Comrade Somnath Chatterjee and his parliamentary committee’s support to perpetuate monopoly capitalists within Indian Print Media notwithstanding; Mandal messiah VP Singh’s paranoia about FDI causing “subversion” and “comprehensive balkanization of intellectual space” also notwithstanding; Indian Newspaper Society- the print media owners’ organisation- is reviewing its decades old stand on opposing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
In a letter to all the INS members, Mr. Pratap Pawar, the President of the INS acknowledges that there is a growing support for the FDI among the members. It refers to the INS’ Executive Committee’s meeting on February 12, at Pune, and says “there were differences of opinion amongst the members of the Executive Committee and a view, based on consensus, could not be arrived at.” It goes on to say that the Executive Committee will, therefore, finalise its stand basis the “wider consultations with the members of the Society”. The letter asks INS members to “communicate your views, point wise to the questions set out…” by March 11, 2002. The options include:
- whether the foreign equity participation should be limited upto 26%; or
- could it be at a higher level than 26% but not exceeding 50%; or
- whether the publication of editions of newspapers and periodicals by foreigners, on fully owned basis, should be permitted.
To help members take an informed decision, the letter has summarised the arguments for and against the policy of disallowing FDI. Some of the reasons make an interesting reading, particularly, the arguments for disallowing FDI. Consider these gems:
- Right to property is restricted to Indian citizens only. (Tsk..tsk..! Wonder how FDI operates in other sectors despite such grave constitutional violations.)
- Freedom of speech and expression is also confined to Indians only. (This is very touching concern. How will firangi press compete with such a huge disadvantage)
Foreign capital will jeopardise communal harmony. (Very frightening! Indigenous rioters will be unemployed, unless the rules make it mandatory that they have the first right on the greenbacks.)
- Print media’s strategic importance is next only to..defense, space and nuclear matters…(Somebody break the news to these news barons that Defense sector is already open to FDI and other two sectors too have an increasing access.)
- Rupert Mordoch, after taking over The Times, interfered with the domestic politics in UK to the detriment of British interests. (Which interests, pray? Was he plotting a coup at the Buckingham Palace? And incidentally, with control over Sky TV network and The Sun, The News of the World, Sky Radio, Harper Collins and much more besides The Times, Murdoch has been allowed to become, arguably, the largest media owner in the UK. And the Brits aren’t complaining.)
The rest of it is no less wooly-headed. But there is only so much that one can take. Come March 11, Mr. Pawar will know what his constituents feel about FDI. If our informal interactions with some of them, particularly the small regional and language publishers are anything to go by, the biggies are in for a rude shock. There is a palpable reluctance among them this time to do the bidding of the large monopoly groups. Even the PMO was rumoured to have given an ‘in principle’ clearance for FDI with minority holdings in Periodicals. All things considered, a change seems to be in the offing. Comrade N Ram’s fond and self-serving prophecy that “Indian political class will not be able to take such a decision” notwithstanding.