Wednesday, November 10

Specialists and Generalists in Old Bombay

GoM meet to focus on definition of 'news', from the Financial Express's Nivedita Mookerji (India):
he Group of Ministers (GoM), which has been set up to take a relook at print media policies, would focus on the definition of 'news and current affairs publications' and 'specialty/technical journals', according to sources in the government. Quite a few print media applications, either seeking foreign investment or permission to publish, are pending with the government as there's no clarity on what constitutes news and current affairs and what does not. As an industry insider pointed out, even a cricket publication could fall under 'news and current affairs' as the game often hits the front page of newspapers. Frequency of a publication, its subject matter and branding are among the factors to be considered, while fixing the definition of ?news and current affairs?.

Why does this matter? Because the press law limits the amount of foreign investment in news publications to a greater extent than in specialty and technical journals:

Currently, 'news and current affairs' publications are allowed up to 26% of foreign direct investment (FDI), while specialty/technical journals can have a maximum of 74% foreign investment.

This is common elsewhere in the world. In Brazil, for example, no news outlets can be supported by foreign investment since the days of the Estado Novo.

Also, foreign newspapers are not allowed to be published from India, irrespective of whether a venture has any FDI or not. For instance, Cybermedia had applied to the government last year to publish BusinessWeek from India in a modified format. When contacted, Cyber-media chairman-cum-managing director Pradeep Gupta told FE, "We applied under specialty journal category". Cybermedia-Business-Week plan is to bring out a monthly with 60 to 70% international content. (As per current syndication rules, no Indian publication can have more than 7.5% of international content under automatic clearance. For anything beyond that, one needs to take government permission.) The product is likely to be priced in the range of Rs 50 to 70, Mr Gupta said. The news-stand price of the American weekly magazine, Business-Week, in India is Rs 120. Cybermedia case is likely to be referred to GoM, it is learnt. Among others, Bennett Coleman's application for publishing Wall Street Journal may also be taken up by GoM.

Imagine if a company like German magazine giant Bertelsmann (parent of Gruner + Jahr)--or the NEWS Corporation, prior to its Delaware reincorporation reincarnation--were subject to this kind of regulation here. Is there undue foreign influence in National Geographic and Fast Company? Are we being subjected to Old Europe propaganda in Family Circle? Didn't you hear that Bush campaign spokesman say recently on TV that "France is our enemy"? Should we force Vivendi to shed Universal, lest it corrupt our youth with Gallic anti-what we stand for in its summer comedies and costume epics?


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