The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Centre shoots down uniform media policy

New Delhi, Aug. 5: The Prime Minister has said he will ensure compliance with all laws governing media in letter and spirit but the Centre has practically rejected the suggestion of a “uniform media policy”.

“We cannot cage technology by a uniform media policy. As and when technology upgrades, we address the issue,” information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

The remark was made after a delegation of broadcasters and publishers, under the banner of the recently formed Indian Media Group, separately met Prime Minister Vajpayee, his deputy L.K. Advani, finance minister Jaswant Singh, law and company affairs minister Arun Jaitley and Prasad.

“The government sees itself as a facilitator. There will be no intervention, no content control. It is my job to come out with expansion-friendly policies,” Prasad added. Prasad, I&B secretary Pawan Chopra and principal secretary to the Prime Minister Brajesh Mishra were called into the meeting with Vajpayee.

At each meeting, the media group talked about the issues raised over the granting of an uplinking licence to Rupert Murdoch’s STAR News.

“We did not get too much into the specifics…They (STAR News) have been given ad hoc extensions. We want all rules to be enforced in letter and spirit and it (STAR News) should not be allowed to make a monkey of the rules,” journalist and media-outfit owner . Ram said after meeting Vajpayee.

Sources said the group was told that “the issue of STAR News is currently under investigation and that it was being studied without bias”.

When Prasad was asked if it was proper for the Centre to point out lacunae in STAR News’ application for uplinking licence while continuing to give it temporary permits, he said “the government cannot stop something midway even as a policy is being framed”.

In a press release, the group said the Prime Minister patiently heard its apprehensions about a level playing field for Indian and foreign broadcasters in the taxation regime and proxy foreign editorial control across television, print, radio and direct-to-home television.

“Advani assured the group that if any company was found operating a media enterprise through subterfuge, the government would not hesitate in taking strong action. (Jaswant) Singh in particular said his ministry would examine closely shell company operations,” the release said.

The group emphasised the following five issues:

• A 26 per cent cap on foreign investment in media outfits with a resident Indian being the single largest shareholder with at least 51 per cent equity across all media

• A media company should demonstrate its credentials to run all functions of news gathering, transmission and distribution without outsourcing business to other outfits

• A media brand should be owned by the company running the business

• A regulatory authority to ensure compliance with laws

• Same taxes for Indian and foreign broadcasters

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