New Delhi, Oct. 20: Union information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj will give a special briefing to the Cabinet on a proposal by Rupert Murdoch’s STAR Television to launch its 24-hour news channel.
Swaraj said this was because it was the first time that a 100 per cent foreign-owned entity was seeking permission to produce content for its news channel for India. STAR News, as it is now telecast, is content sold to the Murdoch channel by Prannoy Roy’s New Delhi Television (NDTV).
STAR’s contract with NDTV runs out in March next year. STAR has already begun recruiting for its own channel. It is likely that STAR News from April will be only in Hindi. (NDTV, too, is set to start its own channels — one in English and the other in Hindi).
But till the Centre clears STAR’s proposal to uplink, the news channel cannot get off the ground. Swaraj said the ministry was grappling with a situation that had not arisen before since all the other news channels were owned either fully by Indians or Indians held a majority stake.
It is understood that officials have been pointing out that even in the US, channels allowed to uplink from US territory cannot have more than 25 per cent foreign equity.
Swaraj’s ministry will also place draft guidelines on foreign direct investment in print media before an inter-ministerial committee on Tuesday. The first set of guidelines will govern FDI in non-news and non-current affairs journals.
In a major policy change in June this year, the Union Cabinet cleared FDI in print. It said up to 74 per cent foreign equity will be allowed in non-news, non-current affairs journals and restricted foreign equity holding in news and current affairs to 25 per cent.
The guidelines will empower a committee to vet proposals on a case-by-case basis and determine if they qualify for the FDI in the non-news, non-current affairs category.
If a proposal is deemed to have qualified, the committee will seek an undertaking from the applicant that the character of the journal will not be changed. A third point stipulates that in the event of a complaint on the character of the journal, the applicant will have to agree to a review by the committee.
The committee will comprise a nominee each from the information and broadcasting ministry, home affairs, finance and another from the ministry relevant to the proposal.
For instance, if a publisher is applying for permission to start a speciality magazine on fashion, the committee will co-opt an official from the textiles ministry, likewise for health and medicine.
The guidelines will also lay down that there must be a specific application for every journal/periodical that a publisher may want to bring in. An omnibus application from a publisher with foreign equity holding will not be entertained.
This means that even if publishers such as Macmillan, Oxford University Press, Sage, Orient Longman have foreign equity partners they will still have to apply separately for every foreign journal or periodical they may want to print and distribute in India.
Swaraj said she expected the guidelines for the news and current affairs category to be out by the middle of November.