The government announced an increase in the FDI limit (foreign direct investment) of news and current affair channels, DTH and cable operators. The government announced that foreign investment will be relaxed in 15 sectors. While 100% FDI has been allowed in DTH and Cable Networks (MSOs and LCOs), the foreign investment in the uplinking of news and current affairs TV channels has been raised to 49% from the existing 26%.
While this news cheered broadcasters, the print barons were a disillusioned lot. It was an irony that the print medium was left out, despite the fact that leading print players were supporting FDI through the discussion.
We asked some of the print players to give their perspective on this new development. Rajiv Lochan, CEO and MD, The Hindu said, “I feel news media organisations need significant investments - in people, technology, reach, etc. However, we need to be calibrated in how much of this comes from foreign investors. Successful foreign investment in India over the last 10 to 15 years has come where the overseas investor brought significant capabilities. For instance auto, insurance and some other sectors have reflected this trend. Given the reality that news media is a trust inspiring public service sector before being a commercial venture, we need abundant caution before moving too far or too fast. A prudent yet pragmatic balance is the need of the day.”
The decision was also questioned by ZEE Group MD, Punit Goenka. In an earlier conversation with exchange4media he pointed out, “I don’t understand why are they distinguishing between print and broadcasting and not treating both at par.”
When asked about the impact, Anant Nath, MD, Delhi Press replied, “When something has not been done how it can impact anything, in case they have done FDI then it may have impacted.”
It can be recalled that in a meeting that was held by former I&B Minister, Manish Tewari, leading publishers were in support of FDI in print media. The publishers were also expecting an increase of 49 % in the print domain. It could have given boost to some of the magazine publication which are on verge of closing. We have also seen some of the major publications discontinuing or closing down their magazine business in last couple of years.
Sharing a different thought altogether, Shreyamas Kumar, Director Mathrubhumi feels FDI is not welcome at all. He said he is from the old school of thought and news in whichever form print or TV plays an important role. He said, “ I am looking from the ethical perspective, whose interest are we serving. When we run newspaper or news channels we don’t only think about money and also take care of our country.” Citing an example he said, “If the investor sits in New York he will only look at the balance sheet and not the cultural values.”
Sharing a similar vein of reasoning, a spokesperson from Dainik Bhaskar said, “At the onset, I would like to say that it is a step in the right direction as far as the entire media sector is concerned, as we believe it will not only help improve sentiments but will also lead to globalization of the industry. Further, it will also bring in global expertise and innovation besides the financial support. Coming to FDI remaining capped at 26% as far as print media is concerned, we don’t see it as a set-back for the players, as we believe that increasing the limit would have resulted in significant dilution of the entry barrier for the sector, eventually leading to a highly competitive environment. While we believe that competition is healthy for the overall industry, hiking FDI in print can eventually lead to value destruction. Additionally, we believe, it might also lead to compromising on certain inherent values which a publication business stands for – delivering objective, accurate and impartial news in an attempt to attract more readers.”
To conclude, I would like to reiterate that limiting FDI in print is a good move as far as the entire industry is concerned as it will strengthen the entire media ecosystem, and enable media companies like us to better serve our readers."
Prabhat Khabar MD, KK Goenka also feels it should have been done. He said, “They should consider print too it should have been a positive step but still we hope sooner or later print will also get considered.”