services, the shell company seeking the uplinking licence, lies with STAR.

Sources said the inter-ministerial group would present options to the group of ministers. The information and broadcasting ministry was convinced ahead of today’s meeting that STAR cannot be given a permanent licence immediately. This week, STAR was given another two-week extension on its temporary licence.

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