Rejecting Foreign Direct Investment In The Print Media pure Hypocrisy

BY Vasant Belavadi| IN Media Practice | 16/04/2002
Rejecting Foreign Direct Investment In The Print Media pure Hypocrisy

Rejecting Foreign Direct Investment In The Print Media pure Hypocrisy

If the Press in the country was bold enough to support every step in the liberalisation process, it must also be bold enough to allow the same in its house. Taking one stance when it is convenient for it, them and assuming the moral high ground when it does not, only exposes hypocrisy.

With the parliamentary committee on foreign direct investment (FDI) in the print sector rejecting suggestions to that effect, can one assume that the last word has been said on that issue? Soon after information and broadcasting minister Ms. Sushma Swaraj announced early this year that the government proposes to allow foreign investment in the non-news sector of the print media, it fuelled spirited discussion in the Press circles. The Parliamentary Committee on the issue was also sharply divided. While a majority of them strongly opposed the proposal to allow foreign direct investment (FDI), a minority reportedly went ahead and said that it would not be opposed to foreign editors heading publications. The government then decided to wait for the final report from the Parliamentary Committee on IT, which again remained divided.

The Parliamentary Committee finally rejected the proposal in consonance with objections being raised by the opponents.

Going back in time, the first Press Commission, in its 1954 report, besides recommending the setting up of a Press Council, had also warned against allowing foreign entry into print media. Following this, the then Nehru¿s cabinet formulated a policy that is now famous in the Press as the 1955 policy. This policy bars foreigners from running newspapers and prevents foreign publications from having Indian editions.

However, in October this year, a cabinet note proposed that ¿¿the print media policy laid down by the cabinet in 1955 may be modified to a limited extent. Magazines, periodicals and journals not dealing in news and current affairs may be allowed to be published in India, on a case-by-case basis on the specific recommendations of the I & B ministry through the mechanism of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board.¿¿ This ¿¿clear volte-face¿¿ on her earlier stance that foreign publishers would not be allowed to set foot on Indian soil in concurrence with the 1955 resolution, is what sparked off the debate.

Ever since the issue gained currency, there have been quite a few arguments against allowing FDI in the print sector. Opponents of the proposal, notably, veteran journalists like Mr. N. Ram have drawn attention to the alleged homegenising, stultifying effect that fewer and fewer corporations could have on India.

Mr. Mammen Mathew, also the president of the Editors¿ Guild of India, have sought refuge under the Constitution of India. According to him, the right to freedom of speech and expression is the exclusive privilege of citizens belonging to the country. Freedom of the press, inter-linked with its economic independence will be lost the moment foreigners get a stake in the equity. Moreover, foreign investors can hardly be expected to have any commitment to India or Indianness, their main motive being profit-making.

M.P. Veerendrakumar, vice-president of the Indian Newspaper Society in his article in The Week, argues that allowing foreign companies to enter the print media is to surrender the country¿s sovereignty. His argument is that television is ephemeral while newspapers have more credibility.

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