At an interactive session with AOL Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin, organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry, the issue of foreign direct investment in the print media came up with The Indian Express editor and CEO Shekhar Gupta asking him to share his experience on the issue in different countries across the world.
Levin told the audience, which included Bharti’s Sunil Mittal, Zee’s Subhash Chandra, Satyam’s R Ramaraj, NDTV’s Prannoy Roy, RPG’s Sanjiv Goenka, Shabana Azmi, Times group’s Vineet Jain and Samir Jain among others, that he saw no problem in allowing foreign investment in the media.
“Total prohibition (of FDI in print media) on the pretext of protecting the domestic media industry is a problem. This fear must dissipate now. Any player should be allowed, but the government must demand that the companies adhere to a value system that respects local sensibilities,” Levin said.
“Regulation of the Net is not possible. People, especially the youth, are quite adept in getting around any restrictions and a free flow of information is inevitable,” he said.
Information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj, who said the government would look forward to suggestions from Levin, was quick to point out that “if there are 15 people wanting FDI in print media, there is an equal number arguing against it”.
Levin evaded a direct response, saying the government must take all measures to ensure that the sector received encouragement to grow.
The session also saw the AOL Time Warner CEO forcefully putting across his views on the alleged American dominance of international media. “I do not believe in American cultural imperialism. Our intent is not to secure an avenue of American-made products in India. My visit to India is to augment the distribution of our products in the country and take advantage of the technical and journalistic talent available here,” Levin said.
Levin added that the firm was not looking at 100 per cent ownership in the media industry. “We are looking for relationships that make a good partnership,” he said. As the world’s largest media company, AOL Time Warner’s empire straddles across Internet, movies, magazines and Television.
Earlier, speaking on “The Internet: Infrastructure for Freedom”, Levin said the Internet could not only spur business growth and create material wealth, but also increases human freedom. He said, “The Internet is the infrastructure of freedom because it empowers people to expand the choices in their lives.”
Speaking on the sidelines of the meeting, America Online’s vice president David Packman (Who looks after the Internet access business of the company) said India was a very important and potentially large market for the firm. But he was mum on future plans. AOL is believed to be one of the bidders for the largest private sector Internet access provider Satyam Infoway, in which parent Satyam Computer Services is divesting stake.