FDI in print ???ho hum

IN Media Practice | 01/09/2002
FDI in print ¾¾ ho hum

FDI in print ¾¾ ho hum

By TCA Srinivasa-Raghavan

Who the hell cares?

For the last ten years of economic reform, one topic has excited a great deal of excitement and concern - foreign direct investment (FDI).

Sometimes, the amounts of concern and excitement expressed have been in inverse proportion to the quantum of investment being talked of and its importance in the overall scheme of things.

Possibly the best example of this is the proposal that FDI be allowed in the newspaper industry, that is, in print media. Its most recent manifestation is last week¿s proposal to allow 26 per cent FDI in newspapers. The idea is to be examined by a committee of Parliament.

Both when it was first mooted about a decade ago and when it has been refloated since then, an enormous fuss has ensued in the print media.  The shrillness and the noise have often left the average citizen perplexed: why, he has wondered, should not FDI be allowed in the print media which is, after all, like any other business?

Because, the opponents of FDI in print have thundered at him, it is not like any other business. The toothpaste industry guards only your teeth, it has reasoned, while we are responsible for your opinions. Your teeth may be your personal concern, but your opinions involve us all.

In other words, what we have been witnessing is a dialogue of the deaf.Economics has been arguing against politics, reason against emotion.

At the root of it all, however, lies nothing more exalted than the pursuit of profit. Those newspapers that don¿t have money have been arguing furiously in favour of FDI. Those that do have been arguing equally vehemently against it.

Had both argued in the same language, the debate might have been easier to comprehend.

Instead, the haves have adopted the language of nationalism and public interest while the have-nots have used the language of common sense and commerce.

The argument of the former is based on a resolution passed by the Cabinet in1956 that more-or-less bans FDI in newspapers. The origins of this resolution are obscure. But it has been suggested repeatedly by its supporters that it epitomises the far-sightedness, vision and nationalism of no less a person than Jawaharlal Nehru.

But for him, goes the argument, India would have re-colonised long ago and,indeed, if the resolution is superceded, we will soon be recolonised. As against this is the language of the latter, the have-nots, have adopted the language of commerce.

The existing system, they say, has created super-normal profits for some by allowing to work what are virtually natural local monopolies arising out of enormous markets shares.

At the same time, by denying competitors access to capital for improving their newspapers by modernising their technologies and expanding staff, this system has virtually eliminated the prospect of profit for the have-nots.

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