An interlinking FDI policy could be the next big thing for the media and broadcasting sector of the country. Chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) Pradip Baijal told FE that the issue is being examined. “We feel that there should be an interlinking FDI policy across news, entertainment, TV, cable, newspaper, magazines, radio....,” Mr Baijal said, when asked about the direction of Trai recommendation on FDI in private FM radio.
So far, the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry has had a piecemeal approach towards the media sector, in the context of foreign investment. While stating that a view on FDI in a particular area of the sector is not correct, Mr Baijal was firm that “the entire media sector should be looked at together.” That does not mean, however, that Trai would recommend the same FDI level all across the media sector, but that there should be some interconnect in the FDI policy.
At present, direct-to-home (DTH) broadcasting platforms are allowed FDI up to 20 per cent, news TV channels being uplinked from India 26 per cent, newspapers 26 per cent, specialty journals 74 per cent, cable networks 49 per cent, and private FM radio is not permitted any FDI at all. There’s no unified policy on FDI for the sector yet.
Even as Trai is not likely to offer a separate view on FDI in FM radio, it may have something more concrete to say about ‘news’. Currently, news is not permitted in private FM, and Trai may not recommend it either.
According to sources in the government, the home ministry is of the view that ‘news’ must not be permitted in private FM radio. The home ministry is understood to have cited security/law and order reasons for this view. Mr Baijal confirmed it, and added that “when the regulator makes a recommendation, he has to take all the views into account”.
In DTH policy too, changes are expected. Trai wants to make it mandatory for TV channels to give their content to all DTH providers on a non-discriminatory basis. “If this is not made mandatory, you as a consumer will be required to have multiple dishes,” Mr Baijal argued. “DTH players are riding my spectrum, which is a scarce resource,” he added.
Trai, which has the additional responsibility of regulating the broadcasting sector, is expected to issue recommendations on FM radio and conditional access system (CAS) shortly.
According to Mr Baijal, both CAS and FM “have a lot of sticky issues”, and therefore the delay in issuing recommendations to the government.