As Narendra Modi-led BJP govt approaches one year in power, it has received bouquets for economic measures and brickbats for promising more than what it can deliver. We speak to media magnate Raghav Bahl, founder of TheQuint.com (he also founded Network18), who finds that PM is a democratic person and the government has not curbed or influenced media in any way.
However, he also stressed that certain policies of the government restrict the growth of Indian entrepreneurs and regulations need to be revised for the growth of media sector.
Things in your view that the Modi government needs to do going forward?
Macro economy: Step up the infrastructure investment rate in the economy. Open up more to foreign investment. Get some of the laws which are still holding us up cleaned up. Literally these two or three things and concentrate a lot on the agriculture sector. You do these three or four things and that’s it. This economy will take care of itself.
Media sector: I just believe you have to get your regulations right. You have to get rid of 51% single entrepreneurial control clause. It is draconian. You have to allow more foreign direct investment in news. BuzzFeed, Huffington Post can broadcast in India with as much ease as print so why is Print being held back by restrictive foreign investment rules. Please give us a free hand. In fact, one argument I had made with the ministry at Network18 was you should be looking at it the other way. You should be encouraging us to go and build global new channels, expanding Indian broadcasting in America and Europe taking India’s story there. You are tying one hand behind our back by saying no 51%. You are tying our hands behind our back when you should be encouraging the India story to go global. It is perverse that you allow foreign equity and allow foreign people to grow at the cost of Indian entrepreneurs.
What has been the government’s biggest achievement in your view?
I believe we are all getting a little bit impatient, the economy is set to turn around and I believe that there was a widespread fear that the Prime Minister is not a democratic person, I think he has done everything very democratically. Every bill has been debated in parliament. He hasn’t tried to ride rough shod in the parliament, everything is being debated, everything is open. He gets a lot of media criticism so he is open to that as well, so I think there was a lot of misplaced fear of what would happen if he is in power. I believe he is as much as a democrat as any other Prime Minister of India has been. That is the only way to run this country.
Has there been the government’s influence on the Indian media?
This has always been a fear that has been written about. Please tell me which Indian media is controlled. Please tell me which Indian media has been curbed, none. We are amongst the freest media in the world, we write anything we want. Sometimes all wrong. I mean seriously we are very free, aren’t we? This question has been asked for 25 years. I have never had any problem. Never.
Innuendo, insinuation is a prerogative of India’s media. I believe we are as free as possible. Politicians will always try and influence you, that’s their job but can they be coercive in this country. No.