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Perilous proposal

Perilous proposal
Highlights

The government is all set to further liberalise the norms for the entry of foreign players into the print media. The proposal would have far-reaching implications. In fact, there was an intense debate on the subject in the past. 

The government is all set to further liberalise the norms for the entry of foreign players into the print media. The proposal would have far-reaching implications. In fact, there was an intense debate on the subject in the past.

Earlier, the Parliamentary standing committee on information technology concluded that “newspapers have significant impact on the minds of the people. It influences the political beliefs, the social mores and the basic cultural impulses of the people.” The committee further felt that the entry of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the print media would do “incalculable harm” to the Indian social fabric.

It’s wrong to compare a newspaper industry with that of other sectors. Despite commodification of newspaper, it still remains an institution that protects civil and human rights. It manufactures consent on a wide range of socio-political issues having a formidable impact on public opinion formation.

The Constitution of India does not specifically grant press freedom. In fact, the freedom of expression guaranteed to every Indian citizen under article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution is interpreted as freedom of Press. Someone who is not a citizen of India cannot be granted this fundamental right in the name of encouraging foreign investment flows. Media industry does not in any way contribute to any significant account of overall FDI flows.

Despite commercialisation of media, the print media in India is known for its diversity. The plurality of choices is critical for a democracy. The unprecedented fiscal muscle enjoyed by the foreign players may significantly dent this diversity due to cartelisation of newspapers with the entry of foreign investment.

The Western markets are witnessing serious erosion of newspaper readership whereas Asian markets especially India is witnessing a healthy growth of newspaper industry. Thus is the reason for media conglomerates vying for entry into Indian market. Besides, the move will lead to colonisation of cultural and intellectual life of India.

The domestic players may be doing so. But this cannot justify free play for foreign players. Newspapers cannot also be equated with their more glamorous cousin, television. The TV is still perceived as an entertainment medium while the printed word remains sacrosanct. The influence of a written word is formidable on one’s intellectual insight compared to a television image.

The First Press Commission said that newspaper was not a very attractive investment destination. It still holds true for mega foreign players. Yet, the foreign investment is bullish on print media precisely to control the minds of people. Indian print industry is not craving for either capital or technology.

The hope that foreign players would significantly improve the working conditions of journalists is not borne out by facts as the experience with those working in foreign companies especially Special Economic Zones (SEZs) reveal that salaries are a factor of demand and supply rather than the owner’s fiscal strength. Due to its perilous implications, the government should not take a unilateral view on this crucial question.

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