FDI in News Agencies

IN Law and Policy | 07/09/2002
FDI in News Agencies

FDI in News Agencies

Dasu Krishnamoorty

In permitting 26 per cent FDI in print media the government has excluded news agencies, which will continue to be 100 per cent Indian owned. Our news agencies, PTI and UNI, and their language divisions, have managed to escape the notice of the pro-FDI lobby, but their turn may come sooner than later. My main objective in writing this article is to alert the public on the scenario that would open up once our government extends the ¿reform¿ regime to news agencies also. News agencies played, acting globally and as a cartel, a major role in the globalization of western ideology and markets. They imparted us a consciousness that has strengthened our implicit faith in every word and image that originates in the west. The debate on the entry of FDI into print media overlooked crucial issues connected with the production and distribution of news.

Every country takes care to see that its communications structures are not encroached upon or eroded. It is a way of keeping at bay influences that are likely to harm the peoples¿ democratic and social perceptions. See what ten years of MTV have done in changing our urban and metro scene. A veteran media person like B.G.Verghese thinks that nothing has been subverted and makes light of the need to be ourselves. He ought to take a look at how a decade of cable TV has changed consumer preferences in favor of foreign goods and hurt the domestic economy. This is only a preview of what foreign media can do.

It is important to remember that images and content foreign TV and print media relay become the basis for American foreign policy decisions. They trigger U.S. actions overseas. A survey shows that TV networks in the US covered 16 of 21 countries between 1988-92 because there was serious civil strife in these countries. Stephen Hess says, "In terms of what gets covered, a distinguishing characteristic of American news operations, especially television news, is that they are so prominently concerned with violence." Violence and conflict are often cited as pretexts for U.S. intervention.

"Amrita Shah, a correspondent at Imprint magazine in Bombay who strings for Time-Life News Service commented: Stories from Asia that do not directly affect the United States tend to be one of two kinds: stories that confirm stereotypes -- for example, stories of widow burning or stampeding elephants that confirm the western notion of India as a wild and exotic land are sure sellers, even if they are in actuality extremely rare occurrences. Or stories that indicate conformity to a familiar western way of life. Stories about India¿s privatization program or of a newly prosperous middle class investing in home appliances fall in this category," says Hess.

Before the UNESCO debates of the seventies opened our eyes to the communication conspiracies of the west, Indian newspapers used to reproduce the Reuters and AP canonization of such oppressive rulers like King Farouq of Egypt, the Shah of Iran and dictators like Fulgencio Batista of Cuba, Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua, Ngo Din Diem of Vietnam, Syngman Rhee of Korea. This unthinking endorsement showed a layoff of editorial discretion. The editors were all carried away by a conviction that there is no room for opinion in wire copy. News agencies can and do, and did in reality, set our agenda by circulating facts, denying which needed effort and expense.

Globalization is an invisible and unmanageable process beyond the control of any national government. It is like the toothpaste that refuses to go back into the tube. Our newspapers have not escaped the overrun of globalization. With Reuters and AP entering the Indian media scene, they began depending heavily on these news agencies for their foreign news needs, even after they had achieved an identity of their own. Therefore, globalization, whether in the area of

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