New Delhi, March 17: The Union Cabinet is likely to decide tomorrow a policy on allowing foreign-owned television news channels to uplink from India, five months after the Union information and broadcasting ministry referred the matter to it.
The issue was referred by the former information and broadcasting minister, Sushma Swaraj, following Rupert Murdoch’s Star News application for permission to uplink before it goes “live” from the night of March 31. Star News’ contract with NDTV expires at the end of the month.
The ministry is understood to have accepted the logic that permission to uplink should not be given to news channels that are wholly foreign-owned.
In June last year, the Cabinet amended the policy on foreign direct investment in print media and put an equity cap of 26 per cent in the news and current affairs category.
Ministry officials indicated today that the ministry will favour a cap — at 26 or 49 per cent — but will leave the decision to the Cabinet.
Information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told Parliament last week that “the policy of uplinking of foreign-owned news and current affairs channels from India is being examined for purposes of providing appropriate safeguards”.
Among the channels for whom the policy will have a direct bearing are Star News, NDTV World, TV Today’s English channel, Rajat Sharma’s Independent Television, a channel proposed to be run by Videocon and also BBC and CNBC.
If the Cabinet decides that the issue does not call for a new policy, 100 per cent foreign-owned channels can uplink from the country. At least one ministry — telecommunications — is in favour of status quo.
In inter-ministerial consultations, the ministry of external affairs was understood to have been in favour of limited foreign equity to 26 per cent for uplinking.
In a note prepared for the inter-ministerial consultations, the information and broadcasting ministry had outlined four options — limit FDI in news channels to 26 per cent (at par with the print media), or to 49 per cent (comparable to the existing policy of allowing FDI upto 49 per cent in the cable and direct to home (DTH) companies).
A third option was to bar foreign companies from uplinking altogether and the fourth was to maintain status quo.
As there is nothing in the existing guidelines on uplinking that debars foreign channels from seeking permission, this would mean that the Centre does not feel Star’s application merits a new policy statement.