At 26%, FDI in print media stuck in the era of Vajpayee

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New Delhi: In an article titled “Asleep at The Wheel? “, Time magazine in June 2002, while commenting on then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, wrote:” The leader of India (Vajpayee) is taking painkillers for his knees (which were replaced due to arthritis), has bladder, liver and only kidney problems, takes a three-hour nap every afternoon on doctor’s orders, and is subjected to endless silences, indecipherable ramblings, and , quite frequently, falling asleep in a meeting. “

Less than 15 days after the publication of this article, the Vajpayee government, taking everyone by surprise, announced that it was allowing foreign investment in print media, overturning a decision taken in 1955.

Asked by reporters, then Minister of Information and Broadcasting Sushma Swaraj on the sidelines of a press conference in the PIB room, where she announced the decision, said that articles like some thing appeared in Time magazine, just days before the government’s decision The decision to go for FDI in print was “too small a thing” to influence the long-term vision of the government and the Vajpayee government felt that the FDI in print was needed to make India a knowledge superpower.

According to a senior journalist, the BJP-led NDA government faced stiff opposition from Congress and left-wing parties not to allow FDI in print media on the grounds that foreign newspaper owners would “poison” and “Would have a negative impact” on the minds of the readers and above all will not “listen” to them. The “mainstream” media had also launched a massive campaign to prevent foreign media from entering India, the reporter told the Sunday Guardian.

The critical article on Vajpayee published by Time magazine, according to this reporter, was in all likelihood a last-minute attempt at “detained” interests which included “high-profile media houses” to prevent the BJP government from operating. authorize FDI in the written press. This became evident after editors at some of the biggest news houses sharply criticized a “foreign magazine” for “daring” to criticize the Indian prime minister.

More than 18 years later, FDI in the print media is still at the same level as it was under the Vajpayee government: 26%.

In accordance with the “Consolidated Policy on FDI (in force from October 15, 2020)”, published by the Department for the Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, Ministry of Trade and Industry, Government of India, FDI allowed in print media is at the far bottom, as well as FDI in PSU banks, where there is a cap of 20%.

To put the fear of the bureaucrats, who decide how much FDI should be allowed in print media, in context, the FDI that is allowed in strategic sectors like defense and airports is 100%. To put it as a rough guide, a foreign company can manufacture guns and explosives in India, but it cannot finance a newspaper or a news magazine.

According to official sources, the current BJP government had started an internal discussion during the initial period of 2018 to increase printed FDI from the existing 26% to 49%. However, the plan was scrapped after the “print giants” staged an aggressive response and forced the executive to make the legislature understand the “drawbacks” of increased FDI in print media. According to government figures, between April 2000 and December 2019, total FDI inflows were Rs 2,636,361.99 crore. The share of media (including electronic media) was Rs 51,829.62 crore, or 1.91% of the total FDI that arrived in India during the period.

A former secretary-level officer in the Indian government, who was a mid-level officer when IED was cleared in print media in 2002, said enough safeguards were in place to ensure that the newspaper or magazine that receives the IED does not become a platform for too anti-Indian coins.

“Public servants who come to the decision-making position, because of their vast years of experience, begin to practice the policy of the status quo and are afraid to take further action. The same trait was there too at that time. So a lot of homework has been done and ‘safeguards’ have been put in while allowing for FDI in print and ensuring that management and editorial content is decided by people sitting in India. Severe restrictions were placed on changing the shareholding model, ¾ of directors had to be Indians, all major editorial staff were reserved for Indian nationals, etc. The long-term vision at the time was to allow 100% FDI to media in the years to come. However, with a change of government, this objective was lost, ”he recalled.

Official sources familiar with the matter have said that several media outlets, including some based in the United States, have indicated their intention to launch an Indian edition of their publications, but are concerned about the prospect of the government ‘licensing Raj’. with regard to the written press. .


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