[Reader-list] IHT in India

sanjay ghosh definetime at rediffmail.com
Thu Jul 8 16:38:50 IST 2004

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Dear Shivam,

There are a few cold facts to be considered before condemning 'our' government's print media policy. The monopolistic ownership pattern in the western news media - is scary. 

Silvio Berlesconi controls six terrestrial TV channel totalling more than 90% of the television audience. Take into account that 82% of Italians depend only on television for news, the highest percentage in Europe (data quoted in Pippa Norris, A virtuous circle, Cambridge University Press, 2000) and you have an alarming situation.

Newspapers are still formidable 'opinion makers' for the general public. Newspaper reportage, probably by the virtue of a few centuries of existence as news media, have a natural gravity. Websites don't have a comparative reach as yet.

In the west, there has been an alarming trend of media coercion on the polity . The most blatant one being Rupert Murdoch bullying political parties in UK*. Add to it this Murdoch's very vocal support for the Iraq war. He quite bluntly put it - "the greatest thing to come out of this for the world economy...would be $20 a barrel for oil. That's bigger than any tax cut in any country." ** When his 175 papers hammer his agenda into the reader's heads on a daily basis, the consequence is an utterly illegal aggression and occupation.

Consider too the media role in mobilising public opinion for the Iraq war in the US, where six corporations own 90% of all media  (including newspapers, magazines, TV and radio stations, books, records, movies, videos, wire services and photo agencies)****. Even though New York Times has tendered a sort of apology for it's own flawed reportage, it doesn't do anything for the thousands of Iraqis who lost their lives or the hundreds of dead coalition soldiers. The deaths being only a part of the total damage done. 

One does agree that 'indian newspapers' by the virtue of their ownership patterns, have a bias of their own. Chidambaram's 'dream budget' had the indian media salivating because he cut corporate taxes. Also you can't discount the fact that there's some amount of media role in keeping the Indo-Pak conflict alive. After all between them these two poor countries spend a few billion dollars on arms every year at the cost of essential development activities. The profits usually go to first world corporate giants (not to mention the powers that be in this country) and the victims are mostly foot soldiers who usually hail from the weaker sections of the society. 

I believe by blocking foreign media we chose the lesser evil.

Sanjay Ghosh


**Their master's voice 

***The New York Times has burned its reputation on a pyre of lies about Iraq 


On Mon, 05 Jul 2004 Shivam Vij wrote :
>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
>   http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/FF19Df02.html
>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
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