However in the same breath, he also said that the government cannot
suddenly "switch off" an existing channel (read Star News) even
while investigations are on about its antecedents.
(Till the time of writing this piece late in the evening there
was no confrimation from the government whether Star News had been
given another uplinking extension as the deadline expires midnight).
Pointing out that when Star News filed an application it was simple
one, the minister said now a lot of queries --- mostly by the I&B
ministry --- have been raised and details obtained after asking
46 questions. "Since it's under consideration, it would not be fair
for me to comment now," the minister said amidst a chorus of protest
from Opposition members.
The minister was replying to calling attention motion in Rajya
Sabha (Upper House) on CAS and uplinking.
An inter-ministerial group has been formed that is looking into
various issues of Star News case, the minister said, asking, "Should
I stop them (Star News) midway? After all I have to be fair." Dwelling
on the genesis of the guidelines for foreign investment in TV news
channels, the minister said that the case of print and electronic
medium cannot be termed the same.
When the foreign direct investment guidelines for print was reviewed,
no foreign investment was allowed --- it was a "closed" regime ---
but in the electronic medium, many things has been allowed (it's
an "open" regime), the minister said , adding the comparison of
two should not be done at this point. Still, striking a conciliatory
note Prasad said, "If some more tightening (of laws for the electronic
medium) is needed, we are open to it."
The government came for severe flak from its ally Shiv Sena and
main opposition Congress for its uplinking policy that demanded
any foreign channel violating norms should not be given uplinking
Congress member Kapil Sibal told the Rajya Sabha that "uplinking
policy should be non-discriminatory and any party, which violates
norms, should not be given uplinking facility."
Shiv Sena member Sanjay Nirupam said the FDI policy for foreign
channels should be on the lines of one pursued for print media that
makes it mandatory for 51 per cent equity for Indian partners, besides
the editorial control.
Others who also spoke on the issue included Samajwadi Party member
Amar Singh and Congress' Falerio.
According to Prasad the guidelines, issued on 26 March laid down
the following eligibility criteria for a company uplinking news
and current affairs channels, including the following: to be registered/incorporated
in India under the Companies Act and management control of TV channels
are vested in Indian hands; foreign equity holding in the applicant
company not to exceed 26 per cent of the total paid up capital;
majority of its board of directors to be resident Indians; CEO of
the applicant company, known by any designation, and or head of
the channel to be resident Indian; and News Editor(s) or authority(ies)
exercising editorial control over news and current affairs programmes
of the channels to be resident Indians.
Further, by an order of 15 July , an inter-ministerial group has
been set up to examine the foreign exchange norms and guidelines,
particularly, relating to uplinking of news and current affairs
channels. The case of one of the application (Star News), seeking
uplinking, as per extant guidelines is under examination, the minister
informed the House.