New Delhi, Jan. 21: After opening up the print media to foreign direct investment, Union information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj is studying a proposal to permit foreign equity holding in news agencies.
There are two major news agencies in the country — the Press Trust of India and the United News of India. A file containing a study on the matter has been put up to the minister.
Like the policy on FDI in print, opening up news agencies to foreign equity also does not call for a new legislation. All that is required is a decision of the Union Cabinet reversing a Cabinet resolution of 1956.
It is understood that the dominant view in the bureaucracy is in favour of permitting not just 26 per cent — as for newspapers and newsmagazines — but 51 per cent foreign equity holding in news agencies.
Sources in the ministry say the case for allowing FDI in news agencies’ equity is being strengthened with two arguments: first, time and technology have overtaken the controls that were imposed by the 1956 Cabinet resolution and, second, the Centre cannot seen to be discriminating between media.
The 1956 resolution had permitted the extension of communication lines to news agencies that were Indian in ownership, management and staffing. These lines were being chiefly leased out from the post and telegraph department. But with the advent of the Internet, this was not necessary. Moreover, it was not possible to restrict the flow of news from foreign sources into the country. It has been noted that foreign news agencies had found subscribers from among Indian newspapers and television.
It was also being pointed out in the ministry that since the Centre had allowed foreign direct investment in print and television, it could not be seen to be discriminating against news agencies. The Cabinet will also shortly be briefed by Swaraj on a proposal to allow a news channel with 100 per cent foreign equity (STAR) to uplink from India.
(The I & B ministry note on the issue has sought the comments of the ministries of communications and home affairs).
As with the policy on FDI in print announced on lst July, FDI in news agencies, too, will be subject to riders. The ministry would insist that editorial and management decision-making authority should rest with Indians.