In line with the recommendations made by an official panel recently, the government has stepped up consultations on whether to increase Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) caps in media. The Finance Ministry asked other relevant ministries for their views, while the Ministry for Information and Broadcasting (I&B) held talks with broadcasters and print industry leaders on the issue on Saturday.
Ten days ago, the committee headed by Economic Affairs Secretary Arvind Mayaram had recommended easing of FDI ceilings in a host of sectors, including Defence and Telecom. In regard to the media, it suggested increasing the limit to 49 per cent in the radio, print and broadcasting segments under the automatic route, without going through the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB). Finance Minister P. Chidambaram had told reporters that the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) would ‘quickly consult’ other ministries and departments and bring a note before the Cabinet.
This process has now been initiated. DIPP Secretary Saurabh Chandra told The Hindu, “We have asked different ministries for their feedback on the issue, and hope to hear back from them by the evening of July 2.”
On Saturday, the I&B Minister Manish Tewari had separate meetings with representatives of the broadcasting and print media. He told The Hindu, “I got a cross-section of views. Among broadcasters, both content generators and distributors were present. We have told them to get back to us with additional views by next week. In print, the Indian Newspaper Society has said they have a democratic process of decision-making and need more time. But smaller and medium newspapers and magazine associations expressed their views.”
Asked if the ministry had formulated its own position, Mr. Tewari said it had an ‘open mind’ and since this was the first meeting, the views of all concerned were ‘tentative.’
“We will try to see which are the areas with the broadest possible consensus and hear out contrary positions, if they are logical. But if the opposition is ideological, then it is a different matter.”
Shailesh Shah, secretary general of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), an umbrella body of broadcasters, attended the meeting, and said: “The IBF is overall fine with the government’s proposal of bringing up the FDI limit to 49 per cent through the automatic route.” Another industry source, who wished to be anonymous, said the move would ‘bring in the money, but from the control viewpoint, nothing changed.’
Mr. Tewari said there would be a meeting at the Finance Ministry on the issue early next week and it would be attended by a joint secretary. “We will tell them we require some more time.”
A finance ministry source said, “Stakeholders will first come back to us. This will then go to a committee of ministers and then the cabinet. So there are at least two levels of scrutiny left.”
The efforts to engage with stakeholders both inside and outside the system are being read as an indication that the government is keen to take a decision soon and announce a slew of FDI reforms.
A print industry source who attended the meeting with Mr. Tewari said, “The government is in a hurry to bring in the dollars. And they are doing this across industries.”