The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Snow White STAR and seven dwarfs

Mumbai, June 20: The STAR group has rustled up seven Indian equity partners to enable its fledgling news channel to uplink from India, six days before the expiry of the deadline set by the government.

In a statement issued today, the STAR group said it had restructured its news channel business to bring it in line with the guidelines which stipulate that a television channel cannot be owned more than 26 per cent by a foreign entity if it wants to uplink to a satellite from within the country.

“In accordance with that (the guidelines), STAR group holds 26 per cent of the total paid-up capital in the Star News channel business. The balance 74 per cent is held by resident Indians,” the TV entertainment major said. So far, the channel was fully owned by Rupert Murdoch.

STAR kept the details under wraps but sources said Kumar Mangalam Birla, the 36-year-old chairman of the Rs 27,000 crore Aditya Birla group is one of the main equity partners, holding 25 per cent. “However, the investment made is in his individual capacity and the group has nothing to do with it,” sources revealed.

Birla officials were not available for confirmation. The group may not have a synergy with the electronic media but industry sources aver that the Birlas have recently made a foray into films.

Hemendra Kothari, the head of merchant banking outfit DSP Merrill Lynch, is the other main partner with 25 per cent.

Equus Advertising’s Suhel Seth, Ryan Karanjiwala — a legal eagle who represents the Murdoch channel — and actor Jeetendra are the smaller stakeholders. An editor and the wife of a high-flying corporate executive are also believed to have picked up minor stakes, but their participation could not be confirmed. Calls to Suhel Seth also went unanswered.

The STAR group confirmed that an application had been made to the information & broadcasting ministry for permission to uplink the Star news channel from India.

The application is under the guidelines issued by the government on March 26, 2003, for uplinking news and current affairs TV channels from India. The deadline for the channel to submit its list of Indian partners expires on June 26.

The ministry had notified that only news channels having 74 per cent equity holding by Indian nationals will be allowed to uplink their channels from India.

This is necessary for any channel and only Star News had a problem fulfilling the criteria, in view of its foreign parentage.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Television India, which offers the STAR bouquet of channels, has been saying for some time that it was considering a proposal to go public.

Last month, it was reported that the Murdoch-promoted STAR News had approached the Aditya Birla group with an offer of up to 25 per cent equity in the news channel.

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