[Reader-list] IHT in India

Shivam Vij shivamvij at gmail.com
Mon Jul 5 18:43:06 IST 2004

Re: the article below

I don't understand what the fuss is all about. The government of India
and the anti-FDI-in-print-media lobby, both are rather dumb to assume
that I cannot go to the website of the International Herald Tribune,
read anti-national articles there and be instigated by foreigners into
indulging in subervise activities such as treason.

Or are they planning to block the websites of foreign papers, allowing
26% of their content this year, 50% next year if they feel there is no
threat to national security, 75% the year after for those foreign
paper websites who agree to have an Indian bureaucrat as a resident
editor, 90% by 2020 in line with the government's Vision 2020 of a
prosperous, developed India in which Indians will have grown up enough
to not be instigated by IHT.


  India's newspaper loophole exposed

  By Indrajit Basu in Kolkata
  Asia Times, Hong Kong

Despite half-hearted liberalization measures over the past two years,
India's print-media policies remain archaic, with loopholes regarding
the publication and distribution of foreign newspapers in the country
still in existence. But while many have deplored these policies as
restrictive, unclear and out of tune with the present times, no one
has ever really challenged them.

Last week, however, the government's politically sensitive print-media
policies were ridiculed for the first time in five decades when M J
Akbar, one of the country's most influential editors, blatantly defied
a government order directing him to halt publication of the Indian
edition of the International Herald Tribune (IHT), a newspaper from
the New York Times stable. Since May 26, Akbar's publishing company,
Midram Publications - which had won permission from the New York Times
to publish IHT in the country - has been reproducing the Hong Kong
edition of the IHT out of Hyderabad verbatim, going against, as says
the government, the law of the land.

"The publication of International Herald Tribune, which has the same
masthead, layout and ... content as those of its Hong Kong edition, is
a complete violation of policy guidelines," says the country's
Information and Broadcasting Ministry. But Akbar insists that
government polices are just that - policies, acting as guidelines and
not law. "There is no law, there is only a resolution. Article 19 of
the Indian constitution permits me to publish this," he claims.

Indeed, India's print-media regulations and policies are perhaps among
the most ambiguous that the country has. And, as Akbar says, there is
no law barring entry of foreign newspapers but just a resolution
passed by the cabinet of ministers in 1955 not allowing republication
of foreign news content without prior approval of the government and
the owner of the foreign copyright holder.

Over the past two years these rules were changed twice but
restrictions on the republication of foreign content have not been
reversed. For instance, in 2002 a new policy allowed 26% foreign
direct investment (FDI) in news media but mandated that the editor
must be Indian and must have full editorial control, and in 2003 the
foreign-content restriction was slightly relaxed to allow a mere 7.5%
of foreign news content to be republished without the government's
permission. However, the 2003 policy also added that the masthead,
editorial content and front page couldn't be entirely reproduced.

Allowing foreign news content to be reproduced in the IHT without
restrictions, contends the Information and Broadcasting Ministry,
violates that policy.

Akbar says he has taken care of that too. "Those policies do not apply
to the Indian version of IHT because the paper is not foreign and
therefore not subject to rules applicable to the publication of
foreign newspapers in India," he says, adding that IHT is an Indian
title because it is registered in India.

According to Akbar, by defying the government order, IHT has exposed
the fact that, hiding behind polices, the Indian government has been
deceitfully denying, for five decades, a fundamental right allowed by
the Indian constitution. "In our view the government does not have a
legal case. We are absolutely correct, both in terms of law as well as
policy. I am not in defiance of the law. I am merely saying that every
decision made by the government is not law. And we also feel that the
government directive to stop publication is absolutely mala fide of my
fundamental right to freedom of the press as guaranteed by Article 19
of the Indian constitution," he says.

He adds that "the rules have not been challenged so far because no one
has, so far, thought it fit so to challenge them under the
constitutional right".

But not all agree, and some feel that Akbar is interpreting the
policies incorrectly. "The position is clear. The constitution of
India guarantees every citizen of India fundamental rights. Freedom of
speech is one such right," says Ramji Srinivasan, a corporate lawyer.
"However, it is subject to reasonable restriction, and that the
Supreme Court has clarified many times. The government frames polices
from time to time to regulate economic and other activities of the
country. Reasonable restriction can be imposed in the form of policy
guidelines. Thus, if a cabinet frames a policy it must treated as a
legislation and be followed."

Detractors of Akbar and factions opposed to the opening-up of the
country's print media to foreign publications also fear that the IHT
may have opened the door for entry of foreign newspapers to be
rampantly published in India, even threatening the country's security.
"This is why we had always said to the government not to open doors -
referring to 26% FDI that was allowed last year - to foreign
newspapers," says N Ram, editor-in-chief of one of India's largest
newspaper-publishing houses, The Hindu. "Once it is opened even a
little, one can't control the flow. This is the first challenge to the
Information and Broadcasting Ministry of the new government; it means
that anyone, including a Pakistani paper, can publish in India if they
find the right party here."

Nevertheless, the fact remains that logically Akbar may be on the
right track, and unless all policies and regulations, including those
passed in 1955, are turned into laws, nothing can stop him from going
ahead with distributing the Indian IHT in its current form. "It is
just like any other manufacturing activities," says Shekhar Gupta,
editor-in-chief of the Mumbai-based newspaper group The Indian
Express. "If foreign companies can manufacture trucks, clothes and
software in India, so can a newspaper. I think it is silly trying to
stop it.

"I am all for opening the print media to foreign publishers," adds
Gupta, not forgetting to take a pot shot at liberalization detractors,
"but the problem is, once it is opened up, other publishing houses
that have been opposing opening up the foreign media to foreigners
would be first to go out and attract them."

shivamvij at gmail.com

ZEST: Low volume mailing lists
ZESTCurrent: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/zest-india
ZESTEconomics: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/zest-economics
ZESTPoets: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/zestpoets

PACE Stop Ragging Campaign: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/anti-ragging
THE HOOT: Watching media in the subcontinent: http://www.thehoot.org

More information about the reader-list mailing list