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Sunday, July 6 1997

Gadgil against equity to foreigners in domestic channels


New Delhi, July 5: Former information and broadcasting minister VN Gadgil, who is a member of the parliamentary joint select committee on broadcasting bill, is opposed to giving any equity to foreigners in Indian broadcasting channels.

Releasing the book ''Future of Broadcasting in India'' on Friday, Gadgil said that the government should reserve the right to give directions and also exercise some control over prasar bharati and private broadcasting channels. The book contains the proceedings of the seminar on the broadcasting bill organised by the national telematics forum on june twelve.

VM Trehan and PN Chopra, vice president and secretary general respectively of the forum, were present on the occasion. Gadgil said that even developed countries like the United States and France did not permit foreign equity, and media baron Rupert Murdoch had to seek American citizenship before he was permitted to invest in that country by the federal communication commission (FCC). Gadgil said that if refusing foreign equity in Indian channels will mean some channels closing shop, there was nothing wrong with that.

The former minister said that foreign equity not only posed a danger of takeover by the foreign channels, but also of endangering the security of the country.

Furthermore, these channels could influence what the Indian channels could show to their viewers, since the only motivation the foreigners could have for entering the country was profit.

Mr Gadgil said that the clause on cross-media holdings could be softened to permit a newspaper owner to start a television or radio channel in a different part of the country, but it was clear that unrestricted monopolies could not be allowed. Similarly, he was not opposed to granting uplinking facilities but said these had to be given with some restrictions, and without any blanket freedom to uplink.

He said that it was unfortunate that television had trivialised and personalised public life, and there was an imbalance as the emphasis was only on entertainment. Referring to the power of the visual media to influence polity in the country, Gadgil advised caution in devising policies.He also found an inherent contradiction between the broadcasting bill and the prasar bharati act. While the former advocated licensing for broadcasting channels, the latter said no such licensing would be required.Meanwhile, Gadgil said it was very unlikely that the select committee - which has twenty lok sabha and ten rajya sabha members - would be able to finish its task by the first week of the monsoon session.The committee, chaired by Sharad Pawar, had decided to visit different places in the country to hear the views of different people about the bill. The committee has so far met for only three days, during which it heard secretaries in different concerned ministries on various aspects of the bill.

Trehan said that the forum was strongly in favour of expanding the telecom regulatory authority (TRA) to cover broadcasting instead of setting up a separate broadcasting authority as envisaged in the bill. The forum had also decided to shortlist three main questions - the need for setting up of the authority, foreign equity, cross-media restrictions - and hold discussions on these with the joint select committee.

A similar seminar would also be held on the bill in mumbai later this month, he said.Discovery Channel's Kiran Karnik strongly advocated strong curbs on advertising on domestic and foreign television channels. He said there was need for a strong public broadcaster in the country, and said doordarshan could not be described as one.Media expert Raghu Nayar said it was difficult to control foreign channels which were already beaming programmes into the country.

Copyright © 1997 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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