Opening Up Indian Print Media To Foreign Investors

IN Media Practice | 01/07/2002
A Hoot Editorial

A Hoot Editorial

Opening Up Indian Print Media To Foreign Investors

When the government finally announced on June 25 that it would allow up to 26 per cent foreign investment in the print media sector in India the decision capped one of the longest and most dogged campaigns over media policy conducted by media companies in India.

Those wanting foreign investment began their campaign nine years ago, when Mr Manmohan Singh was finance minister and P V Narasimha Rao was prime minister. The economy was opening up, satellite TV channels had come in, and the climate seemed right to seek a reversal of a Cabinet Resolution of 1955 which upheld the recommendation of the first Press Commission that press ownership should be predominantly in Indian hands.

Around the same time in the early nineties both the Hindustan Times and the Times of India had preliminary talks with the same British newspaper group about their interest in investing in India. But after nothing materialized both media giants crystallized their anti foreign media stance and began a diligent campaign to keep out foreign capital in this sector. So talk from them of a principled opposition in the interest of protecting Indian culture and polity from wicked foreign influences is a bit rich.

Through the nine years that this battle has been waged, through political lobbying by the media houses ranged on both sides and as well on their news pages, the reader has been the loser. Publications are meant to be public space for the airing of news and ideas, they are not intended to be used to pursue the interests of those who publish them. But papers on both sides used their pages to fight their battle with the government and with each other. They campaigned both on their front pages as well as on their editorial pages. Four of the countries leading newspapers: the Times of India, the Hindustan Times, the Hindu, and the Malayala Manorama spearheaded the battle to keep out foreign direct investment in the print media on the grounds that it was against national interest to allow foreign ownership in this sector. They usually did not mention that it was also against their monopoly interests. Eeenadu in Andhra Pradesh supported their stand but not in a very high profile manner.

A core group of five Delhi-based editors led the campaign for FDI to be permitted, albeit with safeguards: the Dainik Jagran, the Indian Express, Pioneer, India Today and Business Standard. In the regions they were supported by the owners of Midday, Gujarat Samachar, Ananda Bazaar Patrika, and Deccan Chronicle who did what they could to lobby locally and nationally. Their argument was that Indian print media needed access to global capital, particularly the regional media, and smaller and newer publications. What they did not always stress was that they were losing the battle for advertising, which was increasingly going to television and to the print media market leader in each territory. Some of these market leaders were in the opposing camp.

The role of journalists in this battle was, and remains curious. Journalists should report and leave it to proprietors to lobby. A reporter or special correspondent should not have to worry about what government policy suits the financial interests of his paper’s owner. However last week news analyses appeared by the leading lights of the Indian media in publications opposed to FDI, ruing that foreign influences would now run amuck. But no new analyses looking at the down side appeared in papers who have doggedly campaigned for FDI. Do journalists tailor their professional output according to their newspaper’s stands?

And a curious new phenomenon is that the divide between editor and publisher has largely disappeared. Some editors such as those of the Indian Express, and the Business Standard are also publishers, other publications such as India Today, the Hindu, the Ananda Bazar Patrika and Telegraph, the Malayala Manorama, t

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