Allow foreign entry into Indian media with safeguards: panellists

By SiliconIndia   |   Friday, 31 October 2003, 08:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: Greater foreign participation should be allowed in the Indian media but with safeguards to ensure national sovereignty and Indian editorial control, panellists at a discussion said Friday.

At the discussion on "Foreign Entry Into Indian Media", panellists also debated the need to have an equitable policy for all media, be it television, print, radio or Internet.

"There should be Indian editorial control and a foreigner should be allowed to invest up to 49 percent in Indian media," India Today editor-in-chief Aroon Purie said at the discussion organised by the FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) Ladies' Organisation.

"We should allow 49 percent because foreign companies come here to make money, not control politics."

According to him, India had the potential to be a hub of media and broadcasting in the world provided the government increased foreign participation, even if in phases.

Stating that the debate was primarily on how much foreign investment should be allowed rather than on whether they should be allowed, Purie further suggested this would enhance competition and lead to a general raising of standards.

However, British journalist Mark Tully, an old India hand, sounded a caveat on the possible impact of foreign entry into the Indian media.

"You cannot ignore the influence foreigners can get through the media. You cannot ignore the fact that foreigners coming here can have vested interests. What do you do?"

CNBC India's Vivian Fernandes countered by saying that several Indian media companies also had an insidious influence on politics. "You cannot say the Indian media can have any less of an influence than foreign companies."

Tully also felt far too much emphasis was placed on market-based media products.

"It is a big mistake to stress on focus groups and asking the market what it wants. The consumer may not know what he wants. It is a sad situation when you think you have to cater to a market."

The former BBC correspondent, known to be an Indophile, said India needed a strengthening of autonomous institutions. "A strong autonomous institution like the BBC is needed for the Indian media, which will have public money but little government control."

M. Venkataraman, the director (business) of The Times of India, said that each form of media was a product that had different purposes and different levels of expectation. He said one could not have a uniform policy for all media.

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